Where to Stay

The Kyoto experience is one for all your senses, 24/7, your own Colonial Williamsburg. The best way to do this is by staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Kyoto is loaded with such inns, covering a wide range of prices. Better yet, the ones which are interested in foreign guests (the most expensive ones are very exclusive and snobby) are collected together in associations, making them easy to access.

Try the Japanese Inn Group to locate the right ryokan. The Kyoto area is covered under the Kinki Region. Write for their booklet to Hiraiwa Ryokan, 314, Hayao-cho, Kaminoguchi-agaru, Ninomiyacho-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600, Japan or to the Tokyo office at Sawanoya Ryokan, 2-3-11, Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 110, Japan.

If you are interested in staying at a traditional Japanese inn, you can now make on-line reservations through the Japanese National Tourism Organization.

Location

The next question is location, location, location, and this is pretty easy. Most of the ryokans that will take foreigners, and especially foreigners with kids, and which won't charge you the cost of a new BMW per night, are located within generous walking distance of Kyoto Station, the very place where you will likely arrive in Kyoto. Sweet.

Keep in mind the term “generous” above, as what is described as a 15 minute walk on web sites is probably a couple of kilometers or a mile or so, and addresses in Kyoto are simply supplied as a gag. You cannot expect to find any place with just an address, or without a really good map and decent luck. That means extra walking. The good news is that this part of Kyoto is dead flat with reasonable sidewalks, so it is stroller friendly.

There are some beautiful places further outside of town, but keep in mind the distance from home to the places you want to see in Kyoto. Taxis are very expensive and the subway is next to useless, so that means long bus trips, a great way to blow your zen high quickly. We'd advise staying in town in general.

Goods Signs/Bad Signs

Check the web sites/brochures to see if other ryokans are in the same neighborhood, a good sign. Also, if the place you choose is no good, you can easily investigate alternatives. Avoid places with the word “annex” in their name, as they are usually concrete and ugly. Same for anything that says “guesthouse,” as these are usually more like sloppy hostels than a real ryokan. Anything with a private bath isn't what you want if you want a real ryokan, where the large scale bathing is part of the whole point.

Kids

Be sure to ask about kids when you make reservations, as some places will turn you away. We found it better to say “elementary school age” than to give exact ages, as the school part implies your kids won't trash the place to the innkeepers (who have not seen our schools apparently). Ryokans charge per person, not per room. Some may give you a discount for kids, some may not, so better check.

Anything less than Y4000 per adult (as of 2004) without meals is likely the best deal in town only you located or a real dump. In case you are wondering or are Bill Gates reading this, there is no actual top end in terms of ryokan prices, but the really nice places can run US$700-900 a night per person, with dinner.

Ryokan etiquette and kid survival tactics are such awesome topics that we wrote a whole page about them. Read more here.

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