One of the most compelling reasons to travel is to be able to experience rich cultures and histories that are so different and fantastic as compared to our own. Every place has a heritage that is bestowed upon it by its past, and it is something that has seeped over a period of time in the manner of living, food, clothing, architecture and the overall way of life of its inhabitants. In that sense, the whole point of travelling to a distant place is lost if you check into a typical hotel chain that looks and feels the same wherever you go. One might as well spend their holiday in a hotel then, as opposed to taking a dip into the local culture that a place offers.
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Not all hotels are the same though. Hotels themselves have a rich history that many try to preserve and emulate. There were the ancient Caravanserais of India and the Middle East, the Turkish Huns, and also the Ryokan - traditional Japanese inns that have existed since the 8th Century CE. Ryokans were extremely popular along the traditional Japanese highways, and were places travellers would stop for lodging and boarding for the night. In fact, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, located in Hayakawa in the Yamanashi Prefecture is often considered the oldest hotel in the world. It began in 705 CE, and has been operating under the supervision of the same family for 52 generations. The Hoshi Ryokan of the Komastu region began in 718 AD and has been operated by the same family for 46 generations.
Ryokans essentially began as a place for respite for travellers, monks and students. Their traditional design includes tatami flooring, sliding doors, futon mattresses instead of beds and often a communal bath or ofuro. Today, Ryokans are almost non-existent in the more urban parts of Japan, where people often prefer modern hotels or even the capsule hotels which are more in tune with the fast moving and intense metroscape. One of the best places to experience a side of Japan that is more in touch with its history is the city of Kyoto. It is here that you will find the Matsubaya Ryokan, built in 1884, nestled among a peaceful cluster of houses, temples and monasteries. Once a resting place for Buddhist monks, travellers, merchants, adherents and school trip students, the Ryokan was made open for foreign tourists from 2008. Since then it has been regularly touted as one of the best places to stay and experience the culture of Japan.
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Photo by Karen
All the rooms at the Matsubaya Ryokan are traditionally constructed, with added modern amenities as per requirement. Many types of rooms are available here, categorized from type A to type K. Each type differs in terms of the kinds of amenities available - like attached bathrooms and toilets, showers, televisions, the kind of flooring and the overall size of the room.
Matsubaya Ryokan is overlooked by the extremely friendly and helpful staff known as Nakai. Although dinner is unavailable at the Matsubaya Ryokan, visitors have an option to choose from two kinds of breakfast - western and traditional Japanese. The traditional Japanese breakfast is essentially a tea ceremony, and the staff must be notified about it by 8 pm the preceding night so that they get enough time to prepare. Punctuality is considered paramount while attending the Japanese tea ceremony, since there is a lot of emphasis on preparing and consuming the food at the right temperature and atmosphere.
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Rest of Kyoto is easily accessible from the Matsubaya Ryokan, which means that visitors can immerse themselves in Kyoto culture during their stay. It is important to note that while the Ryokan imposes a curfew at 11pm in the night, visitors can enter through a small side door using their room keys. Kyoto is one of the oldest cities in Japan and was once the seat of Imperial power. It is often referred to as the cultural capital of Japan and is replete with some of the most iconic sights that the country has to offer. Some of the must-see places in Kyoto are: