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Staying in a Budget Traditional Ryokan in Japan

My birthday this year fell while I was in Japan and after not really making a big deal about it for years, I decided I wanted to treat myself. Even for my 21st birthday, I think I was asleep by 10 pm so I decided to do something a little special. I booked a one night stay in a Ryokan in the mountains of Kyoto. Apart from the luxury of having my own room, I had dinner and breakfast included. Booking this all the way back in July, it’s safe to say I was PUMPED. Here is how my stay went.

Oh, baby….what a journey it was to arrive to this place. I started in Osaka but a little something called a typhoon had stuck the region overnight. It wasn’t anywhere near the strength of the typhoon that recently hit Japan but many trains were cancelled. I set out of my hostel around nine and ended up waiting in Osaka Station until finally getting on a train around noon. That whole time I was just standing in a line on a platform to assure I was able to get on the train. Queue, queue, queue your life away! I got on the first train that left and oh wow was it ever packed. I was thanking my lucky stars that I just have my backpack and was able to avoid any passive aggressive stares from the Japanese like I would have received if I had a huge rolling suitcase. By the time I arrived at Kyoto Station I was famished and running about five hours later than I had planned. What does a girl do at a time like this? I got fried chicken.

With a full belly, I caught my bus that would take me all the way to the mountains. One bus, but about an hour and a half of riding. Slowly but surely everyone got off the bus until I was the only one left. We were FAR away from Kyoto central. I started getting nervous, did I have this address right? My GPS said I was doing everything right so I just had to trust it. I got off the bus at the literal last stop thanking the bus driver who was staring at me like “What are you doing white girl”. I got off and immediately felt the fresh air of the mountains. Holy gorgeous, it was beautiful up there. I walked quickly to my hotel (I was going the right way!), stopping to take in the scenary. I quickly realized that foreigners must not frequent this town, thus the weird looks I kept getting.

Mountain views.

Upon arriving to my hotel, I was kindly greeted by the owners, quickly understanding that there was no english but they were glad to have me there. I was led to my little solo room which had fresh tea waiting for me, along with my first experience with the futon mats for sleeping. I had my own traditional yukuta robe to wear and was told I would be rung for dinner in a few hours. The man explained a lot of things to me in Japanese but I just kept nodding me head, with the full intention of googling everything later. I decided to spend my time before dinner at the onsen that was at the ryokan. I entered and was greeted by about ten other woman. I de-robed and had a lovely time relaxing in the heat, which left my face red for over half an hour.

Me in my traditional robe.
Trying to get less red before dinner.

Fully pampered, I was called to dinner, a traditional hot pot meal. So delicious, but definitely enough food for four. I wasn’t able to finish it all and I felt so bad. I went back to my room for an early night.

Hot pot dinner.
Slippers don’t always fit…

I got up with the sunrise and sat atop the mountain on my actual birthday watching the show. Breakfast was again quite a spectacle, although it was much less food that I had for dinner.

After breakfast I hiked up to the local temple, Sanzen-in, and strolled around for hours. I looked at my phone, finally, and realized I had to catch my bus off this mountain in less than half an hour. Fitting with my constant state of being lost or late, I sprinted down the mountain to collect my backpack and head back to civilization. I am sure I provided quite a show to all the local shop owners who stuck their heads out of their stores as I sprinted by.


All in all, it was my best birthday ever!


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