A Japanese ryokan is a unique style of inn that encapsulates some of Japan’s oldest cultural traditions. Although there are many ryokan across the country, few have maintained such detail and adherence to tradition as Yoshida-Sanso in Kyoto, which offers so much more than simply a place to rest your head.
Located in cultural heart of Japan, Yoshida-Sanso Ryokan sits below the Yoshida Shrine at the foot of Mt. Yoshida. It is a truly remarkable building that has been recognised as a Tangible Cultural Property for it’s historical and artistic value.
An Imperial History
What makes Yoshida-Sanso even more special is that it is one of only six in Japan to have formerly been an Imperial Residence. Originally built as a home for Prince Higashi-Fushimi (Emperor Showa’s brother-in-law, and Uncle to Emperor Akihito) the property was built by master craftsmen in 1932. The design of the building incorporates traditional techniques and materials, with western elements to create a unique and timeless masterpiece.
When Prince Higashi-Fushimi left the home to become a monk and take care of a local temple, Yoshida-Sanso became a family owned ryokan which has since been managed by Kyoko Nakamura and her daughter Tomoko. In a traditional ryokan the Okami is responsible for the management and running of the inn, from choosing decorations and menus, to greeting and serving guests throughout their stay. The role of an Okami is traditionally passed down matriarchally through the family, and it is obvious that the ladies here have fully embraced the tradition with pride.
Upon arrival, guests are welcomed with a warm tea and traditional sweet, and are gifted a unique calligraphy poem that has been hand-written by Kyoko herself. This incredible attention to detail extends to every aspect of the building and grounds. Hand woven tatami mats provide the base for this simple yet intricate home, whilst original art is chosen by Kyoko to create the perfect feel for each season.
It is encouraged that guests experience as much of the Japanese culture and traditions as possible during their stay, so as to make the most out of this unique experience. Shoes are removed at the entrance to the ryokan, and in place guests are offered socks and traditional slippers to wear during their stay. Kimonos in beautifully patterned fabrics are offered to all guests, and it is custom to wear them at all times when at the house including to meals and in the garden. Though it may feel strange at first, you’ll soon come to realise how comfortable and liberating the kimonos are, both for the mind and body.
Another way to indulge in the ryokan lifestyle is to bathe in the traditional Japanese way, with a communal shower room and a large hot stone bath. You wont have to worry about sharing with strangers here however, as you and your party can enjoy the experience in the comfort of a private space. It’s the ideal way to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing, or simply to relax your mind and body.
The guestrooms are simple yet beautifully decorated, and offer a very comfortable sleep. As is traditional in Japanese culture, guests sleep on futons laid out on the tatami mats. All of the rooms are unique in shape, size and views, with 3 rooms in the main house and one as a standalone in the garden. The Kotobuki room offers a balcony with inspiring views over the ryokan gardens and Kyoto rooftops, whilst the Fuku room is exceptionally bright and airy, with astonishing views over the Higashiyama mountains. The Nan-ten room offers a tranquil garden view and is very popular with the local Zen monks due to it’s tranquil meditation space. The Hanare suite is surrounded by an abundance of greenery, creating the perfect space to reconnect with nature and revitalise your mind, body and soul.
The ryokan gardens are a place of peace and tranquillity, an oasis of meticulously kept trees and flowers around a lawn studded with beautiful, glistening black stepping stones. As seen at the entrance to shrines and temples across Japan, a bamboo water fountain continuously flows, symbolising purity. Prince Higashi-Fushimi designed the garden originally to be filled with pines. Although no pines remain today as a result of insects, the style and balance of the garden has been maintained, and cherry blossoms and other trees now thrive there.
Another of the outstanding aspects of staying in a ryokan is the incredible meals that are served at dinner time and for breakfast. Highly skilled chefs prepare incredible dishes using the best quality ingredients and ancient preparation and cooking techniques. The full course Kaiseki is a spectacular feast for the senses. Course after course of indescribable food is served in the most artistic and delicate way, with every bite offering a unique and unforgettable flavour. Be sure to sample the Yoshida-Sanso sake, made onsite – it’s the perfect compliment to an unforgettable culinary experience.
A Perfect Start to the Day
Start your day with an incredible spread of traditional Japanese cuisine, including miso soup, Japanese omelette, and phenomenal seasonal specials. Hot tea and fresh citrus fruits cleanse the palate between dishes, allowing you to fully enjoy the flavours and textures of each individual dish. Following breakfast, head over to the beautiful onsite tearoom for a complimentary mid-morning coffee before setting off to explore the many temples and shrines in the area.