Tawaraya Ryokan is a 300-year-old ryokan and is the oldest in Kyoto. Established in the Edo period, aristocrats frequented the inn for its excellent service. The inn has a reputation for treating its guests like royalty, which has been preserved to this day.

The inn provides personalized service, suitable to each person who stays at the hotel, leaving no space for compromising their quality of food and service.

In spite of this intimidating reputation, the inn radiates the comfort and hospitality of a welcoming environment, praised as a “home away from home”.

The 18 rooms have maintained their traditional Japanese elements, with some of the newer additions featuring a touch of modern design. The rooms ranging from 45,000 to 112,000 JPY per night.

Tawaraya Ryokan is located in the city center of Kyoto and is accessible from Tokyo Station.

The hotel is operating normally with safety measures in place and limited acceptance to prevent the spread of infection.

Is this place ryokan only or ryokan with an onsen?
Ryokan

Does this ryokan have private onsen (hot spring)?
No

Is there a communal shared public bath?
No

In or near
Kyoto

Price range (yen)
45,000 – 112,000

Tawaraya Ryokan

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Tawaraya Ryokan is a work of art - a wooden maze that reveals ikebana, gardens, books, and light at every turn. And that's just not it, the service itself is an art, refined over three centuries of its history. I forgot the hectic and stress of day to day life, waking and sleeping in a living painting, where time stands still. My room had a beautiful poetic name 松籟 (shorai) which means “the sound of the wind blowing through pine trees.” Isn't that absolutely romantic and tranquil? The relaxing environment, the books and my own spacious room that overlooked a beautiful Zen Garden made my stay at this Ryokan a dream come true. It's magnificence is near mythical, it's that good. Oh what's more even though always fully booked Tawaraya makes you feel as if though you're the only one staying at it, making you feel like a royalty.

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This ryokan was recommended and booked by a business associate. It is hard to get into but worth it if possible. Upon signing the guest book, I saw many well known names. Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and my college roommate who is an accomplished Boston architect and Harvard professor. That says it all.

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If you wanna make a reservation from this page, the website "Zenhotels" shows is not Tawaraya Ryokan. That is "Tawara-An" careful...(2020-09-01)


Tawaraya Ryokan

Total rating: 4.5
avatarKI-NRT
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A tranquil and historic Japanese inn that escorts you back in time
Tawaraya is a historic ryokan that steadfastly clings to its roots, for better or for worse. For instance, it has no official website, does not accept online reservations (save for a handful of Japanese booking sites like JTB) and room descriptions and details are non-existent - you literally have to call them up and talk to a staff member to have a discussion about room options (and confirm the room.) Combine that with the fact that the property only has a scant 18 guest rooms, and you definitely will get the sense that you'll be staying somewhere very exclusive. Do these things add to the allure and mystique, or is it too much of a hassle to bother with? The answer is quite complicated, and it will depend on your interests. Given that, as first time visitors we were curious as what kind of service we can expect; we were bracing ourselves for some amount of snobbery, but thankfully the service was elegant, dignified and personal. Tawaraya's staff are not particularly chatty, which is a plus or minus depending on whether you want unobtrusive or engaging service. To us, it was just right. Immediately upon stepping foot into the narrow entrance of Tawaraya, we felt like we were being whisked away to a bygone era, and not in any contrived way... Tawaraya was established during the time when America was still a British colony (the ryokan was founded in 1707, to be precise.) Everything from the architecture, the decor, paintings and gardens harken back to the Edo-era Japanese aesthetic (see the accompanying photos to see for yourself.) Tawaraya does not stand out in a way that's typical of historic properties in other countries - no grand entrance, no blingy adornments, no massive lobby or lounge area, and no sweeping views of any place in particular (except for the immaculately maintained gardens.) Instead, you'll enter into a wooden maze of corridors that reveal different angles (and amount) of natural light, ancient artifacts (hanging scrolls, small stone figurines), folding screens with paintings from the Muromachi period, old books, ikebana flower arrangements, a small seating area for two with views of the garden - things like that. You really need to slow down and take your time, and perhaps enlist the services of your room attendant to explain the history, uniqueness and meaning of everything that's decorated in the public areas as well as in your room. Then, you will feel the authenticity of Tawaraya. In too many cases, "old" and "historic" equals shabby and run-down; this is definitely not the case with Tawaraya. Everything is meticulously maintained, including the small gardens scattered througout the property, and we didn't notice a single speck of dust anywhere on site. Furthermore, most modern amenities on offer (fast WiFi, Toto toilets with washlets, TV, a wooden bathtub) are similar to what you'd find and expect in a contemporary luxury hotel. We booked a "standard Japanese room" online at JTB's website (sadly, only in Japanese), which is the only room category that's bookable online (confirmed later by our Tawaraya room attendant), and we didn't bother to explore options to get a better room there - from what we've heard from trusted sources, the best rooms (assuming you even know the names of the rooms) are generally only made available to repeat customers. Maybe next time we'll get preferential treatment in this regard. In any case, we were assigned room #19, named "Kotobuki." It was on the ground floor and was spacious enough for the two of us, although we definitely would have opted to pay more for an upgraded room if given the choice. For instance, there was no place to stow away our luggage out of sight, there was only one sink, and the Japanese style room had a typical layout that was reminiscent of "lesser" ryokans; in other words, it's a dual-purpose room - you get one big room that serves as a living/dining room during the day, which later becomes your sleeping quarters at night (your butler will come in and move the coffee table and sitting chairs off to the side, and roll out the futons. We have been spoiled in our travels by generally choosing rooms with dual sinks/vanities, large closets that can fit both of our rollerboards, and dedicated and separate living room/bedrooms. That said, our room did have a (very) small but functional separate study room with a table and two chairs, and the overall size is similar to what you'd find in an entry level room at Four Seasons Kyoto or Ritz-Carlton Kyoto. Finally, each room on the ground floor has its own small private garden, which you can admire from the living room (you can even step outside into the garden if you so desire.) We love having meals served in our own room (the actual room that we're staying it), and many ryokans nowadays do not offer this option nowadays (prohibitive labor costs, I'm guessing.) We were delighted to find that Tawaraya still holds to the ancient Japanese ryokan tradition of serving both kaiseki dinner and breakfast in each guest room, and is handled by the room attendant (aka "Butler") assigned to you. We found the cuisine to be above average, but not exceptional... mind you, we are major foodies and have stayed at many of the top ryokans in Japan, so that's what we're comparing Tawaraya to. The flavors are definitely on the bland side (Kyoto flavors, in general, are very subtle, mind you), and was neither particularly creative nor memorable. We love Kaiseki, and enjoyed our meals at Tawaraya, but based on our own experience (and opinion), I wouldn't consider the food to be the primary reason to stay here. The same held true for the Japanese breakfast; the spread was not as varied or vast as what we've experienced at other top ryokans, and we felt that it lacked imagination. A few other random observations: - Tawaraya offers free valet parking; Hiiragiya, which is located right across the street, does not. The latter points you to the nearest parking lot, and you need to go park the car yourself. This only matters if you choose to drive to the property. - A Hiiragiya, the Okami-san (proprietress) stopped by our room to pay her respects, and engaged in conversation with us for about 10 minutes. While this is not standard practice, it is somewhat commonplace at high-end, family-run small ryokans. This is in spite of Hiiragya having almost double the number of guest rooms than Tawaraya. So... is it worth staying at Tawaraya? If you're simply looking for a luxury hotel stay with a vast room with modern comforts, and want a bar, gym, pool and concierge, then there are better options. If you're looking to share Instagram-worthy photos with our followers, there are properties with much more compelling "money shot" opportunities - Tawaraya is not a place where you look at one photo and think, "Wow, THIS place looks fabulous, I want to stay here!" On the other hand, if you're looking for a remarkable cultural EXPERIENCE, are a Japanophile, or would like to truly detach yourself from the modern world and your hectic daily routine, then few properties rival Tawaraya in providing an authentic Japanese stay that's seeped in history and the country's famed "Omotenashi" service ethos. There are definitely many inns in Japan that offer superior views, Onsen hot springs baths, larger rooms and delicious food at similar (or lower) price points, but Tawaraya is not a tick box-checking place, and stakes claim to something that few other places have - it has history on its side.

avatarMadeline H
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Waking and Sleeping in a Living Painting
Tawaraya is a work of art, a wooden maze that reveals ikebana, gardens, books, and light at every turn. What's more, the service is an art, refined over three centuries of its history. My room had its own garden that I could walk in and out of, a wooden bath, and an ink painting from the Muromachi Period. It was a dream to experience Kyoto's 300-year-old, beautiful ryokan with its impeccable service and breathtaking history. Please reach out to Japanese Guest Houses if you need help securing your reservation, as I did. Tawaraya serves royalty and will make you feel like royalty. Your stay will be a memory of your lifetime. As written in The New York Times, "Here, within Tawaraya, is the world, ordered and perfect, and in the perfection of this inner world we gain the strength to move about in the outer world."

avatareskalinus
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Arrogant, racist & discriminatory policies
We (two Germans) booked one night with Tawaraya Ryokan already a few months ago and were looking forward to staying with them for a genuine Japanese experience - we have planned my boyfriend's birthday around it. The booking procedure is already kind of complicated - no eMail, no Website, but we managed to reserve via phone call and fax. We knew that they had a rather complicated booking system given their reputation as apparently THE best Ryokan in Kyoto and their celebrity status and so it was okay for us. We were scheduled to stay with them from March 27 to March 28. Starting three to four days before the intended stay, they called us almost every day to reconfirm that we still would come despite the Covid-19 situation. We reconfirmed our arrival with them twice and although we found it a bit odd that they called so frequently, it is understandable that businesses are afraid these days to miss out on bookings... we all know that the economic situation these days is pretty distressing. Plot twist: On March 26 (only one day after they have called us to reconfirm our arrival for the second time), a male manager of Tawaraya called us for the third time but this time to let us know that they have cancelled our booking. Weirdly enough, this was the day when Shinzo Abe had announced the cancellation of the Olympics and a travel ban on EU member states had been imposed. One day earlier, everything with them had seemed fine, but their mood shift came quickly and unexpected - most likely because of misdirected action-taking as a result of Abe's crisis management strategy. According to the manager, the cancellation was due to the fact of us being German. He told us that he was afraid of us bringing Covid-19 into a Japanese inn (since contact between staff members and guests is closer than in a Western-style hotel - which is true) and the owner's mom is in her mid-90s and he was frightened of her getting sick. At first this might seem understandable, but there is a huge BUT: I have lived in Japan since mid-January and haven't left the country since then. My boyfriend has already been to Japan for more than 14 days prior to our intended stay at Tawaraya. We could have easily proven that we have in Japan for a while by showing our passport entry stamps. If we had contracted Covid-19, it would have happened in Japan and by no means in Germany. We described our situation of having been in Japan for a long time and that both of us were well beyond quarantine period to the respective manager, but he didn't even listen. His decision was already final - that became visible as he already had a "solution" prepared for us. He said that we could have contracted Covid-19 by walking around in public in Japan anyways, and that is why he cannot accommodate us. So we asked him whether they would temporarily shut down Tawaraya in general to protect their staff and their families (which would have been noble) or whether it was just because of our nationality, and they said that they are still welcoming guests, but no Europeans regardless of their individual situation. Apparently, Japanese genetics (or a Japanese passport) seem to protect one from contracting Covid-19 EVEN WHEN WALKING AROUND IN PUBLIC. Craziest reasoning I have heard in a while, but yeah. This is beyond ridiculous and in fact discriminatory. Since we have been in Japan demonstrably for a long time (my boyfriend: more than 14 days which are the legally required quarantine period; myself: for 2,5 months), hosting us would have not been riskier than hosting any Japanese citizen. As long as they do not require a negative Covid-19 test from anyone entering their premises, they have to deal with some risk of Covid-19 transmission and it is stupid to believe that a German passport causes a higher risk of transmission than a Japanese one if you are unwilling to take one's individual situation into account. They were also bluntly lying to us. Via eMail, we got a notification of the cancellation from them where they said they had cancelled our reservation in line with legal regulations imposed by government on them. If that was true, no ryokan (bar, small hotel, etc.) would have been allowed to accept foreign guests anymore. Funny enough, another one of the finest Ryokans in Kyoto where we ended up staying took our reservation last minute. In addition to that, we also never have encountered any problems in the consecutive days in Kyoto - whether it be hotels, bars, restaurants, etc. Thus, Tawaraya's action has been completely arbitrary and subjective and has by no means any legal foundation. Also, their way to handle this situation had been totally random. They had offered us one night on their bill at Okura Kyoto which might by no doubts be a good hotel, but it is weird that they didn't seem to understand that Westeners don't book a Ryokan for 1000€+ because they want to have the average 5-star hotel experience that you can have anywhere in the world but because you want to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture. We would have been open to adjustments given the situation these days - cancellation of the room service or the like, but booking a Western-style hotel room as an attempt to compensate demonstrates that they don't seem to understand their customers' motives.

avatarBrian N
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100% worth the effort to book
I actually tried to book with Shirume-which I stayed at my first trip to Kyoto and loved-but they were sadly booked up. The always friendly and helpful Tomoko actually recommended Tawaraya as the “most famous” ryokan in Kyoto whixh I found a bit surprising given how fantastic Shiraume was. The ryokan has no website or email. Reservations must be made via fax only. Given the time difference and language barrier this was not the easiest task to coordinate. But with some tenacity and follow-up I was able to schedule and confirm my 2 night stay at this lovely ryokan. Our first night was in the “older” section of the ryokan in a special suite. Everything from the outdoor garden, futon sleeping beds, the bamboo flooring and wooden bath (drawn by the staff) made the experience authentic and incredible. The Kaiseki dinner we ordered our first night was very good. Although not the best meal we head, it’s something to experience at least once in life. The second night we were moved to the “newer” annex of the ryokan, but again into a larger special suite. This also was incredible and did not disappoint. The second suite was a bit more “modern” but retained the same charm and comforts of the first. The ryokan is about an 8 minute walk from Nishiki Market and right down the street from a 300 year old soba restaurant. I would highly recommend Kobe Misono which is a 10 min walk from the ryokan and is quite simply the best teppanyaki I’ve ever experienced. Staff was helpful and incredibly accommodating. If you have the tenacity and the means, I would strongly recommend you book your Kyoto stay here. If I ever return to Kyoto for a 3rd visit I would certainly be torn between Tawaraya and Shiraume, but you cannot go wrong with either. Cheers!

avatartaniatsiamis
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Exquisite experience
Tawaraya ryokan lives up to all expectations. From the moment you arrive and you are greeted at your taxi and gently whisked into this tranquil haven, tawaraya is personalised service at the highest level. Our time was in the middle of a busy itinerary and a day and night of escape was lovely. Suzu, our personal attendant took wonderful care of us an the in room dining experience is worth it.

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