- A hidden ryokan in a great location
- A taste of old Japan
- Small but cosy and comfortable
- Mixing with the locals and fellow travelers
A hidden ryokan in a great location
The ryokan is located Araki-cho, a place that used to be a geisha district. Its narrow paved streets are very charming, but, having not changed since old times, the general layout of the place can be a little confusing. I was thankful for my map app on my smartphone for helping me find my way the first time.
The ryokan is hidden in back streets, however its big bright yellow curtains make it easy to spot when you get closer. It’s a great location: only 6mn from the nearest metro station, and about 15 mn from Shinjuku Gyoen (a huge garden and a very popular touristic spot). The neighboring streets are packed with many bars and restaurants of all kinds and all prices.
The ryokan itself is in a very quiet street. I was glad because the surrounding noise is one of my main concerns when I personally book a hotel.
A taste of old Japan
I’ve been living in Japan for six years, but I’ll be honest: I still have and will always have a soft spot for Japanese traditional items. So as soon as I stepped through the door, I took a liking to of the place. A Japanese kite bearing the name of the ryokan was hanging from the ceiling; two huge ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) depicting fighting samurais were displayed on the wall, along with a map of Araki-cho from the Edo period (17th-19th century).
What makes this ryokan different from other ones, and what intrigued me at first, is the fact that it takes the Edo period nagaya as a model. Nagaya is a kind of long house in which Tokyo common people used to live in. They lived in small bedrooms and shared other facilities like the kitchen. There was a strong sense of community and people would borrow each other cooking ingredients, help each other, etc.
Because of this special context, each room does not have a door! Instead, there is a typical Japanese curtain during the day, and a sudare, a kind of bamboo roller blind, to close your room at night. At first I wondered what to do with my valuables when I left the room, but I was shown a box to be used as a safe.
There were all the traditional nice things I expected from a ryokan: the roomed was floored with tatami mats, there was a Japanese traditional paper light for the night, a woodblock print on the wall, a small wooden table, and a lacquered tray on which was a yukata (a light kimono) to be worn as pajamas for the night. And of course, there was a futon to sleep in.
In the morning, you can choose to eat a Japanese traditional breakfast. The staff is using handmade clay pots to cook the rice as it used to be in ancient times. The rice (coming directly from terraced fields in Nagano) does really taste different and I even asked for a second bowl – I usually never do.
Small but cosy and comfortable
Everything was very simple in appearance, but more comfortable than I actually expected.
The rooms are small, but frankly it was not a problem at all. There was enough space in the room for me to lay and store my luggage, and I realized I did not really need more.
Tatami floors are always great: they feel warm in winter and fresh in the summer. The futon was comfy and warm; I slept very well. The walls are very thin and when I unpacked I could hear the girl in the room next to mine. But since travelers are asked to be quiet after 10pm, I was not bothered at all by the noise.
While the rooms are very traditional, don’t worry about the other facilities! The washrooms are equipped with brand new Japanese technological toilets (the ones all the travelers dream to use), many shower rooms and a very nice bath. The bathroom is a very important part of every ryokan, so I absolutely wanted to test their bath. I had had a very long day, so soaking in the perfectly hot bath felt really great. The tiles and bamboo accessories created a very relaxing atmosphere and I even was given typical bath salts to enjoy it even more.
Mixing with the locals and fellow travelers
Another thing I especially appreciated is the opportunity to mix with the local culture and other travelers.
Of course, there were a lot of books and maps in many languages in the entrance for tourists to check what to visit next. Each room is provided with a small guidebook, printed on Japanese traditional paper, to give you useful touristic information in Tokyo, the good places where to eat in Araki-cho, facts about Japanese culture etc…
But there is also the lounge, a place where you can relax with some tea or coffee and have a chat with other travelers or the friendly Japanese staff. I could meet a Chinese traveler, an art teacher who was visiting the local museums during her holidays. The ryokan staff was also very easy to talk to, eager to join their guests in the lounge, to hear their stories and give them tips to enjoy their trip more.
Also, the ryokan has ties with cooks and other craftsmen in the area, and I noticed they not only offer a historical tour of the surroundings (sadly I could not join it), but they also introduce their guests to a range of activities (calligraphy, sushi making, etc.)
To be honest, I had a few concerns before staying at Tadaima Japan Shinjuku Ryokan (about the comfort and potential noise mostly). But I had a fine night there. I especially enjoyed the fact that the staff wanted to offer their guests an authentic, traditional experience of Japan and improve the understanding between tourists and the Japanese locals.
It reminded me how I felt the first time I came to Japan: mesmerized by the traditions, and eager to learn new things and meet different people.