The art of welcoming guests is very present in the Japanese culture. Whether you are just a confused tourist at the station, or you need something at a store, or you are a non-Japanese speaker at a no-English menu restaurant, the Japanese will always make you feel welcome and the most comfortable they possibly can. But at the Shiraume Ryokan, that is taken to the very extreme. There, you feel like you are an emperor.
Located in the old and elegant Gion district, adorned with the wooden facades of Hanamikoji and adjacent to the Shirakawa stream, there lies a special inn, that was once a very important ochaya (teahouse). The name Shiraume means White Plum, certainly inspired by the two plum trees that stand at the entrance of the Ryokan, and the old owner transformed her ochaya, in an inn that welcomes people from all over the world, making them fully aware of the pure beauty of nature, not only from the inside of the building, but from the outside, all over Kyoto and Japan.
When we found out about these traditional Japanese inns, we knew we had to try it, at least for one night, so after we slept in for the first time in Japan, we walked from our hotel to Gion and entered the Shiraume ryokan. The first thing that comes to mind when you are inside is that you have somehow gone back in time to the Meiji period (1868-1912). Everything is either made out of wood or paper and all the doors and windows slide to the side. The smell of incense is faint in the air and gets a bit muffled by the smell of natural wood, also so characteristic of the rest of Kyoto.
We are welcomed at the entrance of the bridge that leads inside the Ryokan by Satoko-san, who shows us our bedroom for the night. All the while, we cannot stop smiling in awe: the sliding windows for the stream outside, the wardrobes with the neatly folded futons and, our yukatas and pjs, the tatami floor and the centre table with the floor chairs. As a welcome, we get delicious green tea dango with cookie’s powder and hot green tea, and are reminded that dinner will be served at 7.30 in a kaiseki style.
For quite some minutes we just stand in full admiration of the whole thing. The surroundings are beautiful and everything is impeccably clean and neatly organized, with some very beautiful cloths and plants and a tokonoma, a small alcove showcasing a scroll and an arrangement of beautiful plants. The bathrooms are, of course, traditionally Japanese. Everything is made out of wood, except the shower head and the faucets, of course. There’s a mirror in front of you and a wood bathtub, where you can have a hot bath, meant for relaxation.
You have to shower before you go in the bathtub, and even showering takes on a completely new definition. You are not really showering you are cleansing your body, make it as pure as possible, getting rid of all the daily bad energies. You sit on tiny stool, and start washing yourself, while looking at the mirror, making sure you don’t miss a spot, while a small wood bucket is filled with water. When you finish, you get the bucket and empty it above your head, repeating the process until you are ready, and soap free to get yourself in the bathtub filled with very hot water, and relax.
The water is hot enough for you to start feeling your body going a bit numb and when you close your eyes, one can really feel the nice scent of the wood tub, and your body relaxes completely. Yes, this is a redefinition of “taking a shower”, definitely.