Last December, I was in Japan, and we decided to stay for a night at Yumotokan, an upclass ryokan onsen hotel 20min away by train from Kyoto Station. As the hotel website was not too user-friendly, we went ahead to make the booking via bookings.com and made our way there with an open mind, unsure of what we’ll be getting. It was my first time staying at a ryokan, my first time to try onsen baths too and I was really excited!
Took a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto and at one point, I got sights like these out of my window (tip: sit on the right side of the train!).
What’s a ryokan?
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, typically offering bathhouses with therapeutic, hot spring baths in their premises, and kaiseki meals. Ryokans originated as rest-houses for long-distance travellers, but have now evolved into relaxation destinations.
A traditional ryokan has Japanese-style rooms with tatami flooring and futon mats as beds. Shoes are removed at the entrance of the room. Some ryokan rooms come with a private bath in addition to the shared baths. Staying at a ryokan is an experience itself.
A taste of the traditional Japanese lifestyle
Upon reaching the train station, we made a call and Yumotokan sent a van to pick us up. 5 minutes later, with cold, gloomy weather outside and drizzling rain, we arrived, stepping outside to a rather unassuming exterior. But we quickly learned to not judge a book by its cover, because Yumotokan onsen ryokan hotel blew us away from the inside, in every manner.
Service by Yumotokan’s staff was impeccable. They were very attentive yet balanced the attentiveness without intrusion. Our room was spacious for the 5 of us. The ryokan looks really cozy and authentic! This lady with an excellent service attitude was assigned to be our host. Chiharu took care of us from bringing us into our ryokan room on check-in day, to serving us meals during our stay.
Our ryokan room
This is the ryokan we stepped into, high up on level 9. It was gorgeous! We got views of Lake Biwa – Japan’s largest freshwater lake – straight out of the windows.
We had green tea and afternoon snacks in the ryokan, prepared for us.
Our ryokan also comes with a private, indoor bathtub made of cypress wood. Wonder why the bathtub is made of cypress wood? It’s because cypresswood gives off a fragrant smell when heated. You can soak in the comfort and privacy of your own onsen inside the bathroom.
Yumotokan has various indoor and open-air, gender-specific hotspring baths for hotel guests. The onsen baths were unbelievable, as written earlier in this post.
For the shared onsen baths, Yumotokan has pools with different ambiences, such as a friendly indoor bath like a swimming pool, open-air, sheltered baths overlooking Lake Biwa, or outdoor, unsheltered ones with rocks in the pool. Some of the more unique hotsprings are alternated between genders everyday, so that everyone gets a chance to try. It was a surreal experience soaking in different onsens, and especially lovely in winter! Can you imagine? It’s cold outside but you’re soaking so comfortably in hot water. (Did I mention it was my first time trying a Japanese hotspring? You can read about the experience here!)
To walk around outside of your ryokan, whether you’re going to the onsen baths or to the dining areas, you can wear yukata robes provided within your ryokan room. The yukatas are placed in a small drawer in your room, categorised by height so you just choose accordingly, while younger kids will have cuter print designs prepared separately ahead. There are also Japanese socks, and standard sandals everyone wears over the hotel grounds. My entire outfit here is the result! The maroon piece is a bonus due to it being winter =)
After hitting the onsens, it was time for dinner. We went down to the dining floor. Dining rooms are segregated and you’ll get an enclosed dining area/room to yourselves.
Dinner – A Kaiseki Affair
Known as “kaiseki“, referring to a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, Yumotokan serves cuisine according to the season. The chef (at Yumotokan, Grand Chef Kazumasa Ohira) will prepare the menu using seasonal ingredients. True to promise, each dish was exquisite both in sight and taste. As some of us don’t consume beef, the chef prepared pork for us. It was apparent that the meal had been prepared with much effort and passion. We had a really long, enjoyable and fulfilling dinner.
While we were having dinner, the staff went into our ryokan and turned it into a bedroom (note: you can lock up valuables in the safe inside the ryokan before you go out), so that we can rest right after dinner. Indeed that’s what most of us did! The window shades were drawn to minimize noise and light. The futon beds had been arranged neatly on the floor by the staff. It was surprisingly comfortable sleeping on the futons as they were thick and nice! I didn’t sleep much though because I’d drank too much tea during dinner – caffeine overdose!
Breakfast – Another elaborate affair
I got out of bed at the crack of dawn, just so I could take a morning soak at the onsen and watch the sun rise over Lake Biwa. Afterwards, we went for breakfast. All the dishes in the gallery is one person’s share, just like the dinner gallery above, omg I cannot believe how wonderful meal-time was!
This is Chiharu, the cheerful and polite host that took care of us! Thank you Chiharu!
It was hard to say goodbye.
After a night at Yumotokan, it was time to check out. That morning, we got this breathtaking view at the windows, complete with the trees rustling in the wind and maples leaves floating right past our windows. It was hard saying goodbye to this place which I’d fallen in love with so easily and deeply.
Yumotokan onsen ryokan hotel is one that totally exceeded my expectations. The one-night stay here was definitely the highlight of my trip!
Visited: Dec 2015
Address: 520-0102 Shiga, Otsu, Noka 2-30-7, Japan
Useful links: Yumotokan website • Yumotokan on TripAdvisor • Book Yumotokan on Bookings.com –>
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