Sunday, October 7, 2012

In Kyoto, to stay at Japan's best ryokan. And Steve Jobs' favorite.


Last week in Kyoto, living a Travelife, we stayed in one of Japan's top traditional inns -- if not its best inn.

In fact, some people call it the best inn in the world, and certainly one of those places that many people who like the luxe Travelife want to experience at least once in their life.

THE GOLD STANDARD



It's Japan's most famous inn, and even today it's considered the gold standard against which the ryokan industry bases itself against.

When deciding where to stay in Kyoto, I thought long and hard as I wanted a really special Kyoto experience. I've been to Kyoto more times than I can count, but until last week, I hadn't been in a long time.

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LIKE THE PALM OF MY HAND

There are two cities in Japan that I know very well -- or at least well enough to walk around blindfolded in: Tokyo and Kyoto.

I spent a very long time in Kyoto after graduating from college, and then I often went to Kyoto on business trips as well because Kyoto was a favorite venue for international conferences, and there are a couple of mid-sized world-class companies with headquarters here that I had to visit as well.

LITTLE HAS CHANGED



This was quite a long time ago, but then again Kyoto isn't the kind of place that changes a lot -- at least not in its traditional heartland.

Around Kyoto station, the neighborhoods have become unrecognizable because of all the construction and redevelopment; and even the station itself looks like a garage for space ships from Battlestar Galactica.

But around the oldest central neighbrhoods -- the heart of Kyoto, really -- things are pretty much the same  as they have been for the past hundreds of years.

EASY DECISION

The sashimi appetizer went very well with vintage Krug champagne


So, anyway, for this sweet homecoming of sorts, I chose one of my favorite traditional inns -- just because I feel that a visit to Kyoto after such a long time should be done the old-fashioned way rather than the luxurious way.

Both ways are very nice, as far as Japanese inns are concerned, and it's just a matter of personal preference.

Steve Jobs loved this same ryokan
Photo from Madame Tussaud Hong Kong

Mind you, my choice isn't exactly called "slumming it" even if it's not impressive in the typical sense.

But this Japanese inn, although extremely comfortable and the choice of accommdation for everyone from Japanese aristocrats and relatives of the Imperial Family, to the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and even Steve Jobs, is not at all luxurious in the way some new inns in Kyoto are.



There's nothing over the top about it, and certainly no wow factor. There are no fantastic views.

But it embodies in almost every way the very best of refined Japan in a way that no other Japanese ryokan really can.


ALL ABOUT UNDERSTATEMENT



But it's in perfect good taste and it offers every conceivable comfort in a very restrained way. This is why I chose it -- because the real Kyoto is all about restrained good taste and making the most of the old.

FAMOUS FOR ITS FOOD



The food, too, is famous among Japan's foodies for being honest-to-goodness Kyoto food.

Lots of ryokan these days are just about flash -- a nice room and a picturesque view. But this one is as famous for its Kyoto cuisine as it is for its history, its pedigree and the changemakers in history who have stayed here.

And, in case you're wondering what Kyoto cuisine is like, it's very subtle in taste, easy on the salt, and it makes use mainly of ingredients found locally or at least in the western part of Japan.



Lots of the dishes are made with fish from the western Japan like seabream from the waters off Akashi in the Japan Inland Sea, or locally grown and extremely fresh vegetables which are called "Kyo-yasai," or Kyoto vegetables.

Even the rice I had at this inn was this year's rice grown in Kyoto.

COMING UP IN TRAVELIFE MAGAZINE



I wish I could write more about it in detail, but we're including this inn in a very special Kyoto supplement for an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine, which will feature some of the best places to stay and to eat in.

Now that's something worth looking forward to. No one knows Japan like us at Travelife Magazine -- and we can say that about a couple of other countries by now as well, but especially about Japan.

And that's just one of the reasons why we're #1. We're real travelers with great stories.



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