Welcome to Ryokan Higashiyama! Founded in 800 CE as a family run business to house wandering journeymen, Ryokan Higashiyama emphasizes authenticity and local culture. We offer a variety of hospitality packages, one of which includes different city tours. Located in the heart of Kyoto in the Higashiyama Ward, we are within walking distance of many different cultural attractions including the Yasaka Shrine, Gion Corner, and the Ryozen Museum of History. Our hotel inhabits its original structure: a traditional Kyoto architecture amidst a contemporary city block. Refurbished several times throughout the centuries, and most recently in 2009, the Ryokan Higashiyama combines old-world architecture with new-world amenities.
Ryokan as Imperial:
Established during the Heian Era, Haru Nakamura converted his family home to a small inn. Even over the course of many centuries, the twelve bed inn grew with the city. Yet, Nakamura’s original façade of his home remained, despite the expanding and commercializing of Kyoto. While we traditionally we opened our doors to travellers, we now cater to locals and tourists alike.
Ryokan as Experience:
We encourage our guests to experience the best of what Kyoto has to offer. Our guests receive a traditional Japanese breakfast each morning and dinner in the evening in our dining room. Nodate tea ceremonies also take place each afternoon in our center garden. We strive to offer an authentic Kyoto experience to our guests through our amenities, dining, and packages.
Ryokan Higashiyama’s historic library is open all day and night, offering guests access to numerous books, which they can enjoy in their guest rooms, the outdoor garden, or in the library itself. Japanese tea ceremony is available to all guests in the early afternoon in either the dining room or the garden. If guests seek a relaxing moment, they can rent our gazebo for a massage or facial.
Our friendly staff will work with guests to create a unique itinerary for the length of their stay and tailor it to the interests of each party. Since the Nakamura family has lived in Kyoto and run this hotel for over a thousand years, we pride ourselves on our extensive knowledge of the city and its best sites. Because of this, we feel that we can adequately serve our guests and provide them with accurate information for their stay, no matter what interests brought them to Kyoto in the first place.
Ryokan as Flavors:
Each morning, guests are invited to enjoy a traditional Japanese breakfast in our original dining room. Our breakfast menu includes a variety of conventional Japanese food items. To cater to our guests’ preferences, we allow for customization — one item from four disparate categories. These include soup or rice, meat, eggs or vegetables, and drink. First, guests choose one item from a selection of miso soup, rice, or rice porridge (known as okayu). Additionally, we offer salmon or mackerel (broiled or fried). Side dishes include pickled or fried vegetables or eggs and our beverage selection consists of green tea, water, and occasionally sparkling wine (served only on Japanese holidays). Our breakfast hours are 7:00 to 11:00 each morning.
Guests also have the opportunity to enjoy a traditional Japanese dinner at the hotel. As we aim to preserve as much of our storied tradition as possible, our dinner menu resembles a meal that would have welcomed an ancient traveler staying at Ryokan Higashiyama around the 9th Century. For this authentic dinner we serve tuna and/or salmon sashimi, yakitori, and white rice or noodles. Our beverage selection includes tea, water, beer, and, on special occasions, sparkling wine. We aim to create a traditional, comfortable environment for guests by offering our authentic Japanese menu in our quaint, pleasant dining room.
Ryokan as Past and Future:
Staying at Ryokan Higashiyama, guests have the opportunity to connect with the past and present culture of Kyoto. For over a thousand years Kyoto served as the cultural epicenter for Japan. The hotel has grown with Kyoto, striving to provide our guests with a wealth of historical knowledge. The location of the hotel itself is ideal for this endeavor. Outside the walls of the hotel guests can stroll the streets of historic Kyoto and visit local museums, shrines, restaurants, and gardens. Since Ryokan Higashiyama is centrally located, guests have access to the city’s greatest sites. For example, the Ryozen Museum of History is within walking distance of the Ryokan.
Our hotel also provides several cultural tours. Many shrines and temples pepper the city of Kyoto. The hotel’s most popular tour, “Walking the City of Ten Thousand Shrines,” features a walk through Kyoto’s ancient and spiritual locations. One shrine on the tour includes the Yasaka Shrine, just minutes away from the hotel. Also close to the hotel is Gion Corner where guests experience the lively artistic community of Kyoto. At Gion Corner, seven kinds of arts are brought to life by the maiko (geisha) of Japan. There, guests will see and experience kyo-mai dance, flower arrangement, tea ceremonies, gagaku court music, kyogen theatre, bunraku puppet theatre, and koto zither (an instrumental performance).
At the Ryokan Higashiyama, the present as well as the past is available for our guests to explore. Today, Kyoto is a modern progressive city. Ryokan strives to immerse the guest in these newfound aspects of Kyoto as well. The hotel hosts events from local artists and performers. These events welcome new and burgeoning artists that embody modern Kyoto. For up-to-date information on current events, our guests only need to check Facebook, Twitter, or “Kyoto Today,” our weekly bulletin in the lobby. “Kyoto Today” lists the city’s most important events in all categories. These postings generally include local garden tours, festivals, various theatre performances, and sporting events. After a long day exploring Kyoto, guests are welcomed back to the quiet Ryokan Higashiyama.
Ryokan as Emptiness
The hotel offers an outdoor common space to its guests. They may choose to participate in traditional nodate tea ceremony, enjoy a book from our library in the open air, or sit peacefully on a wooden bench next to the koi pond. This space allows guests to tailor their hotel experience to their individual interests. Although the space is not strictly empty, guests may find that meditation is made possible in this space, despite the other available amenities present in the garden.
Ryokan as Analysis:
In creating Ryokan Higashiyama we sought to engage in the idea of “Hotel Orient.” Our hotel is neither a Western interpretation of the Orient, nor is it separated from the city. Instead, our hotel was inspired by a need to dispel “disorientation” and stereotypes about the Orient. In Edward Said’s Orientalism, Orientalism is “a system of knowledge about the Orient, an accepted grid for filtering through the Orient into Western consciousness” (1803). Seeking to contradict Orientalism, Ryokan Higashiyama is grounded in a rich history and authenticity. The hotel’s history stretches back to the creation of Kyoto itself — dating back to when it was Japan’s capital — which irrevocably ties the hotel to the city. Existing before a Western influence, the hotel is depicted as a “Hotel Orient” rather than a Western interpretation of the Orient.
Additionally, designating the hotel as a family-run business emphasizes the tradition the hotel holds (opposed to the novel elements of commercialization in other hotels). The tradition is ingrained in the architecture, taking elements from houses and Ryokan hotels characteristic of Kyoto. Along with elements of architecture, the amenities that characterize the hotel embody tradition as well. For example, we incorporated a library of historical books about Kyoto. In doing this, our main goal was to give the guest the opportunity to immerse themselves in Kyoto’s historical roots.
In an interest in creating an authentic experience, we fashioned an empty center to incorporate traditional Japanese culture both in space and in activities. Spatially, the concept for our garden came from the empty center of traditional Asian cities as well as Roland Barthes’s treatment of “mu,” Japanese for “emptiness.” The Japanese character is not actually empty and neither is our garden. Though the empty city center was often reserved for the imperial palace, our hotel does not aim to replace the city. Instead, we chose to use this concept for our traditional Japanese garden, complete with a koi pond, benches, tea area, and footbridge.
Essentially, instead of the hotel “repelling” the city outside, Ryokan Higashiyama is a reflection of the city Kyoto (Jameson 43). For instance, we decided to provide numerous cultural tours, up-to-date information, and access to Kyoto’s local events. This hotel features present culture, something we view just as important as the past. While we aim to engender a relaxing, accommodating environment for our guests, our hotel primarily seeks to embody the concept of the “Hotel Orient.”