Staying in a Ryokan
This section details a three-night stay in May 1998 at the Sakura Ryokan, 2-6-2 Iriya Taito-ku, Tokyo-to 110
The first issue in choosing accommodation in Tokyo should be the ease of getting to / from the accommodation. This proved to be a major issue in my case.
The Sakura Ryokan is in the northern Taito district of Tokyo. It is a ten-minute walk from the nearest subway station “Iriya”. I arrived in Tokyo by air, and had been allocated a transfer to the Tokyo City Air Terminal - TCAT. It proved to have been really important that I had insisted in my travel agent providing me with details in Japanese of the Ryokan and it’s location, as the taxi driver from TCAT to the Ryokan didn’t seem to recognise it - I suspect this may be a general issue for people choosing to stay in Ryokans - Taxi drivers will know the Imperial Hotel !
The Sakura is in a pleasant district, with an amazing number of convenience stores, off-licences etc - the local Seven-Eleven is a short walk and is open 24 hours. An off-licence is about 25 yards away ! It is actually in a street that is one “block” off the main street - a block only being 25 yards or so, but it could make it difficult to spot, particularly for a driver.
The actual reception was on level 2 - i.e. up one flight of stairs, although it did appear possible to get assistance with heavy bags, and access to the lift at this level if one asked. I only saw the same lady at reception throughout my three-day stay, and I couldn’t do more than basic “hotel speak” with her in English. Note that the reception is unmanned, seemingly at all times - you have to ring a bell for service.
Currently security in guest houses in Japan seems to be a “non-issue” - your room key remains on the reception desk from when you leave it there until you pick it up (this was also true in Kyoto). It came complete with a “bell” on the large key fob, so it was clear they didn’t want you to remove it from the hotel.
I don’t know if there is a real distinction between a Ryokan and a Business Hotel - the Sakura described itself as the latter.
The traditional slippers were available, and expected to be used, with the changing of shoes taking place outside the main door - good for keeping the smell of well used shoes outside, but possibly a bit worrying to leave your Gucci loafers “outside” all night.
The room allocated was a “Western-style room”. I believe this varies in what it means - in this case it mean a “real” bed, air conditioning, a very small bathroom with a shower, a kettle and a pay-TV. I discovered the following day that there was a communal fridge on each floor. This was packed to bursting, but I managed to find room for milk at least.
I didn’t notice whether breakfast was available - I suspect not.
The pay-TV required 100-yen coins - one per hour, although as the only stations available were Japanese this wasn’t a big issue. I thought I’d seen promise of CNN, but no sign of it.
There was a confusing sign about the opening hours for reception, which I misread as meaning reception was closed between 10pm and 6am - but I think it actually meant 10am and 6pm. Either way people seemed to gain access to the Ryokan throughout the night, suggesting the outside door didn’t get locked, as you weren’t issued with anything other than your room key. Noise was a problem - particularly from the younger backpackers who decided to complete their farewell conversations in the corridors at 1am.
There is no real view from the accommodation - my room overlooked a side-road.
I wouldn’t describe the Sakura as being “sparklingly clean” or “well appointed”, but if you are happy co-existing with the backpacker / youth hostel crowd I don’t think it would be an issue. The price is certainly a major factor, costing as little as £30 per room per night. Perhaps now that exchange rates are so favourable, the Ryokan is less attractive from a price point of view.
"More on the locale"
The district itself is not really remarkable, but it is close to Asakusa, one of the features of Tokyo. By chance, the weekend I was there coincided with a bid festival as Asakusa, which involved processions through the streets outside the Sakura. In fact one of the groups involved were based next door, where they set up their “portable shrine” for the procession, and then had a celebratory meal afterwards - men out front, women in the back.
The major problem that I had was related to the location. Despite being on a “package tour” from Premier Travel in England, I was expected to make my own way to the Imperial Hotel by 9am in order to continue my onward trip, via a Mt Fuji tour, to Kyoto. This was a major challenge. I didn’t feel I could rely on any staff being available at a very early hour to arrange me a taxi - nor did I have the confidence I could explain what I required in advance. Given I had two suitcases and a travel bag, I didn’t want to use the subway, particularly during the Monday morning rush hour, but realised I didn’t have much alternative other than to make a really early start.
I thus caught a train shortly after 6am, after walking to Iriya station. This train was already quite full, but I was able to find a reasonable place to put my suitcases. Tokyo subways aren’t the best in terms of escalators / elevators - from the subway stop it was a long walk underground followed by a climb of a single flight of 60 steps, so I was glad of having plenty of time in reserve to make this trek.