September 14 – 17, 2017
Spending the night in a ryokan, a Japanese style hotel, and enjoying kaiseki cusine, a traditional mulit-course dinner, is a highlight on a visit to Japan. Kyoto offers some of the best ryokan experiences in Japan. We stayed at two top Kyoto ryokans, Seikoro, the topic of this post, and Tawaraya which I will cover in the following post along with a comparison of the two.
Seikoro is on a backstreet just off the river, a 5 minute walk from the Keihan line Kiyomizu Gojo station and about a 10 minute walk to start of the Lonely Planet walking tour of the southern Higashiyama area. There was tour group checking in in front of us when we arrived but it didn’t make a bit of difference. They checked us in straight away, first having us take off our shoes which were whisked off to some secret location.
The receptionist knew without me mentioning that we actually had two reservations. I had changed our reservation at the last minute and had to book a different room. She had an offer ready for us if we wanted to stay in the nicer room for all three nights. It added about $60 a night but in the end it was worth it.
The ryokan and room are very Japanese. This is a special experience, one you should try at least once on a visit to Japan. The traditional room has a low table in the center with another table near the window with a view of the garden.
In the evening the main room is converted into the dining room and then into the bedroom.
Although a traditional public bath is available, the room included a private bathing room with all the amenities.
The room attendant greeted us and explained the room and the amenities in English, including the proper wearing of the yukata, the Japanese dressing gown worn to the common bath. The left side is on top. We found out later that the right side on top is used for the deceased at funerals.
She served us green tea and a sweet pancake with a sweet bean paste filling. We had the same server all three days and she really made the experience extra special, explaining details of Japanese customs or food items. Although her English was somewhat halting and she often had to search for words this wasn’t a detraction from her charm and graciousness.
Kaiseki Dinner – The multicourse dinner included lots of fish dishes. If you are not a seafood fan this is not the set menu for you. We ordered small bottles of sake with the dinner, trying it both cold and at room temperature.
The first course included a variety of small appetizers – fish, pickled veg, and tofu among other things.
The sashimi course was one of my favorites, including very fresh , tuna, squid and horse mackerel.
Next up was a cooked piece of sea bream served with a scallop and a bowl of light soup with fish and citrus. This course was disappointing as the fish skin was scaly and scallop way overcooked.
The following course was a kind of eel and a fish served in a soy sauce.
Next was the vinegar course with a small piece of raw fish served in a bowl on vinegary seaweed garnished with goji berries.
This was followed by vegetable and fish tempura, freshly fried and beautifully presented with pickled vegetables.
For desert, melon severed with a sweet potato mousse. All in all a great experience. I can’t say it was the most exquisite or amazing food I’ve ever tasted but great fun nonetheless. The meal was served in our room with plenty of photo ops.
After dinner we decided to try the common bath. I’ve read and heard about these baths but this was our first experience. We walked to the daiyokujo, public bath, in our yukatas properly tied with the left side on top.
The room was empty, not even an attendant. There are cubby holes for your belongings and 6 washing stations with a low stool, about 8 inches off the ground with a shower wand, a small bucket and bath products on a low shelf. You wash yourself facing the wall so there is a sense of privacy.
Once you rinse all the soap off you enter the large wooded bath tub just adjacent. Perfect temperature. Would be a bit crowed for six but with just the two of us, my Aunt and myself, it was quite a luxurious thing to do before bed.
Back in our room our futons were laid out on the floor. Firm but comfy.
Breakfast – During our 3 night stay we tried both the Japanese and western breakfasts, one morning Japanese, one morning western and one morning one of each. The side dishes change each day with a greater variety in the Japanese breakfast.
The Japanese breakfast includes a grilled fish, a tofu dish, an egg or custard dish, pickled vegetables, a small bowl of tiny fish (which were smoked one morning) and rice among other things. The Japanese breakfast, however, does not include coffee which is an extra charge. Teiru was nice enough to include an extra-large serving of coffee with the western breakfast with two cups.
The western breakfast includes a choice of egg, fruit, juice toast, jam and butter and a meat product such as ham or sausage. They are western egg challenged and don’t really understand the concept of over easy. Their fried egg choice is one side or two. One side was a little too runny and two sides was too hard. The second morning the one-side egg was cooked medium which was much nicer.