“RYOKAN, TATAMI ROOM, TOKYO”. If you search these words, you can find “澤の屋 (SAWANOYA)”, one of the Japanese typical “旅館 (RYOKAN)” in Tokyo.
RYOKAN is the general term which means Japanese traditional hotel with TATAMI rooms. Actually, many of ONSEN hotels are categorised as RYOKAN as most of their rooms are TATAMI rooms, though it is translated to “ONSEN Hotel” in English. Apart from how it’s translated into English, “Hotel” and “Ryokan” are actually differently perceived by Japanese people. While you can find so many RYOKAN in the local cities or suburb area, it is a bit rare to find it in the big city like Tokyo.
SAWANOYA is located at 谷中 (YANAKA), 台東区 (TAITO Ward) in Tokyo. Although YANAKA is located in the central Tokyo where is very accessible to downtown, you can see the Japanese old and traditional townscape there, partially because YANAKA was not attacked at Air Raid on Tokyo of World War 2 miraculously.
A lot of shops and restaurants have remained as they used to be, and you can take a walk with viewing the good old days of Japan, which can be rarely seen in big city Tokyo.
Related article: 谷根千 (YANESEN) area: Time travel to the past in Tokyo
A family-owned “SAWANOYA RYOKAN”.
This SAWANOYA RYOKAN has been owned by very friendly owner, wife, son, and his wife. This friendly owner is the second generation owner, and his son is the third generation.
Japanese typical RYOKAN used to be the major accommodation facility for people to stay in the past, but as time has passed and the country has been modernized, “Hotel” typed accommodations have become majority instead of traditional RYOKAN which happened around 40 years ago. At that time, this second generation owner of SAWANOYA decided to accept the guests from outside Japan to deliver the attractiveness of traditional type RYOKAN to sustain it for the future.
90% of guests here are people from outside Japan.
SAWANOYA RYOKAN has only 12 rooms, and the maximum capacity is 20 people. Needless to say, all the rooms are TATAMI rooms. On the ground floor, there are the reception, a public space for dining and communication, bath, and refrigerator. The accommodation area are on the 2nd and 3rd floor and guests go up and down only by stairs. The washrooms are shared. These features are typical in the Japanese traditional RYOKAN, while this small sized family owned RYOKAN is a bit different from large scale RYOKAN in the local cities. It is not luxurious and the rooms are not so spacious.
However, so many people from outside Japan have stayed in this RYOKAN. I have heard that 90% of guests are from outside Japan, and only 10% are from Japan. According to this second generation owner, they have had more than 170,000 foreign guests from 89 countries.
This RYOKAN perfectly matches with many kinds of guests like family guests or guests who want to look around here. Since 2012, it has been awarded at “Traveler’s Choice” and “Certificate of Excellence” by Tripadvisor, thus you can easily imagine that the quality of their service and hospitality must be very satisfactory. Let me share my experience here.
Public space for dining and communication on the ground floor.
Here, there are so many number of pamphlets of local cities of Japan, guidebooks and brochures in English, and souvenirs. Also you can get information of some events which will be held nearby on that day at the information board located right next to the reception.
You can have breakfast without any prior reservation. If you just come down to this dining room during 7:30 am to 9:00 am, you can choose one from 4 types of menu, which only costs 300 yen.
- Two pieces of toast
- Two pieces of toast with scrambled eggs
- Two pieces of toast with sunny side up
- Two pieces of toast with ham and eggs
You can drink coffee, tea, and Japanese tea for free, while milk, tomato juice, and orange juice are optional. You are to toast a bread by yourself just like you do at home.
I chose No.4, but requested them to change ham and eggs to ham and scrambled eggs, and they kindly welcomed it. Very nice butter, strawberry jam, and orange jam are also served on the Japanese traditional looked tray.
I felt “Japaneseness” in each of every element, but at the same time it’s like being at home.
WIFI is accessible everywhere in this RYOKAN.
Although the bath here is shared, it is a really wonderful bath where you can view a small but beautiful Japanese garden. It has 2 bathrooms; one is with 陶器風呂 (ceramic bath), and the other is with 桧風呂 (Bathtub of Japanese cypress). Both of them can be used privately if there is no one else to use. You can just turn the tag back to show “Occupied” and lock the door.
I stayed 2 nights there, and most of the time it could be used privately.
There is a panel which instructs how to bathe in for people outside Japan in multiple languages.
Japanese TATAMI room
It is a simple room, but very clean and comfortable to stay. It has nice lights and 障子 (SHOJI) paper window. There was a 折り鶴 (A folded paper (an Origami) crane) put on the 布団 (FUTON / mattress / Japanese type bed) where I felt their warm hospitality.
There were tea leaves of Japanese green tea in the room. Actually less and less hotels and RYOKANs in Japan have tea leaves in the room, but having tea bags instead. This is also showing their warm hospitality. It has been a Japanese traditional culture to serve Japanese green tea to the guest who came all the way. Tea brewed in tea leaves and tea brewed in tea bag is totally different as tea in tea leaves gives you nice flavor with its taste. That’s why I usually become happy when the hotel or RYOKAN serve tea leaves.
The room has enough amenities, such as dryer, tooth brush, bath towel, hand towel, and YUKATA (casual and single layered KIMONO). A closet and washstand are in each room, while public toilet is at outside the room. An air conditioner is also equipped.
A public refrigerator
There is a public refrigerator which all the guests can use freely. Chilled water and barley tea are always inside and you can drink them anytime freely. It was just like all the guests were one family. I have come to feel like keep everything clean.
Hospitality of 2nd and 3rd generation owners are superb.
When I checked in, I kind of felt that they were saying “Welcome back” to me. I was kind of under impression that I had come here before. Did they actually say “Welcome back” instead of “Welcome”? No no, they didn’t say so, but I was feeling like I came back home.
This may be because how the owner and his wife have conversation with the guests, and their perfect sense of distance with the guests.
Although they treat us as guests, we feel them like our father and mother.
Before coming to this RYOKAN, I had communicated with them via email, and that communication was also very warm and comfortable. They had kindly answered all my queries perfectly. Then, when I finally reached there, they made me feel like I come back home. Through sharing a lot of things with guests as well, such as dining space, refrigerator, bath, and washroom, at the end of the day, I had come to feel like I was also one of the big family with the other guests. Of course, conversation with the other guests naturally happens at breakfast and any other time. This is the place where you can join the big family.
The 2nd and 3rd generation owners arrange this comfortable environment with warm ambience and atmosphere. They don’t do too much and they don’t care too much, but they help and support us whenever we need.
Let’s take a walk around 谷中 (YANAKA) town.
As mentioned in the beginning, YANAKA is the place you can touch the old traditional townscape of Japan, and it is the perfect place for you to take a walk.
I will share some recommended spots where you would better visit in a separate post.