A Japanese Ryokan Experience

No Japan bucket list would be complete without a stay in a ryokan, so here is my guide to a Japanese ryokan experience.

What is a ryokan?

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You may have seen them on tv or in books, they’re the ones with paper screens, low tables and futons instead of beds.

Japanese Ryokan Experience

How do I choose which ryokan?

Ryokan aren’t cheap and the ones that are cheap are most probably not that authentic. We started by looking on Tripadvisor at some of the best ryokan in Kyoto but found many were fully booked for the time of year we were looking at (April – Cherry Blossom season). One of the most famous and historic ryokans is the Hiiragiya which was slightly out of our budget, so in the end we opted for Hiiragiya Bekkan (annex) an authentic but more wallet-friendly option.

Hiiragiya Bekkan Japanese Ryokan in Kyoto
Outside Hiiragiya Bekkan

Other things to note when choosing your ryokan, is whether it includes a private bathroom or any meals, as of course this will affect the price. Our room at the Hiiragiya Bekkan included a private toilet and sink but shared bathing facilities (more on that later) and it also included a kaiseki meal (Japanese haute cuisine) in the evening and breakfast the following day.

Japanese garden view at our ryokan
Japanese garden surrounding our room

The initial experience

When we arrived at Hiiragiya Bekkan we were greeted by friendly and enthusiastic staff and as is custom in Japan, we were asked to remove our shoes at the door and wear the slippers provided.

We were shown to our room which overlooked a pretty Japanese garden and then we had to remove our slippers. I can’t quite remember how many different pairs of slippers we had, but if you’ve been to Japan you’ll know how much they love their slippers!

Matcha and sakura teas
Matcha and sakura teas
Japanese tea served at a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn)
Japanese tea

We were shortly served three different types of tea – matcha, sakura and Japanese. The Japanese tea was nice but the matcha and sakura are a bit of an acquired taste.

After tea we changed into the yukata (cotton robes) provided and spent some time relaxing and soaking up our surroundings!

Wearing yukata (cotton robes) at a ryokan
Looking dashing in our yukata

Kaiseki dinner

Upon arrival at the ryokan we chose a time we would like to have dinner and promptly at this time we received a knock on the door from our maid (for lack of a better word) bringing us the first course of our meal.

The April menu at Hiiragiya Bekkan
Menu

Some ryokan have communal dining areas, but the other thing that attracted us to the Hiiragiya Bekkan was being able to dine in the privacy of our own room.

Dinner at the ryokan was a seasonal menu and brought to us course by course. I didn’t really know what much of it was so I took a photo of the menu. It started off ok and I enjoyed the first few courses but I’m so glad we had this meal as part of a ryokan experience rather than at a kaiseki restaurant as I really struggled with a few of the courses. Sadly the bamboo shoots and the deep-fried bean curd with sea urchin weren’t to my taste.

Slideshow below.

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Bathtime

In Japan, bathtime is a bit of a ritual. So after dinner we were ushered off to the communal bathrooms. Similarly to pre-booking a dinner time slot, we also had a bathroom time slot too. A friendly old man had prepared our steaming hot bath for us and then gave us our privacy and left us to it. Basically in Japan, bathing etiquette dictates that you perch on a little stool and then soap and rinse yourself with a handheld shower before getting into the tub. The tubs are then for soaking once you are squeaky clean. Our tub was wooden and square, which was different but we had already had previous experience with onsen (hot springs) bathing which I will write about another time.

After our hot, relaxing baths we toddled off back to our room where our maid (who may or may not have been a ninja) had switched our room around from a dining room with low table to a bedroom with futons! The futons themselves were fairly comfortable, however the Japanese pillows, which I believe are filled with buckwheat, weren’t the most comfortable pillows I’ve ever slept on, but they certainly weren’t the worst!

Room at the ryokan set up for bedtime
All set for bed!

In the morning

The morning routine was almost like a reverse of the night before. We awoke early and went for our shower/bath and while we were soaking ourselves, our room was being whipped up from a bedroom back into a dining room, ready for breakfast.

Breakfast included an assortment of Japanese nibbles, the fish was delicious, however I struggled to stomach the rest of it. As I’m not much of a breakfast person anyway (yeah yeah I know it’s the most important meal of the day!) and by this point in our trip I just fancied something quite boring like toast. I know. I am a terrible travel blogger for saying that.

We checked out fairly early as we were due to travel on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and upon check out we were presented with a gift – a neat box with chopsticks inside! Very sweet and thoughtful!

Japanese breakfast at a ryokan
The bit that looks like a nice apricot yogurt is actually raw egg >_<

Top tips

  • Advance booking is recommended as the ryokans are quite small and have limited availability.
  • In order to not have to worry about lugging our big suitcases with us for our one night stay in the ryokan we used a luggage forwarding service, quite a common thing to do in Japan and something that can be arranged at your hotel. We used this service a couple of times during our trip, so we had our luggage sent from our Kyoto hotel (where we stayed before our ryokan visit) to the hotel we would be staying at after departing the ryokan. Very efficient and helpful!
  • Follow ryokan etiquette regarding the removal of shoes, showering before bathing etc. And be sure not to place anything in the sacred alcove (pictured below with the wall hanging and flower arrangement).

Inside a Japanese ryokan

If you enjoyed this then you might like 10 foods to try in Japan or some of my other Japan adventures!

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Our Japanese Ryokan Experience in Kyoto - what to expect.

Alphabet Dating - D is for Dinner Date

Alphabet Dating – D is for Dinner Date

D is for Delayed.

We missed June completely because of returning from Cuba, hubby’s birthday and just generally not knowing what to do for our ‘D’ date. I had found the perfect date – watching Dirty Dancing at the Drive-In Movies, but I saw it advertised far too late. D’oh!

‘C’ date (aka Cuba) was quite an expensive date, so for ‘D’ we decided to go budget and just have a simple dinner date at home. My hubby was in charge of dinner and I was in charge of dessert. The dishes were meant to be surprises but when you share a kitchen, share a fridge and go grocery shopping together, the element of surprise is kind of removed. Oh well, I don’t really like surprises anyway!

For mains we had Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Chicken served with rice and salad, which in my book, tomato + mozzarella + pesto = win!

Baked Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Chicken Breastsserves 2

Pesto, mozzarella and tomato chicken served with rice and salad

Ingredients
2 x skinless chicken breasts
1 x tomato
1 x 125g mozzarella ball
5 tbsp green pesto

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Smother the chicken breasts in the pesto. My husband used around 5 tablespoons but feel free to use more/less depending on your taste.
2. Line a baking dish with foil and place the chicken breasts on top. Cook for 30 minutes.
3. Slice the tomato and mozzarella. Place on top of the chicken.
4. Place the chicken back in the oven and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.
5. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice and salad.

Dessert was a sweet and simple Eton Mess – yeah yeah I know it’s easy but I’ve never actually made one before and there’s a good reason why I’m not a food blogger!

Eton Messserves 3 (yeah I made too much!)

Eton Mess - a delightful mess including fresh strawberries and blueberries

Ingredients
Approx 140ml whipping cream
Approx 160g fresh strawberries
Handful of blueberries
3 x meringue nests
Small can of raspberries (optional)
Strawberry sauce (optional)

Method
1. Whisk the whipping cream until it forms peaks.
2. Crush the meringue nests into small pieces and spoon into the cream.
3. Chop the strawberries and add them, plus the blueberries, to the cream and meringue mixture (you may wish to save a couple for garnish)
4. Spoon in a few raspberries and their syrup to give the mixture a sweet pink hue.
5. Mix together and serve. Drizzle some strawberry sauce and garnish with remaining fruit if you wish.
6. Voila! Eton Mess. And your kitchen will probably be an Eton Mess too!

After Dinner comes Dessert, and after Dessert comes… Dishes! Sigh!

If you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for E… it’s Exciting!

Alphabet Dating - B is for Bridges and Beckett (and Bowie and Beehive and Burgers!)

Alphabet Dating – B is for Bridges and Beckett

Ok so we cheated slightly with this one in that we already had 2 events booked that would fit in with our ‘B’ date, but y’know, April was quite a busy and expensive month anyway so worked out quite well.

The o2 Academy in Brixton, London. Leon Bridges is playing.

First up was a Leon Bridges gig which just so happened to be in Brixton at The o2 Academy. We arrived early and decided to go for a drink beforehand. And whaddyaknow the local Wetherspoons is called The Beehive – couldn’t have worked out better if we had planned it! The Beehive was buzzing (LOL sorry!) so with no tables available, we had one quick drink and departed.

A pub called The Beehive. Perfect place for a drink on the letter 'B' of Alphabet Dating. Entirely accidental.

Leon Bridges and his support act, Andra Day, were both fantastic! Such perfect voices. Andra’s vocals reminded me alot of Amy Winehouse and Leon was the perfect soulful gentleman.

I didn’t know much about Bridges before we went to his gig but hubby has his album which we played alot in the car on our New Zealand road trip – so the music brings back good memories.

Soul singer Leon Bridges performing at The o2 Academy in Brixton

After the concert, we had the munchies so grabbed ourselves a Subway sandwich each, where I found outside painted onto a wall, this beautiful tribute to David Bowie.

Tribute to David Bowie. Brixton, London.

Beehive, Bridges and Bowie – 3 B’s and it was only the first half of our alphabet date.

Our second ‘B’ date occurred 2 weeks later when we went to see comedian Rob Beckett on stage. There were no other ‘B’ coincidences this time around and photography wasn’t permitted so I can only really show you this flyer.

Rob Beckett Tour Flyer

The show was funny but I didn’t do my cry-laughter thing until right near the end when he told his “Ed Nohead” joke (I won’t spoil it).

I appreciate that Bridges and Beckett are quite tricky ‘B’ date options if you’re reading this for your own ‘B’ date inspiration, so I do have one more…

Burgers. We went to our nearest branch of Gourmet Burger Kitchen because I was missing those delicious New Zealand style burgers and a refreshing can of L&P, and hubby had never even been to a GBK before so I had to take him. Oh my, L&P you are definitely in my top 5 things I miss about New Zealand!

What would you do for a ‘B’ date? If you missed  it, you can find our ‘A’ date here. Oh and stay tuned for ‘C’ – I promise it’s a good one!

Afternoon Tea at a Kent Country House

Afternoon Tea Chilston Park Hotel

Rather than the typical flowers, chocolates and toiletry gift sets, this year hubby and I decided to take our mums out for afternoon tea for their Mother’s Day presents. We didn’t go on Mother’s Day itself as other plans had been arranged (plus everywhere gets busy on Mothering Sunday) so we booked up for a few weeks later.

Our venue of choice was Chilston Park Hotel in Lenham, Kent – a classic British country house hotel set on 22 acres of parkland – fancy!

Chilston Park Hotel

Chilston Park Hotel in Kent set in 22 acres of parkland

When we entered the hotel, there were quite a few other people enjoying afternoon teas but it didn’t feel particularly crowded. There was definitely a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere about the place. The decor was very English country house style too, with its large windows and grand staircase.

We were seated in the light and airy dining room and were promptly asked what we would like to drink. Although there was a decent selection of teas available (and I do like a peppermint tea) we all decided to opt for the English Breakfast tea and I had to agree that it would be a better accompaniment with sandwiches and cakes.

There are several different afternoon tea options available but we chose the traditional tea which was a reasonable £21 each. We were served a selection of finger sandwiches – ham & mustard, egg, salmon and cream cheese & cucumber. Plus two scones each with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Followed by some mini desserts.

Enjoy a delicious afternoon tea at a classic Kent country house

The desserts were (from L-R) a lemon posset topped with marinated berries, carrot cake, macaroon, dark chocolate ganache and fresh fruit tartlet. All beautifully presented.

Afternoon tea cake selection at Chilston Park Hotel in Kent, England

We managed to devour everything but our second scones, they were pretty big and our tummies were full! So we asked the waitress if we could have our scones in a takeaway box to enjoy later.

All in all, our mums enjoyed their afternoon and are now wondering when we can go back!

Inamo London – the future of restaurants

Inamo is an Asian fusion restaurant situated in Soho, London. We went there for my birthday because –

a) I love Japanese food

and

b) They have an interactive ordering system – this is the future, people!

It might not be a new thing, but I certainly haven’t seen it anywhere before. There are no printed menus at Inamo, instead it is all projected onto your table and you can place your order digitally. You can also keep tabs of exactly how much you have spent, which is particularly handy if you are dining in a large group, rather than dealing with the whole messy splitting the bill situation. The only annoying thing about the interactive function was that I kept accidentally adding things to my order that I didn’t want, but it was easy enough to remove them again before ‘sending’ our order.

Cocktail and beer on the interactive tables at Japanese/Korean restaurant, Inamo in Soho, London

The other awesome thing about the interactive tables is that you can change the tablecloth, so to speak, by choosing different funky patterned backgrounds AND you can play games on your table – hubby and I had a couple of games of Battleships and Ping. Good fun while you wait for your food!

Funky patterns as digital tablecloths - the future of restaurants at Inamo Soho
Funky digital tablecloths

To begin, my husband ordered a Japanese beer while I decided to try one of the cocktails. I ordered the Ringoberi Mojito – rum and apple juice muddled with mint, sugar and blackberries. Yum!

The food at Inamo is kind of like Asian tapas, in that they bring it to you when it is ready, rather than the whole starters followed by mains deal. We decided to order the weekday set lunch menu of 2 courses for £10 and then share them so we get to try different things, as well as some tempura prawns from the normal menu because I discovered in Japan that I only really like prawns when they’re in a Japanese tempura!

We went for the rainbow maki (beetroot, pepper and cucumber sushi), which was alot smaller than sushi I’ve had elsewhere, but oh so beautifully presented!

Rainbow maki and a game of Battleships. Interactive dining at Inamo in London
Rainbow maki over a game of Battleships

We also ordered the Korean chicken wings which had a bit of a kick to them and were quite messy. If you’re going to Inamo on a first date or for a business meeting, do NOT order the chicken wings, there is no way to eat them in an attractive or professional manner.

The chicken wings were brought out alongside the tempura prawns, kind of as a second course after the maki. The tempura prawns were delicious and presented in a little wooden box with a side of Thai mango relish.

Tempura prawns and Korean chicken wings - Inamo Soho, London - an Asian fusion restaurant with a twist!

For our ‘mains’ (for lack of a better word), we both chose the teriyaki salmon which came with rice. The salmon was nice but I didn’t think it was that special, I think I was expecting more flavour. The funny thing was, when the waiter brought over our dishes he handed us one salmon and one curry, apologising that the kitchen had made an error, the curry was on the house and our other salmon was on its way. I think I actually enjoyed the curry more than the salmon! I don’t know what was in the curry as we couldn’t find it on the menu but we got lucky there!

Teriyaki salmon at Inamo in London
Teriyaki salmon
Curry from Inamo in London - Asian fusion restaurant
Our free curry!

Even though the dishes appeared to be small, we were absolutely stuffed afterwards so didn’t get to sample any of the restaurant’s dessert menu which sounded quite interesting – Baked Alasparkla in particular – baked alaska with a sparkle, hello!

Inamo Soho, also has a sister restaurant in Covent Garden, but both restaurants can get quite busy so it’s best to book in advance. However, we didn’t find it too busy visiting on a Friday lunchtime.

Inamo London - Asian fusion restaurant in Soho

Good food, good service but the winner was the futuristic and funky tables which I reckon will be everywhere before you know it!

If you liked this post you might enjoy my others about food, London or Japan.