First, a threshold issue. Hiiragiya is a Ryokan. This is an old world style traditional Japanese hotel. In the case of Hiiragiya, it is a beautiful 2-storey all wooden Ryokan. If you have never stayed in a Ryokan before, your threshold question is whether a Ryokan is right for you. Choosing to go to a Ryokan for the first time is like choosing to go line dancing for the first time. You know it's very different, will likely be a little quirky but you either accept that reality and put aside your usual expectations of what a hotel should/must be and book your Ryokan or you do not, in which case you stick to a modern Western style hotel. You sleep on the floor on futons that are rolled our for you in the evening and then rolled up for you in the morning. The floor is tatami mats. There aren't a wide range of modern conveniences like in a Western hotel. But that's the point, right? You wanted old world Japan, not a western hotel.
Dear readers, if you have got to this point and are happy to consider staying at a Ryokan then continue reading. There are Ryokans and then there is Hiiragiya. When you enter the unassuming gate into the entry courtyard of Hiiragiya, you are transported back in time to a Japan that you thoughtyou would never see. Other reviewers have mentioned that the staff take your shoes and give you comfortable leather flips flops to wear througout the Ryokan at that entry courtyard. We stayed two nights at Hiiragiya and on the first night, the 5th or 6th generation owner of Hiiragiya came into our room and gave us a personal welcome and advice on things to see in Kyoto as well as a history lesson on the amazingly delicate, fragile wooden masterpiece that is Hiiragiya.
We stayed in the largest room in Hiiragiya which is on the ground floor. It was very large, all wooden and had a beautiful wooden bath in the bathroom. The advantage of the ground floor is that our room opened out onto its own private and immaculately maintained Japanese rock garden "back yard" that we could walk around as our own private yard. How many hotels give you an experience like that? It was also right next to the communal hot bath that I used both nights, which was also a very peaceful and relaxing experience.
The service from everyone at Hiiragiya is excellent. It is ingrained in everyone there. They will help you with anything. Some might see it as bordering on the obseqious, but it's just the old world Japanese way of being polite. Just accept it, you wanted old word Japan, remember?
Food - this is a little tricky. Ryokans are famed for their Kaisecki dinner. This is a tradional 10-12 course traditional Japanese dinner that gives you a tasting of different types of Japanese food. I loved Hiiragiya's Kaisecki dinner, although could not eat all the food in all the courses, as the parts I could not eat just did not agree with my biased Western palate. Others might whinge and moan about this fact. I don't, because ... you guessed it ... I accepted that this is part of spending time at a Ryokan. Remember, you must make that mind shift before going to a Ryokan or you shouldn't go there. However, there is no need to have Kaisecki dinner two nights in a row. It loses its "wow factor" after the first night. If you don't want Kaisecki dinner the next night, they will happily make you up Shabu Shabu or another type of Japanese dish. I had Shabu Shabu on my 2nd night and it was delicious, but it did not have a "wow factor" of the Kaisecki dinner. For this reason (and because Ryokans are very expensive), the marginal value of the food at Hiiragiya diminished for me after the first night. Don't get me wrong - I am very glad I stayed there for two nights rather than one night. The service and the rest of the old world Japanese experience at Hiiragiya is so exceptional, that it more than made up for the excellent Shabu Shabu that had no "wow factor" on the 2nd night. But I would not stay a 3rd night for these reasons.
Hiiragiya provided an unforgetable and lovely experience that will live long in my memory. It was outrageously expensive, but you already accepted that before going, remember? In any event, I have not regretted spending the money at Hiiragiya. It bought an amazing experience that I could not have obtained eslewhere. It is amazingly peaceful, beautiful, quiet, serene haven located in a beautiful old wooden buidling in the middle of busy Kyoto. It relaxes you as much as going to a day spa. When we left, a number of the staff came out the front of Hiiragiya and continued to wave as our taxi left and were still waving as our taxi went around the corner. A lovely touch. We didn't want to leave.
As a final note, in order to have some variety, after leaving Hiiragiya, I stayed two nights at another Ryokan in Kyoto, Gion Hatanaka. Gion Hatanaka is a more modern Ryokan than Hiiragiya. There is nothing wrong with Gion Hatanaka and its location in the middle of the GIon is brilliant. However, given that I was looking for an old world Japanese experience (and having obtained just that to perfection at Hiiragiya), Gion Hatanaka fell far short of my own personal expectations of what a Ryokan experience should deliver. Others might prefer the modernity of Gion Hatanaka and its location in the Gion. Personally, I would not stay at Gion Hatanaka again but would go back to Hiiragiya next time I am in Kyoto. Our other night in Kyoto was at the Hyatt Regency, a really good modern western hotel. If I was going back to Kyoto for 5, 6 or 7 nights, I would spend 3, 4 or 5 nights at the Hyatt Regency and then spend 2 nights at Hiiragiya at the end of the stay. But that's me. I hope this review has been helpful.
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- Also Known As:
- Hiiragiya Hotel Kyoto