From kaiseki dinners to tea ceremonies, the essence of Japanese culture is about slowing down to appreciate what is in front of you. Nowhere is that easier to do than at Yoshida-sanso, a classic ryokan housed in the 90-year-old former summer home of a royal prince. Set amid magnificent gardens, every detail at Yoshida-sanso adds to the experience, from the sliding screens of shoji paper and the tatami floors to the hand-painted scrolls and the ceramics on which the excellent meals are served.
“A ryokan has almost everything we call Japanese culture,” Tomoko Nakamura says. “Not just the room but the seasonal decorations: the scrolls, the flowers, the food, the plates the food is served on. It has to fit the season, and it all has to balance each other out.”
Tomoko shares the role of okami, or ryokan manager – traditionally a female role – with her mother Kyoko, and says they are lucky to have inherited such a special property. “It is rare for a heritage house like this to be open for anyone to stay, instead of being a museum,” she says.
Guests are guaranteed plenty of privacy with just three suites, each of which has a living area and private bathroom. Rooms look out over the garden which changes with the seasons, from cherry blossoms in the spring through summer’s azaleas and onto fiery maple foliage in the autumn. The tranquil location in the city’s north is close to sites including Ginkaku-ji Temple and the Philosopher’s Walk, as well as the network of trails that winds across Mount Yoshida.
To really make the most of a stay here, don’t overschedule yourself. Allow plenty of time to simply sit, relax and drink in the details. Tomoko says that long-time expats who have stayed at Yoshida-sanso have told her, “I’ve been in Japan for the past 10 years but this is the first time I can really feel what Japan is.”