Asia Food Hotels Travel

Kyoto – Shiraume Ryokan

After about five nights in Tokyo,  my husband and I headed to Kyoto via the bullet train, or shinkansen. For the other parts of this Japan series, please see below.

Japan – Conrad Tokyo and Ginza
Japan – Sumo and Takazawa
Japan- Shiraume Ryokan
Japan – Arashiyama and Kinana Ice Cream
Japan – Park Hyatt Tokyo 

I had purchased two tourist-only tickets for the shinkansen before we arrived which saved us about ~30% of the cost – however the seats were all in unreserved cars so there was a mad dash each time to get a seat and make sure you had somewhere to put your luggage. Next time I might splurge on the better class cars where getting a seat is less stressful!

Before we left our hotel got us a few bento to eat on the train, they were elegant and I felt wasteful throwing away the box.

After a few hours, we arrived in Kyoto and hopped in a cab and headed to our ryokan. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn where you typically sleep on tatami mats and there is great personalized service – I’d liken it to perhaps something like a “Bed & Breakfast” in the United States, but still quite different. Today’s post is going to largely be about the ryokan experience.

Kyoto is a city I’d definitely recommend trying out a ryokan in, especially for first time visitors. In the past I had stayed at Tawaraya  which we originally had booked – it’s a lovely and historic inn and I’d recommend it. However, the room we wanted wasn’t available and so we decided to swap ryokans, which actually worked out even better. We decided on Shiraume, which is located on a very charming street of Gion (the traditional geisha/geiko district). See how beautiful the street is?

A few houses down we located the entrance to Shiraume.

At the entrance we were greeted by a few employees who immediately  took away our luggage, gave us slippers and took us to our upstairs room where we were served some light mochi snacks and tea. Our room was on the second floor and had a great view of the river below – here it is from the outside.

We had wanted a big space (by ryokan standards) and we were really happy with our room. There was a separate dining and sleeping area which made it very comfortable for us – in smaller rooms typically the dining area because the sleeping area later on. Our dining/living space below:

Our sleeping space was very similar in size (I forgot to take photos) only there were very comfortable mats on the ground where we could lie down and rest. We remarked that the rooms were quite big and one of the employees told us that it was because in traditional times, people were taxed based on how big their houses were via tatami mats – so if you had a residence that was of the size of 10 tatami mats, you paid a certain amount of tax, multiplied by 10 mats. In Kyoto they decided to get around it by just making their tatami mats bigger, so that 10 tatami mats in Tokyo = something like 8 or 6 tatami mats in Kyoto. So Kyoto ryokans tend to be larger. Interesting fact right?

We also had a private bathroom in our room (smaller rooms sometimes share a bath). The bath had a cypress wood soaking tub which was really relaxing.

There were also specially selected local toiletries from all around Kyoto.

One thing to note about most ryokans is that they typically include board (breakfast and dinner), with the dinner being elaborate kaiseki or multi-course feasts. A nice thing about Shiraume is that dinner is optional (whereas at places like Tawaraya, there is no choice – you have dinner included each night, with the extra cost). We opted to have dinner one night in at Shiraume and left the next night open so we could explore other Kyoto options.

Around 7 PM, there was a knock on our door and several women came in to ready the dining table for dinner. Then our host (and Shiraume’s owner) Tomoko came in and started off the meal by asking me to choose a cup I liked for hot sake from the ryokan’s collection.

Since my husband ordered cold sake, he had a separate selection of cups to choose from and also had his sake poured from this beautiful vessel.

Here is lovely Tomoko pouring sake while employees served the first dish of the night.

The first dish on the beautiful serving platter  – the cloth napkin you see had Shiraume’s logo on it and Tomoko graciously said it was ours to keep (it’s in our kitchen now!)

The first dish was a medley of assorted light appetizers, including an amazing rice/sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves. I have to confess that I still sick at this time and couldn’t remember all the details of the dishes and so my descriptions will not do them justice at all!

This was another light appetizer served in broth…I loved the presentation, see the birds?

Some various sashimi  –  I adore the little butterfly!

The next dish was lightly battered tempura with a few dipping options to the right of it.

This was a sukiyaki/hot pot with kobe beef in it – the soup in this was one of the most delicious beef soups I have ever had! Wow.

This was a light palate cleanser – mushroom and vegetables with caviar on top.

Some rice, a few more pieces of sashimi, miso soup and hot tea to round out the savory portions of the meal.

And finally dessert – a delicious fresh black sesame ice cream with local fruit.

After dinner we had major food coma and fell asleep almost immediately – some artwork that was in the corner by my mattress.

The next morning, we opted for a one Japanese style breakfast and one Western style breakfast and a feast was brought to our room! Everything was so delicious and fresh just like the night before, and Tomoko gave us a wonderful explanation of each dish. My husband and I shared everything.

A great example of the thought and detail that was put into each dish – this was our fruit plate.

Overall I loved our experience at Shiraume – it was beautiful, clean, hospitable and the food was amazing. The two aspects that were the most impressive for me about Shiraume are both very difficult to show in photographs – the freshness and local aspects of the food, and the wonderful service. All of the food served was so fresh and clearly chosen for the spring season. Tomoko also took care to explain each dish carefully when it was served, and tell us where the ingredients were from – pears from Fuji region, beef from Kobe, etc.

The service was also wonderful and so personalized – as I mentioned earlier I was still quite sick and Tomoko made me a mix of honey, hot water and lemon and brought it up repeatedly over the days we were there, checking on me and making sure I was feeling well. The whole time we were there we felt like we were in the best of hands and all our needs were being taken care of. It’s a unique experience and level of service that you don’t find at many hotels or inns anymore.

Thank you for reading about my time so far in Kyoto! Have you ever stayed at a ryokan before? And if you have any recommendations for fabulous hotels/resorts/inns – please share!


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  • Sonya
    June 11, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Have you ever stayed at Hiiragiya? It’s my husband’s favorite, though Tawaraya is just across the street from it. I’d love to try them all one day.

    • Katherine
      June 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Yup I have! It’s lovely as well..

  • Lindsay @ A Walk in the Closet
    June 11, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I am so enjoying these Japan posts!!! It’s not in my stars to visit the country anytime soon so I’m going to live vicariously through your photos and writeups. 😀

  • adele
    June 11, 2012 at 9:28 am

    The dinner looks absolutely exquisite!
    Happy Monday Hun xoxo

  • shiela
    June 11, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Hey Katherine, the sushi and all the meals look really delicious..Especially the sushi, I know it is good cause I can see that it is really fresh and sushi is my fave ever. I mean ever!! You just made me hungry..It’s 1 am, where can I find the sushi at this time. I need it pronto. Hahaha..Anyway, I hope you had a really nice vacation and enjoyed every moment of it..Love!

    • Katherine
      June 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Love that you are a sushi expert and can tell it’s fresh!

  • chocolatecookiesandcandies
    June 11, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I had no idea there was such a thing called ryokan but thanks to you, I’ll definitely stay in one when I get the opportunity to return to Japan. I’m so impressed how you managed to describe everything with so much detail. There’s so much pride and attention to detail in everything they do. No wonder every friend of mine who have been to Japan raved about the country for years.

  • Nelah
    June 11, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Wow what a wonderful and unique experience, and that superb hospitality sounds exceptional. It must be one of your very relaxing stays because the whole setting appeared calm and serene. Great choice in oppose to the modern facilities, i would love to have this kind of experience one day.

  • Whitney Worthington
    June 11, 2012 at 10:40 am

    What an incredible trip! Thank you for documenting everything so well. I keep looking at your foods and I am salivating!

  • mllewanderlust
    June 11, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I’m in virtual food heaven: even the photos have such a peaceful aura

    *MlleWanderlust *

  • Megan
    June 11, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Thank you so much for this post! I really enjoyed it. I hope to be a savvy world traveller and go to Japan some day!
    Wishing you all the best! 🙂

  • Helen
    June 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Beautiful! The food looks amazing. Actually the entire experience is so breathtaking!

  • Brownie
    June 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Love Japan, the culture and the food. Shiraume looks amazing, there is such attention to detail in the presentation of the food – it’s like art.

  • alison*elle
    June 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Sounds like such a lovely experience, Katherine! All the food looks seriously delicious. I’ve never been to Japan but am filing away all your experiences for when I do go one day in the future 🙂

    xo, alison*elle

  • Katherine
    June 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I love ryokans! I had my first and only experience when I went to Kyoto couple of years ago. It was such a unique experience and I loved the kaiseki! Each dish was to perfection and the host gave us lots of info on food and places to visit in the area. The one we went to was located in a small ryokan run by the family and had a shared bathroom. I would say about 10-15 minutes away from Kyoto city area. Loved Kyoto! thanks so much for rekindling memories 🙂

  • Latkesanddimsum
    June 11, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Yummy! Did you try tempura elsewhere in Kyoto? I heard the Kyoto-style tempura is distinctive (light batter as you noted in your blog entry)…

  • New Petite
    June 11, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Loved the food pics. Sounds like you had a really good time. Enjoyed reading about your stay there!

  • Anna S
    June 11, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    The epitome of ‘old Japan’–your pictures really play off Japan’s dichotomous personality as high-tech and old-fashioned, i.e. Tokyo (current capital) vs. Kyoto (old capital).

    I prefer Kyoto though. What can I say, I love the tea ceremonies, the traditional dress, the languid elegance of it all!

    Lovely pictures; I hope your trip was (is?) even lovelier!

  • cee cee
    June 11, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    great post. I love Kyoto. btw you can request a specific seat in the reserve car even if you have the tourist pass. We stayed at the Four Seasons next to the JR station in Tokyo and the staff actually took our passes down to the station and requested the seats for us. If you know exactly which train you want to take on a specific day you just have to bring your passes to the station to request a seat.

    • Katherine
      June 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

      What a great tip! Thank you!!

  • Annabelle
    June 12, 2012 at 6:08 am

    That sounds like an amazing experience! Kyoto is high on my list of places I need to go one of these days; I’ll have to add staying at a ryokan to the things I need to do while I’m there.

  • Chloe Mateo
    June 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Love all of these detail shots and reading about your journey! Looks like you had an amazing time 🙂

  • Sydney
    June 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Sounds like a great experience, Kat! I have always enjoyed your travel posts. Hopefully, I’ll get to visit Japan one day.

  • Elle from Elle's picturebook
    June 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Wonderful trip and fresh sushi woohoo! thanks for sharing


  • Dela
    June 13, 2012 at 2:02 am

    LOVE LOVE LOVE your travel stories! Inspires me to save up to do all these things! You should seriously consider putting up a separte blog for your interviews as well. I so look forward to reading them.
    Basically, Im not much of a fashion follower… just keep coming back here to read the interview every week and love it when there is a travel treat waiting as well!!

    • Katherine
      June 13, 2012 at 8:04 am

      You are so sweet Dela! I have a bunch of really fun interviews coming up, I hope you enjoy them – I also want to do more travel posts, but first I need to travel more! 🙂

      • Dela
        June 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm

        I had to tell you this, your interview of Carin from Parisinfourmonths was amazing. I have been following her blog ever since. I love the number of pictures both of you post. It is so much more interesting to see a city thru someone’s lens rather than read dull boring articles of places to visit.
        In fact my hubby and I have decided to go to Paris for our 10th Anniversary!! neither of us have been there before…

  • Lucy
    June 13, 2012 at 6:52 am

    What a wonderful post, Katherine. Having visited Asia several times as a kid, as I grew up I never really considered Asia for vacations mostly because of the weather. Your experience in Kyoto helped me realize how unique a trip to Japan can be. Beautifully photographed, too.

  • Susan
    June 13, 2012 at 8:53 am

    This sounds absolutely amazing. I’m impressed with the attention to detail and incredible service. Thanks for letting your readers in on your experience. Hope I can also have the ryokan experience one day.

  • Whitney
    June 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Quick question, Katherine. How did you book your room/stay at Shiraume? I filled out the form on their website about a week ago but still haven’t heard back. I don’t mind calling but am not sure how good their English will be as I have some questions. Thank you in advance and also for such a detailed review!

    • Katherine
      June 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      No problem, Whitney! Tomoko’s English is actually quite good but you can also email her at: which is the email that responded to my reservation request. I think they are quite busy right now 🙂

      • Whitney
        June 15, 2012 at 8:21 am

        Thank you for the information, Katherine. I emailed her and unfortunately they are going to be closed for renovations during our trip. I saw that you recommended Tawaraya. Do you have any other ryokan recommendations?

        • Katherine
          June 15, 2012 at 9:20 am

          Oh that’s unfortunate 🙁 I like both Tawaraya and Hiiragiya but they are both a little more expensive, especially for a room with a private bath. They are across the street from another but both really lovely.

          Also I would like to try Hoshinoya one day in Kyoto but it is a bit outside of the city area…

          Let me know what you decide 🙂

          • Whitney
            June 15, 2012 at 9:53 am

            I’m wondering if I’m misunderstanding the pricing. It says both Tawaraya and Hiiragiya are about $1,300 per night for two people. Can that be correct? Shiraume was about $350 per night for a smaller room (unless I was wrong on that). I apologize for posting pricing but sometimes the websites are confusing.

          • Katherine
            June 15, 2012 at 10:16 pm

            Hi Whitney, yes unfortunately that is true – they both include mandatory kaiseki dinner each night in the rate and plus they are each more expensive than Shiraume. Shiraume if you do not get the dinner is much less per night. Have you looked at the Westin Kyoto? They used to have traditional Japanese rooms – also the Hyatt Kyoto. There’s also a lot of smaller ryokans that charge less that I’ve heard wonderful things about – I’m sure Tripadvisor has a bunch. Whatever you choose I’m sure it’ll be lovely!

  • hera
    June 13, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Oh such lovely place to see!! and all these food looks so good!!! Thanks for sharing! I really miss Japan and didn’t make it to Kyoto last time, what did I miss 🙁

  • Janelle
    June 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Wow.. this takes me back :} I love ryokans! The sesame dessert looks heavenly~

  • Bill
    June 15, 2012 at 2:18 am

    Just stayed there myself and you really capture the details of what may have been my best hotel experience ever….

    • Katherine
      June 15, 2012 at 9:21 am

      Thank you Bill! So glad you approve, what a wonderful experience 🙂

  • Revanche
    June 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    This was absolutely amazing. Your photos are fantastic!

    Japan’s always been on my list of places I’d quite like to visit but I’d worried about being able to do it well on a budget (always have been a budget traveler!) as I’d heard from relatives and friends that went there for business that it was quite pricey for food and so on.

    I love the balance of budget and splurge that you have with your fashion, and it seemed like you did the same with some of your travel (the train tickets!) I’d love to host you if ever you were interested in doing a behind the scenes with the budgeting aspects.

    • Katherine
      June 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm

      Oh thank you! You are too kind. I think Japan is def. doable on a budget, let me know if you ever go and have questions… I’m actually putting together a more general travel budget post for later when I have time as I had a few requests for one – happy to hear you’d be interested in it too! I’ll let you know when it when it goes up 🙂

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  • Jess L
    July 10, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    What a beautiful meal and experience. ^.^ The clear teapot really caught my eye (for some reason I really like things that you can see through).

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  • Karen
    October 3, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Hi Katherine,

    We are going to visit Kyoto in Dec and making arrangement with Tamahan, but too bad their chef is going on a holiday break during our stay. I am trying to make a dinner reservation at Yuzuya but haven’t heard from them yet. Any great restaurants recommendation that are kids friendly? (7 and 4 yr old)


  • Karen
    December 9, 2014 at 1:00 am

    Hi Katherine,

    Currently looking to purchase shinkansen tickets from Tokyo to Kyoto for the holidays and wish to get the reserved seats. Any handy website you might be able to share?


  • Diane
    June 26, 2016 at 7:07 am

    Hi Katherine, thankyou so much for your wonderful review, I’ve just stayed at Shiraume and it was every bit as good as you described. Tomoko is so lovely, it’s currently quite wet in Japan so while we were in Kyoto she recommended what to do at different times of the day according to the forecast! Thanks so much Katherine and keep up with all the reviews I follow feather factor religiously!!!

    • Katherine
      June 26, 2016 at 9:11 am

      I’m so jealous! I love Shiraume 🙂 I am so happy to hear you had a good time!