Asia Food Hotels Travel

Hiiragiya Ryokan – Kyoto

This post is part of my 2015 Japan series. For the rest, please see below.

Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Marunouchi
Exploring Tokyo – Part One
Exploring Tokyo – Part Two
The Ritz Carlton Kyoto
Exploring Kyoto
Hiiragiya Ryokan – Kyoto
Souvenirs from Japan

For our last stop in Kyoto (and this Japan trip), we decided to stay at a ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn. We would have loved to return back to our old favorite Shiraume, but it was closed for renovations. So instead we decided to stay in another one on our list – Hiiragiya.

Hiiragiya is a six generation ryokan established in 1818, and is probably one of the two establishments mentioned most frequently in relation to Kyoto (the other being Tawaraya). Both are famous for being old and having high profile guests – our host kindly let us know that we were right next door to – but sadly not in – the Elizabeth Taylor room.

Hiiragiya was located very close to Kyoto downtown, which was a nice change of pace from Shiraume, which was in the Gion district. Our taxi driver pulled up to a very unassuming building, right across the street from Tawaraya, and we were greeted at the entrance.

Hiiragiya Entrance

Inside, the decor was what we’d come to expect from a traditional ryokan – carefully selected pieces, spotlessly clean room. If you’ve never stayed in a ryokan before and are used to more traditional luxury hotels, you might find the decor sparse at first. After some time though, you’ll find the environment perfect for relaxation.

HIiragiya Common Areas

And…our room! There was a large open space where by day we dined, and by night we slept. Room attendants came in each evening and put away the dining set, and set up our sleeping mats.

We booked Hiiragiya maybe a month out or so, which in high season would be unthinkable (reserve as close to a year in advance if you want your choice of rooms). At the time of our booking, we still had a few rooms left to choose from,but they were quickly filling up due to Chinese New Year. I was worried that the room we chose would be too small as it was one of the ryokan’s smaller ones, but it was fine for the two of us. For a family, I would have selected something a little larger.

Hiiragiya Room

There was also a private bathroom with its own onsen bath, a dressing area with a closet, and a small private sitting area which overlooked the gardens.

Each evening, our main room attendant would enter with maids and set up our sleeping mats and pillows. Then, two shiatsu therapists would come in right on the hour (to the minute) and massage us to sleep (this was an extra service, of course). We only meant to book shiatsu treatments on the first night, but they were so relaxing we had them every evening! And the prices were incredibly reasonable – I want to say something like $50 per therapist, per hour.

Hiiragiya Details

A detail I definitely appreciated – all of the toiletries were great Japanese brands, and ones that I would actually use…yup, even the facial ones!

Hiiragiya Toiletries

Each morning after waking, we’d go get ready while the room assistants put away our sleeping mats and set up breakfast.

Fresh Kyoto tofu! So delicious.

Hiiragiya Breakfast

And the full breakfast spread. There are few better ways to start your day than with a complete ryokan breakfast…especially at Hiiragiya!

Hiiragiya Breakfast Setup

Besides breakfast each morning, we also enjoyed a kaiseki dinner one evening. While staying at a ryokan, usually a kaiseki dinner is part of the traditional experience, and in higher end ryokan, will certainly be quoted as part of the price of your room. It’s a key part of the luxury ryokan experience, and one that I’d recommend for everyone.

What not everybody may know however, is that you don’t have to have the dinner each evening, especially if you’re staying multiple nights. While Hiiragiya, for example, will happily have you for the meal each day (usually serving different types of cuisine, like hot pot, so it doesn’t get repetitive), you can actually opt out altogether. We did this on our first few days and saved maybe ~$150 or so a night. Not much in comparison with the total room cost, but still something. For us, the key advantage was not as much the savings, but the ability to free up more time to explore Kyoto!

Anyway, some highlights from our kaiseki dinner. Hiiragiya has been historically ranked with a Michelin star, and the food was very good. Each of our dishes was seasonal and reflected ingredients both locally and from all around Japan. The servers did an excellent job of explaining each dish.

HIiragiya Kaiseki

I’d probably rank Shiraume’s food actually above Hiiragiya’s – but at this level it’s really just personal preference rather than quality/execution, in my opinion.

My favorite dish from dinner? Dessert! Only in Japan do seasonal fruits and jellies end up more delicious than any cake or pastry.

Hiiragiya Kaiseki Two

We chose to have our kaiseki dinner on our last evening at Hiiragiya, and it was the perfect way to end our stay. Having this delicious meal in our room allowed us to stay in it most of the day, and enjoy our surroundings and the natural beauty of Hiiragiya.

The next morning, as we checked out, our attendant and the manager came and brought us a lovely parting gift of lacquered chopsticks decorated with their house motif – the holly leaf, and then escorted us outside. They waved until we were gone.

Hiiragiya Chopsticks

Overall, I enjoyed our stay at Hiiragiya. It was the perfect place for us to stay to cap off our stay in Japan – starting from the modern, and ending with the traditional.

What I loved? Of course, the service. It was flawless, and every request was attended to perfectly and incredibly fast. We never had to say our room number to anyone. Plus, I loved the “shiatsu on demand” service, which was available until 1 AM! The prices were also so incredibly reasonable compared to a traditional luxury hotel spa ($50 an hour versus $200+) that you didn’t feel guilty indulging.

Areas for improvement: There were no issues and we enjoyed our stay, but I would say that we still enjoyed our overall ryokan experience at Shiraume more. In particular, we found that the food at Shiraume was slightly better…and that there was just more of a “personality” feel to that ryokan experience.

Still, I think anyone would be happy to stay at Hiiragiya (provided that they understand the culture of ryokans), and the establishment’s long history and roster of famous guests throughout the centuries cannot be beat. This was one hotel on the “legend list” that we were happy to check off our list, and though we may be back in the future, we would probably try out some other places first.

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  • Whitney Farris
    April 16, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Oh I am dying! Total bliss! You lucky lady. As I keep saying, Slade will probably go to Japan for JTerm! I am such a fan of everything Japanese, from the food to the culture!

    • Katherine
      April 18, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Whitney you must go and you will have a wonderful time 🙂

  • AT
    April 16, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing! DH and I stayed at Hiiragiya Ryokan early last year and we had a memorable time. I read somewhere that Charlie Chaplin has stayed there before. Everyone made us feel “at home” and their kaiseki breakfast and dinner were TDF! Oh I must add, I absolutely loved their high water pressure in the shower! A huge must for me 🙂 Would love to stay at Shiraume one day.

    • Katherine
      April 18, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      Great point about the shower. The bathrooms in general were all excellent! Next time try Shiraume 🙂

  • Ava
    April 17, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Dear Katherine,

    Wow, what beauty! I think this place looks so peaceful and calming – a welcome retreat especially wight hose massages! The food looked amazing! I don’t know about you, but I personally find it really relaxing to sleep on floor mats when I get the chance – I am sure this will be confusing for many readers, but it can be quite comfortable for your back believe it or not. Of course, you’re massage-on-demand was the dream…if only they would have this at every hotel so late and so well done!

    Hope you are feeling well and love that Cabat bag BTW 🙂 Who knows maybe it will become your diaper bag?

    Turns out my best friend, J, is also a HUGE FAN of yours, too (she’s the one who turned me onto her SA’s at various stores). We were talking about bloggers we like (usually our talk goes to family, work etc.) and while I knew she read your blog she had about as much (if not more – lol) enthusiasm (except she doesn’t comment bc she’s super private – J, if you’re reading this don’t be mad!) 😉

    Anyway, we wanted to send you a pregnancy care package together since I will be meeting up with her soon – can you email me an address where we could send it? You got my email! 😉

    Also, side note – was curious, have you noticed that your feet are now taking a larger shoe size? Friends and family fall 50-50, some say their shoe size went up a full size and it never went back down and the others say it did – slowly- but they were about a half size larger for a few months post baby (not that they cared to don heels anytime soon). Have you noted any changes?

    I hope your job affords you a generous maternity leave and options for either daycare at work or other benefits! 🙂

    Big hug,
    Ava

    • Katherine
      April 18, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      Hi Ava, you are so kind and thanks for passing along the wonderful words from J as well. You have been so kind already and both of you are so nice to come here and read that it is honestly all of the care I need….I’m so touched though by how thoughtful you are 🙂 My feet haven’t grown YET and I am crossing my fingers that they do not!!! I have spent way too much on shoes!

  • Sarah
    April 17, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Wonderful post! Love reading about Japan and was wondering if you can suggest any books on the subject. X

    • Katherine
      April 18, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      Do you want fiction or non fiction, Sarah?

      • Sarah
        April 19, 2015 at 12:01 pm

        Well – I am interested to learn more about traditional and modern culture, so anything you’d suggest would be good. X

  • Revanche
    April 18, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    We’ve not yet managed to travel to Japan, and I suspect that trip may be a bit further out now that we’ve got a squirmy gummy, but I’m bookmarking all your recommendations. It just looks so lovely! This feels like a silly question but do you normally book directly with the hotels/ryokan online? I remember doing some initial research some time ago and not seeing the usual booking interfaces.

    Sort of related: PiC was wondering if the UK or Japan is pricier to visit these days. I figured you would know first hand! 🙂

  • Kimberly
    April 23, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    I’ve copied this post into my Japan travel folder. The photos made me so hungry! Looks like you had an amazing trip. Thanks for posting!

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