Japanese Hotels A Bit of a Challenge
I knew this would be an experience as only one of the staff understood a little English and my Japanese was limited to “hello” and “thank you”. I was trying to check in at a traditional Japanese hotel or ryokan in Kyoto. This is not the old countryside inn but a modern multistory hotel in the middle of the city but with a very Japanese flavour. With many gestures and much pointing I was informed that the foot bath was in the courtyard and the baths (segregated) were on the lower floor. The breakfast was included in the price and was served between 7:00 and 9:00 am in the room just off the lobby.
I found my room and it was a wonder that needed exploring. Stepping in I removed my shoes and put on the supplied sandals. Beside the door was a sink with only cold water. The door on my right revealed a shower, the one on the left a toilet. More on Japanese plumbing later.
From the little foyer you step up to the main room. It contains a set of shelves in one wall with built in TV. The opposite wall is blank. The third wall had closet doors and the last had windows overlooking the footbath courtyard and a graveyard. (A pretty graveyard though). There are two tables in the room, one Japanese (about 2 feet high) and one by the windows (normal height) and two chairs by the window table. The floor is covered with matting. That’s all, there is no bed.
There are traditional sliding panels at the closet and window walls. I slid them out completely and the closets, windows, chairs and high table were all hidden. I was now in a room with no apparent windows or exit. Freaky. Quickly I slid back the panels.
Where is the bed? Taking a peak in the closet revealed the futon and bedding. What a relief, I was not sleeping on the floor. But how do I fold it all out and why do I have to make my own bed? Around 8:00pm a staff member came and made it up. (Quite an operation to watch). He hauled out the futon and carefully folded out the sheets and arranges the duvet. I had a lovely night’s sleep and in the morning while at breakfast it all disappeared back into the closet.
Before going down for breakfast I performed my morning toilet. That was not as easy as it seems, at least not the first time. In one little room is the toilet. It is very similar to a western toilet except for the goose necked fountain on top of the tank. When I flushed the toilet clean water came out of this pipe, gently dropped down to the tank lid and drained through a hole into the tank. This is for hand washing I think. That done, it was time to shave. The sink by the door only had cold water, not a good place to shave.
The other little room has the shower and a small soaker tub. The room is plastic lined so I could splash all I wanted. The shower head slides up and down on a metal pole, but no higher than five feet. Showering is done Japanese style, sitting on the little 3 legged stool provided. Shaving is performed here too sitting on the little stool. After the shower and shave the tub is available for a bath but remember it is for soaking, the shower is for washing.
Toilet completed, breakfast was to prove to be the next challenge. The breakfast room turned out to be large with rows of tables and chairs. Thank heavens I did not have to sit on the floor. There are signs with names indicating at which table guests were expected to sit. I was never too sure which part or parts of my name would appear on the sign. The first morning they got my first and middle names only. Each day was different. I sat down to a collection of bowls, plates and chopsticks. The only thing I recognized was the rice. By the smell, one dish obviously contained something from the sea. Another looked a bit like it had been a vegetable at one time. The others remain a complete mystery. A little middle aged Japanese lady in traditional dress came gliding out and placed more food in front of me and proceeded to mix different things together. This made the meal even more confusing. She smiled, bowed and left. There was nothing to do but pick up the chopsticks and give !
it a try. Some was amazingly delicious, some I could not eat. A Japanese couple sitting nearby called back the serving lady and said something to her in Japanese. In a few seconds she came back with a fork for me. I thanked her. She smiled, bowed and left. I’m not bad with chopsticks but some of these things were impossible to eat without a fork.
This played out until my last morning there. Besides the usual assortment of bowls was what looked like a small covered scented oil heater complete with tea light in the bottom. I took a look under the lid and there was a small slice of what looked like ham or bacon. The Japanese lady appeared as if by magic as she never made any noise and lit the candle. An egg appeared from some fold of her dress. This she cracked and plopped in beside the meat. She made me bacon and egg breakfast. What a sweetheart. She watched while it cooked, served it out to me, smiled, bowed and glided away. I smiled, bowed and ate.
I enjoyed my stay in Kyoto and the ryokan. I loved the disappearing bed, the strange plumbing, the foot pool after a long day walking and the bathes in the basement. Mostly I will remember the lovely lady of the breakfast room. I never did see her feet.