Japan: Matsui Honkan Ryokan

Staying at a ryokan in Kyoto is strongly recommended, but we all know it ain't cheap.  To get the experience without breaking the bank, we only booked one night at Matsui Honkan Ryokan and spent the rest of our time in Kyoto at an Airbnb.

The train trip from Osaka to Kyoto took only about 30 minutes, so we arrived at Matsui Honkan way before our check in time:

Before going to Japan, I practiced all these lines in Japanese that I thought would be useful.  Such as, "Can we store our luggage here?" and "What time is breakfast?"  But before I could bust any of them out, the gentleman at the front desk greeted me in perfectly fluent...Mandarin.

Simultaneously disappointed and relieved, I directed my questions to the gentleman in Mandarin and translated everything into English for CK.  We had absolutely no desire to carry our luggage around with us until 4:00pm, so we were very thankful when Matsui Honkan was willing to store our bags for us.

We returned to the ryokan after our kaiseki dinner, around 10:00pm.  We were asked to sit in the lobby to wait for our room to be readied.  While we waited, we were brought small slices of Japanese cheesecake and candies:

Aaaand...a bowl of matcha:

As if I hadn't had enough matcha that day already.  Sigh.

A few minutes later, a young man came to lead us to our room.  Inside, we paused to take off our shoes and switch to slippers.  It seemed logical to put my shoes onto the shelf provided, but our guide acted so shocked that I asked him if I did something wrong.  He assured me that I hadn't and we both laughed awkwardly.  Meanwhile, CK was already inside the room oohing and aahing:

After a brief tour, our guide left us with a quiet good night.  Once the door closed behind him, we immediately started going through all the drawers and cabinets.  Because that's what you do when you check into a hotel room.

We found this complimentary bag of goodies:

And yukatas for us to wear:

And yatsuhashi (a local Kyoto dessert made from glutinous rice flour sheets, sugar, cinnamon, and red bean paste) for us to snack on:

We could have elected to use Matsui Honkan's communal bath, but I wasn't about that nekkid life.  I was perfectly content showering in our private bathroom and then flouncing around our room in my borrowed yukata.

I was a bit wary about sleeping on the floor (with advancing age, my back and hips have started protesting whenever I sleep on the ground), but I shouldn't have worried.  The futon was super comfy and I woke up the next morning feeling completely refreshed.

Breakfast was included in our booking for an extra fee.  We requested breakfast to be served at 8:00am and we heard a knock on the door right at 8 on the dot.  Two people bustled in, one elderly lady and one young man, and started efficiently rolling up the bedding.

CK went to put her face on in the bathroom, leaving me alone in the main room with the ryokan staff members.  Not wanting to get in anyone's way and unsure whether I should offer to help, I ended up kneeling awkwardly in a corner like an idiot.

A flurry of movement later, the futons were put away and our breakfast table was set:

So much food!  There was a grilled fish fillet and salad in a cup:

I have no clue what this was:

The elderly lady tried to explain it to me, but I couldn't quite understand her.

The miso soup was pretty self-explanatory though:

As were the tamago (egg), fruit, and pickled veggies:

And the white rice:

We did need some help with the tofu though:

The lid of the pot (with fire underneath!) came in two halves.  One half revealed the tofu inside while the other had a little hole cut in it for the sauce container.  Put the two together and you get a light tofu appetizer:

So silky.

Besides the salad and the orange, the only other nod to "Western" breakfast traditions was the coffee: 

I'm not a coffee drinker, so I left mine alone.  CK, on the other hand, gratefully drank hers dry.

While everything looked very pretty, I have to be honest and say that the food wasn't exactly spectacular.  I appreciated how intricate everything was and I certainly enjoyed watching the staff set everything up, but I wouldn't choose to have it every morning...or ever again, actually.

I did get to use some of my rusty Japanese when I made the phone call to ask for the breakfast to be cleared away.  Of course, I probably should have come up with a better sentence than "We ate the breakfast", but they got what I was trying to say.  Booyah.

Since the check-in time for our Airbnb was later that afternoon, we again left our luggage at the front desk after checking out of Matsui Honkan.  The front desk staff was super sweet and gifted us with chopsticks to thank us for staying with them.

As we walked out the door, I was vaguely aware of someone following us out.  Turns out it was two someones.  CK and I must have jumped a foot into the air when out of nowhere, the two staff members who followed us out unfurled a giant banner and chirped something in Japanese from right behind us.  Realizing that they'd scared us, the two staff started laughing. 

Of course, CK and I were dying with laughter as well.

I started to explain that we would be back later for our luggage, but then figured it wasn't worth the effort.  When we came back later that afternoon, we didn't get the same farewell ceremony the second time around.

Ah, well.  Once was enough. 

One night at Matsui Honkan (plus breakfast) set us back $382 for two people.  Expensive?  Definitely.  Worth it?  Hell yes. 

There are ryokans that are even more lavish and even more expensive than Matsui Honkan.  There are also ryokans that are less fancy and cheaper.  Which one you should choose really depends on your budget. 

If you're looking for a mid-range ryokan, Matsui Honkan is perfect for you.  The rooms are elegant and comfortable.  The service is impeccable.  And on top of all that, just a two minute walk to Nishiki Market and a 20 minute walk to Gion, it's conveniently located.  I would definitely go back if I ever had the chance (and the funds).

I still wouldn't use the communal bath though.         

+81 75-221-3535


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