We dropped our bags off early in the day, as we had to check out of the Okura Hotel where we had been staying. The Tawayara staff was probably a bit surprised to see us arrive at 10:00 in the morning in order to do that, but they swiftly welcomed us and took our bags for safekeeping. The bags were already in our room when we returned in the afternoon. They also graciously held our bags when we checked out two days later, as we did not plan to leave Kyoto until late that afternoon, well after checkout time. When we finally did return to collect the bags and get a cab to the train station, we sat in the small downstairs study to review our train materials for a moment. Up popped tea! The service never ended, to the somewhat embarrassing, at least for me, way that they send you off. While I didn't want to turn around and watch from the cab, I had seen other guests leave the ryokan before us. The front staff -- 4 people typically -- stand out in front and bid you adieu, but they don't then just turn around and head back inside. They wait there until you are no longer visible, and the whole time while they are waiting for that to happen, which may involve waiting for the light to change from red to green if you are in a cab, each one of them is in a full-on bow. It's a humbling gesture that is consistent with the rest of the experience.
Our room was on the second floor, and the woman who was designated as the concierge showed us in and explained various aspects of the room. It was quite large with both a seating area that is shown the photos, another open area where the futons were set up closer to the bathroom that could be closed off with shoji screens from the dining area, and an interesting low-ceiling, rice paper covered small room with daybed, which we ended up using as a dressing area and place to store our luggage. At first I didn't see the value in that area, but since the beds get put away before breakfast, it made for a spot to stretch out during the day should you grow tired of sitting on the floor, though as the photos show, there are chair backs and an arm rest for each person. That little room also helped us maintain the spare and elegant aesthetic in the rest of the room.
There is a TV, but it is hidden behind sliding screens, and we never really watched it and wouldn't have even known that it was there had the woman not pointed it out to us. They have a laptop that is available for guest use from 5:00p.m. until around 11:00p.m. or so, upstairs in a study area. There is no wireless, but at a place like this you really want to fully unplug anyway.
The bathroom had heated cork floors, the full TOTO, and a lovely sunken cedar tub that somehow always seems to be full and at the right bathing temperature. I have no idea how they manage that trick, but they do. It overlooked its own window-box garden. In fact, I have no idea how without a front desk per se or any other real common area (e.g., no dining room/bar, lobby) they manage to know when you are coming, when you are going, or what you want, but somehow they do. The place was full, but we only saw one other couple inside when we went into the upstairs study one evening.
Our personal assistant set up the beds each night, broke them down before breakfast, and also served our breakfasts and the one dinner that we ate in our room. She was very sweet, and obviously happy that we liked the meals, which we thoroughly did. The keiseki dinner was really too much food; the courses went on and on, and while the portions seem small the cumulative effect makes for a very big meal. Fortunately, your bed is only a few feet away! Since she had to break the sleeping area down (e.g., deconstruct the futons and put them into closets) before breakfast, I think that she also appreciated that fact that we didn't want breakfast before 8:30 or 9:00. If your dinner runs late, your assistant doesn't get much personal time if she has to be back at the crack of dawn to break down the futons and then serve your breakfast. You have one personal assistant for your entire stay, at least if you are only there for a night or two. If you are not accustomed to lots of fish, be sure to let her know that; otherwise, you are going to get primarily a fish-based 8-10 course keiseki meal for dinner. We chose the Western breakfast, and it was great (e.g., eggs, toast made in your room, fruit, ample coffee, juice). You can somewhat customize what you get, so we asked to skip certain things and stick to the above for breakfast.
Let me just mention one other thing about the beds. They are generally quite firm in Japan, whether a mattress or futon. Especially after a long day of walking, they can be tough on the back and hips. The Tawayara's futons are quite luxurious, as are the linens, but I nonetheless found them a bit firm for my taste. It was easy enough to just take an extra comforter or two out of the closet and fold them up to form a futon topper. That helped quite a bit. As for the pillows, those were just fine and there were plenty of them. And they provide sleepwear as well.
We did opt to eat at a tempura restaurant run by Tawayara called Tenyu. It's just a short walk away from the ryokan; one of the staff escorted us over. The tempura was quite good -- better than what we had in Tokyo at Tenichi. We especially enjoyed the tempura shiso leaf as well as the tempura nori cups filled with delicious uni. The tempura shrimp were good as well, because their smaller size made the heads easier to eat. I like the heads but here in the States you usually have to take them apart because the shell, in parts, is too thick to comfortably eat. These were smaller, so the head, which was served separately from the body, was a very tender single bite. We sat right at the "tempura bar," so we were able to watch the chef in action. Another option to consider if cost is a factor, of even if you just want to try different places while in the foodie heaven that is Kyoto, would be to just pay for the room and breakfast on the second night and opt to eat out anywhere you'd like. If your meals are included, then you can either have the keisiki dinner in your room or go to Tenyu. I think that there may be a limit on the number of rooms that they will reserve without the dinner option or without dinner and breakfast, and I wouldn't recommend skipping either just to stay in the ryokan for one night, but if you are staying longer it might be worth considering.
I don't even want to go back and look at how much it cost to stay here for two nights; suffice it to say that it's very expensive, especially if you are in one of the suites, which was all that was available at the time that we made our reservations in February. I can't in good conscience call it an "excellent value." Having said that, it was a fabulous and unique experience overall, and we are glad that we stayed for two nights instead of just one. It really gave us time to savor the peace, tranquility and seamless service of the place. If you go, basically plan to spend the bulk of your time in the ryokan, wandering around in your yukatas, tabis and slippers, taking a bath, eating in, spending a bit of time in the lounge and study areas. It's not just a hotel; it's more of a side trip while you are in Kyoto. We hope to stay again one day.
We did not see all of the rooms, but ours was considered one of the larger suites and was on the sec...
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.