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.

National Pink Day!

Apparently today is National Pink Day. Hello, did no one tell the Mean Girls because today is Thursday and on Wednesdays we wear pink!

Oh yes if there’s two things I love it’s a Mean Girls quote and the colour pink. So in honour of National Pink Day I thought I would share with you not one, not two, but TEN pink themed photographs taken by myself or by my husband’s fair hand.

Tokyo, Japan
This pretty picture was taken during the cherry blossom season at the canal in Naka Meguro, Tokyo. If you’re thinking of visiting Japan in spring then check out my post Cherry Blossoms in Japan to see where else I saw the sakura.

Cherry blossoms at the canal in Naka Meguro in Tokyo, Japan - Photo by QuirkyLittlePlanet.com

Florida, USA
Taken at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, I captured the castle lit up in pretty hues of pink, purple and orange while the firework show was taking place. The firework show is a must-do for any Disney theme park visit.

Disney castle lit up pink during the fireworks display at Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida

Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
These charming orchids caught my eye at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sri Lanka as they remind me of the singing flowers in Alice in Wonderland. Actually, they are pretty proud of their orchids in Sri Lanka!

Beautiful flowers at the Royal Botanical Garden in Sri Lanka

Havana, Cuba
If you follow me on instagram then you’re probably sick of the sights of this car but in my defense it’s not every day you get to ride around in a fuschia pink 1952 chevrolet!

1952 pink chevrolet in Havana, Cuba. A must do for any girl about town!

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
I love this photo. I was obsessed with these lupins and this lake during my brief visit to New Zealand. To be fair, all the scenery in New Zealand is like some sort of instagrammer’s dream. But seriously, look how pretty these pink and purple lupins are against the blue of the sky and water!

Lupins at Lake Tekapo in New Zealand - an instagrammer's dream!

Las Vegas, USA
I have no idea why we didn’t stay in the Flamingo hotel given that I love flamingos! Nevertheless we did go and have a nosey about and I took this photo of the bright lights in all their glory.

Bright lights of the fabulously pink Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas strip.

Port Douglas, Australia
I heart Port Douglas. If I could retire there I probably would. We took a walk along the beach at sunset and I captured the soft candy coloured hues of the sun setting in the sky. Bliss!

Soft candy coloured hues of the sun setting on Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas, Australia.

Wellington, New Zealand
Another New Zealand pic, another botanic garden. The weather was not great in Windy Welly but we cheered ourselves up with a little look around the gardens and snapped a few colourful flower shots!

Sweet pink blossom on the trees at Wellington Botanic Garden, New Zealand

Kyoto, Japan
Kind of an obvious one this, but the shop is called Pink Latte so it already earnt its place in the gallery by that alone. I didn’t buy anything in here but you betcha I dragged hubby through it so I could look at all the Kawaii going on in there!

Pink Latte shop in Kyoto, Japan

Arashiyama, Japan
Yep Japan makes it in the gallery for a third time! But this photo is a little bit special as it has little ol’ me in there with my pink clothes and pink hair standing infront of a pink bush with my boring yet functional black bag. Doh.

Pink and more pink in Arashiyama, Japan

I hope this post left you feeling tickled pink! If orange is more your bag then click here. Or if blue’s more your hue then you might like this pinterest board.

Happy National Pink Day!

Cats around the world

Today is Good Deeds Day and as you know, my good deed for 2016 is my volunteer work at my local cat rescue centre. It’s only cleaning pens, monitoring and socialising the cats for a couple of hours a week but I like to think it makes a small difference to the cats’ well being and also helps the awesome, hardworking staff out a bit too.

So as a bit of a tenuous link I thought I would post some photos of cats around the world that I have met…

Tabby cat asleep on a green chair in Lanzarote, Spain

This kitty cat was sleeping on the bizarre green chair outside the shop at the Monumento al Campesino (farmers monument) on the Spanish island of Lanzarote. I was drawn to him/her because this sweetie looks alot like the cat I had growing up.

3 little kitties outside the Bahia Palace in Marrakech, Morocco

This adorable trio were among several other cats hanging around outside the Bahia Palace in Marrakech, Morocco. I just wanted to bundle them all up and take them home with me because I felt sorry for them, I just hope someone at the palace is looking after them!

Grey and white cat in Morocco

Special mention to this cat who I met en route to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The guides wanted us tourists to stop and buy pottery and trinkets from the shop but I was more interested in making friends with this cutie.

Cat hiding in a box at a Cat Cafe in Tokyo, Japan

This pretty kitty was one of the pampered felines at the Cat Cafe I visited in Tokyo, Japan. There were lots of lovely cats there but I chose to feature this one here as it was the only cat who sat on my lap and took treats from me, the rest were too busy snoozing!

Cat poking its tongue out while sleeping at a Cat Cafe in Tokyo

Although shout out to this cheeky kitty, who although slept the entire time we were at the Cat Cafe, looked so adorable poking its tongue out!

Pickles the Hobbiton cat lives at The Green Dragon Inn at The Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand

This beauty is Pickles the Hobbiton cat. After a rough start in life, Pickles soon found a wonderful new home – at The Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, New Zealand. We went to get a drink in The Green Dragon Inn after our tour of the set and found Pickles curled up on a chair infront of the fireplace. It was a hot day so I really didn’t need to sit infront of a blazing fire, but the lure of petting a snoozing kitty was just too much to resist!

Cat sitting on a giant chess board in Alice Springs, Australia

This sweet creature was one of the resident cats at the hostel we stayed at in Alice Springs, Australia. I think the owner said her name is Tink and she’s an impressive 21 years old! We didn’t see much of the other (much younger cat) at the hostel as she was out exploring but Tink could often be found chilling out in the kitchen or garden.

Black cat sitting on decking in Fiji

This fur baby was probably my favourite. Her name is Friday and she lives on Robinson Crusoe Island in Fiji. We found her chilling on the decking outside our bure one morning and she kept on coming back for a fuss. We more or less made her our island cat and she even came to say goodbye to us when we left.

This purrfect post is dedicated to all the Crazy Cat Ladies and Gentlemen out there x

Seasons – Weekly Photo Challenge

I decided to get involved with this week’s photo challenge simply because it gives me the opportunity to show off four photos I have taken, in four different places, representing each of the four seasons.

The four seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter

Clockwise from left:
Spring in Japan – cherry blossom season, a celebrated springtime event.
Summer in the Maldives – a clear blue sky and turquoise seas always evoke memories of summer.
Autumn in Iceland – cloudy skies and a mix of green and brown countryside show autumn is upon us.
Winter in England – nothing says winter more than snow!

If you would like to join in the fun, then check out the rest of the submissions on The Daily Post.

10 surprising things about Japan

Japan is one of my all time favourite destinations so I thought I would share some of the kooky, awesome and surprising things I learnt while I was there.

10 surprising things about Japan

1. Not everything is high-tech

So you know about the high-tech toilets right? The ones with seat warmers and sounds? Yet how come in most public restrooms they have these fancy toilets yet there are no hand dryers and quite often not even any soap?!

2. Kawaii is everywhere

Kawaii (cute) is not something just for school girls and small children, I saw grown business men (or salary men as the Japanese call them) with kawaii Pikachu phone charms.

Black Egg Kitty - a mascot at Owakudani where you can buy blackened eggs cooked in volcanic pools
Black Egg Kitty at Owakudani where you can buy eggs cooked in volcanic pools

3. Japanese people are incredibly helpful

Although English is not as widely spoken there as it is in other parts of Asia, people will still go out of their way to help you.

On our first visit to Tokyo, we were stood in a train station, slightly baffled, trying to make our way to Harajuku. A random commuter approached us, not speaking a word of English (and us not speaking much more than a couple of words of Japanese). He then proceeds to point at our map and point at the map on the wall. After alot of pointing from us and the man, we thanked him (arigato) and went on our way. We made it to Harajuku fine. I also remember having lunch one day and flicking through my Lonely Planet guidebook, when out of nowhere a young woman came up to us at our table and asked if we needed help finding anything.

On our second visit to Tokyo, a kind old lady showed us the way to our hotel, again not speaking any English, but happy to help us without us even asking.

4. Japanese people are also polite and kind

Being a tourist in a foreign city it’s easy to be wary of any strangers who approach you because more often than not, they want something. To be fair, this happens at home too. So anyway, when we were greeted by a man suddenly at Ueno Zoo who offered to take our photo and then asked us alot of questions, my guard was up. He then gave me a little leather shoe phone charm and went on his way. He didn’t want money. It was a gift. He had made it himself. I was wrong to jump to a conclusion but can you blame me? I spent the rest of the trip gushing about how nice everyone in Japan is.

5. The television is as weird as you imagine

We saw a show where they got a bunch of people to make a human table and then a girl proceeded to dance on top of this human table. We also watched a programme of people being surprised with cute animals to play with!

Bizarre Japanese television - a human table
Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘bending over backwards’ !

6. They play cutesy jingles in train stations

For some reason, most of the train stations we hopped on and off at played cheeping bird noises from a speaker. I don’t know why but I kind of miss it. They also play cutesy jingles when the train is in and doors are closing. Not something I’ve ever experienced anywhere else.

7. The Japanese love a theme

Theme restaurants and cafes are all over Japan. We visited an Alice in Wonderland restaurant, a cat cafe, a rabbit cafe and a maid cafe. There are also many other places you can go and experience, from dining in a jail cell to having your food brought out to you by a ninja!

Cat Cafe in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan

8. Vending machines are king

Yes they are everywhere. Most of them sell drinks but you can buy all sorts of other stuff from them. Gachapons are also quite common and mainly sell toys, although apparently there is one somewhere in Tokyo that sells wigs for dogs!

Souvenir vending machines in Japan
Souvenir vending machines

9. Gerbils are zoo animals here

I used to keep pet gerbils in the days before I had my cat. They’re not super common pets in the UK in the way that cats and dogs are but they are still pretty popular. So it came as a surprise to me to find that in Japan, gerbils are actually zoo animals!

Mongolian Gerbil at Ueno Zoo in Japan

10. Robots are for real

Imagine my excitement on my first evening in Tokyo, I headed to the Tokyo Dome entertainment complex for a bite to eat to find this robot just wandering about!

Have you been to Japan? What surprised you?

Why not follow my Japantastic Japan board on Pinterest for inspiration?