Ryokans of Kyoto
Japanese "ryokans" (traditional Japanese inns) are very popular among foreign visitors to Japan. Recently, we interviewed three Kyoto ryokan owners and asked them about their experiences hosting foreign guests.
Gion Fukuzumi has been in operation since 1960, and it is located in the Gion district in Kyoto, across the street from Murayama Park. The present owner's father used to operate a Japanese "ryotei" or teahouse in Tamaba, Kyoto Prefecture and his mother used to run a ryokan in Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture. It has 23 Japanese-style rooms, and the price per guest runs from 13,500 - 24,500 yen (dinner and breakfast included).
Although Motonago opened its doors in 1972, the building is over 100 years old and full of history. Originally, it was a private residence and the interior design is still just like a house. This ryokan resides in the Higashiyama district in eastern Kyoto. It has 11 Japanese-style rooms, and the ryokan charges from 15,000-18,000 yen per guest (dinner and breakfast included).
The building which houses Tamahan was constructed in the Taisho era within a small neighbourhood of other traditionally styled homes. The neighbour maintains strict building codes which preserves the old charm of the district. The ryokan has been looking after their guests since 1926, and it is also located in the Higashiyama district. It has 11 Japanese-style rooms, and accommodation prices range from 15,000-25,000 yen per guest (dinner and breakfast included).
Could you tell us about your experiences hosting foreign guests?
Gion Fukuzumi: Our first foreign guests were sent to us from travel agencies, and we rarely hosted foreign guests. These days everything has changed and every year we host on average 200 to 300 foreign guests per year. Recently we have been getting a lot of Asian travellers but we also host a lot of American families. The Asian travellers are more interested in shopping for electronic products while the American tourists enjoy visiting Kyoto's temples and shrines.
Motonago: Travel agents referred our first foreign guests to us but today we get a lot of foreign guests who come to us by "word of mouth." It seems "word of mouth" is a very powerful form of communication among foreigners. During the off-season, sometimes our ryokan is filled with only foreign guests.
Tamahan: A very long time ago the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and large Japanese corporations sent us our first foreign guests. Today, approximately 10% of our guests are non-Japanese and they make their own reservations with us by fax, telephone, and e-mail.
Do you notice any differences between your Japanese and non-Japanese guests?
Gion Fukuzumi: While our Japanese guests stay only one or two nights, our foreign guests stay much longer. Some stay a week and some even stay a month! Our Japanese guests go sightseeing just in Kyoto while our foreign guests use our ryokan as a base to go sightseeing all over Japan. Also, Japanese only travel during certain times of the year while foreign travellers stay at our ryokan throughout the year.
Motonago: No, we do not see any differences between our Japanese and non-Japanese guests. Our foreign guests are very knowledgeable about ryokans. Tamahan: Our foreign guests are just as knowledgeable about ryokans as our Japanese guests. Indeed, they often know more about ryokans than many young Japanese, many who have never stayed at a ryokan. Foreign travellers seem to deeply appreciate our traditional way of doing things at our ryokan and they often say things like "fantastic!" Our Japanese guests, on the other hand, are very quiet and never comment about our ryokan. What a difference!
Have you ever had any difficulties dealing with non-Japanese guests?
Gion Fukuzumi: No, not at all. Our foreign guests are very kind to us, often much kinder than our Japanese guests! They really appreciate the things we take for granted too. For example, when we are expecting guests to arrive we put their name in English on a large plaque in the lobby entrance. Many foreign guests get a real kick out of seeing their name on the plaque and some will even take a picture of it!
Motonago: Some of our foreign guests are strict vegetarians, and we have to change the dinner menu to suit their diet. This is not a problem for us if we know in advance. We get a lot of questions from our guests and because our English language ability is limited it is often difficult to explain something to them correctly. For example, we are often asked about our curved bamboo slats against the outside wall of the ryokan and we find it difficult to explain it is used to stop dogs from peeing against our ryokan!
Tamahan: Sometimes there are guests who will not eat fish but we will change the menu to suit them. One thing that is difficult to explain is a ryokan's pricing system. Prices depend on the size of the room, its location, the view, and the menu. The food prices change throughout the year depending on the season and the food being served.
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Motonago Ryokan: Click here for more information
Gion Fukuzumi: Click here for more information
Tamahan: Click here for more information
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Published on 1/29/04