Tawaraya Ryokan is considered to be one of the best ryokans in Kyoto, located in Nakagyo. For years, this inn has been luring travelers from all over the world with its top-notch service and quality accommodations. As a matter of fact, the late and legendary Steve Jobs was once a guest of this ryokan.
It was founded in the Edo period and developed in the Meiji period by aristocrats and daimyo. The 300 years of existence of this ryokan gained itself a high reputation, also making it the oldest ryokan in Kyoto. With its long history in the hospitality industry, guests can be reassured of the quality of its services.
The ryokan is renowned for its laid-back atmosphere, thanks to its tranquil Japanese style rooms, expertly maintained garden, and scrumptious meals, which are interestingly based on the seasons. They also take pride in their popular and original soap, which is highly recommended.
Tawaraya Ryokan has traditional Japanese architecture with tatami floors and comfortable futon beds. This inn takes pride in displaying the authenticity of a Japanese atmosphere. Each room at Tawaraya Ryokan has safety deposit boxes and refrigerators. Guests can choose from Japanese-styled room and the fuse of Japanese and Western styled room.
During one’s stay at the inn, guests can enjoy a hot spring bath paired with a massage for an ultimate relaxing experience. Moreover, guests can always satisfy their appetites with delicious choices that the Tawaraya Ryokan offers. Visitors can also enjoy free breakfast, which is delivered to one’s room.
Tawaraya Ryokan Facilities
✓ Japanese Style
✓ Private Bath
✓ Room service
✓ Dinner and Breakfast
✓ Breakfast only (available)
✓ Free parking
✓ Free Wi-F
✓ Non-smoking hotel
✓ Credit Card
✓ Near: restaurants and shops
✓ Rooms suites
Tawaraya Ryokan Cost
The starting price of the Ryokan is ¥40,000 (350 USD) per person during the slow season and costs up to ¥90,000 (820 USD) during the peak seasons . The level of prices is a little lower than Hiiragiya Ryokan, which is situated just across the street.
Based on the reviews, Tawaraya Ryokan is considered to be a work of art, some even saying that they felt like they were living in a painting. Guests emphasized the quality of the service, even stating some of the staff names, which made their stay more intimate and personal. The food of the ryokan also won visitors’ tastes and approval.
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."
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.
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!
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.
There are no words to describe how special Tawaraya is for us. We had booked two nights, and were supposed to transfer over to the Ritz for our third night in Kyoto, but we ended up extending our stay at Tawaraya because we were so in love with it and couldn't bring ourselves to leave. (We opted out of the dinner for two nights out of three). None of the pictures will give you a true understanding of this place. The service is unparalleled and out of this world. But it is also so personal and sincere. Our attendants, Chio and Momo, were amazing. The front desk staff attended to our needs and questions promptly. And we were in love with the mid-century modern furniture and details, mixed with the ancient Japanese ryokan. Be sure to check out Ernest's study and the library and reading rooms. We also loved the cafe on the corner.
Tawaraya is probably harder for older travelers who have trouble bending / sleeping on the floor. And I can see how someone who needs everything to look sleek and modern / needs a concierge service would not like it here.
But for us, it was perfect... we are still dreaming about it and will be for a long time to come...
TIP: Try the 300-year-old soba noodle place down the block (Tawaraya recommended it..).