A stay at a traditional ryokan inn is an extraordinary and unique experience, but not every ryokan is the same. Each ryokan has its own particularities, its own style, and of course, location. A stay at each one will be a unique experience of Kyoto’s hospitality.
Meeting a Waka Okami: Noriko Mabuchi
The young steward, or “waka okami” overseeing daily affairs at the quiet and artistic Nenrinbo Ryokan is the vivacious Noriko Mabuchi.
Noriko grew up in this ryokan family, and after going to university in Tokyo, and spending another few months living there, she eventually returned to Kyoto and began working here. Since becoming a waka okami, she even traveled to New York City with others in the ryokan industry to promote Kyoto’s ryokan.
Noriko enjoys some of Kyoto’s traditional arts, too: she practices ikebana (traditional flower arrangement) and tea ceremony, though she says that recently she prefers tea ceremony with sencha (a more standard Japanese tea) to matcha tea ceremonies. In sencha tea ceremony, she explains, she finds the utensils cute, and she appreciates the philosophy behind it, that people from different parts of society can come together to drink, all with the same tea, the same amount, in the same cups.
Recommendations from the Waka Okami
With a long history in Kyoto, the advice of a waka okami like Noriko can make for some invaluable recommendations for how to enjoy the city, especially nearby the ryokan.
You’ll be surprised at how much it feels like you’ve gone out into the mountains, given the beautiful views in the area, although the trip is just a brief taxi ride from Kyoto’s busy downtown area.
Takagamine, the area in which Nenrinbo Ryokan is located, is famous for Kyoto vegetables, known as kyo-yasai. Nenrinbo uses these local vegetables in its foods, as well as miso from a producer that has been in business since Japan’s Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600)!
Haradani-en Garden, Noriko says, is one of her favorite spots to see cherry blossoms.
Josho-ji Temple, which is also nearby, is another cherry blossom spot she recommends, as well as for some of its events, like the Yoshino Tayu Flower Dedication, which celebrates a legendary 17th century Kyoto geisha of the same name. Being at Josho-ji Temple, Noriko explains, allows you to think of times past.
Daitoku-ji Temple is another recommendation she describes as a big, wonderful zen temple with not too many people, so visitors can relax. Plus, “just looking at the temple grounds is lovely.”
Imamiya-jinja Shrine is a somewhat unique location. Many people visit the shrine to pray for marriage to a wealthy partner.
Finally, she says, she recommends Genko-an Temple for a kind of quiet feeling you can’t really enjoy at a large temple.
Even without the many temples and shrines nearby, the experience up here is different. “There’s a rustic, unchanged feeling here,” Noriko says. “It’s really the ideal place for people who want to enjoy the feeling of really living in Kyoto, its beautiful scenery, and just taking it slow.”
The large garden at Nenrinbo, worthy of any temple, is an unusual feature for a ryokan: it features ten cherry trees, whose blossoms nearly brush the guest room windows during the cherry blossom season. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to look down on the blossoms from a private bath in your room!
Most of the rooms feature traditional tatami flooring, but there are also two combination Japanese-Western style rooms with beds, which can also be used by guests that require wheelchair accessibility. There is also a public bath available, looking out over a view of the mountains.
The city center may not be so far away, but you won’t hear the sounds of cars and buses here: just the sound of the birds and the rustling of the grass.