The Charm of Ryokan
If you’ve ever daydreamed about traveling to Japan, chances are that you’ve learned a little bit about ryokan: Japan’s charming interpretation on the bed and breakfast.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that any Japan bucket list worth its salt should include the experience of spending a night (or more) sleeping on a futon in a tatami-floored room, soaking in a blissfully hot onsen bath, and dining on meticulously prepared ryokan style food.
There’s something distinctly Japanese about the whole experience. A completely unique accommodation style to anything we have in the west.
Ryokan aren’t hotels. They aren’t hostels or bed & breakfasts either.
They’re a unique and charming Japanese style of accommodation that I fell head over heels in love with while hiking the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route.
Finding a Tokyo Ryokan
When it came time to plan our visit to Tokyo, we didn’t want to spend our entire time in the Japanese capital in a conventional hotel.
As travelers, both Adventures Around Asia and I seek out accommodation that offer up a unique experience all of their own. Whether it’s the distinctive art rooms of the Park Hotel Tokyo, the opportunity to stay in a Maasai boma at Africa Amini Maasai Lodge, or glamping on the Serengeti, I live for the chance to try something unique.
And while there is certainly no shortage of Tokyo hotels, Andon Ryokan immediately jumped out at us as the perfect combination of facilities, ryokan charm, and affordability that we were looking for.
Why Stay at Andon Ryokan?
With the wealth of options in Tokyo, why is it that Andon Ryokan caught our eye and held it?
Why should you choose Andon Ryokan over the multitude of other options in Tokyo?
Let me count the ways!
1. Old Japan Meets New Japan
Richelle and I had the opportunity to stay in a number of traditional ryokan on the Kumano Kodo, but we were pleasantly surprised by the ways in which Andon Ryokan blended the traditional with more modern touches.
Our room was still very much in keeping with the ryokan style: a comfy futon bed, wooden sandals to wear around the building, tatami mat flooring, and an onsen on site.
But there were subtle variations on the theme that gave Andon a fun ‘old meets new’ fusion that we found enchanting. From the fact its onsen is a gigantic hot tub to its ryokan style breakfasts being western favourites such as French toast and a Full English, Andon did enough things differently to stand out from a conventional ryokan.
2. Location, Location, Location
Andon Ryokan sits on a quiet street in the out of the way corner of Taito Ward, the ryokan is walking distance to picturesque historic districts such as Ueno and Asakusa, while also being close to districts more symbolic of modern Tokyo, such as Akihabara.
Nestled as it is in a quiet, residential neighbourhood, Andon gives you a real chance to soak in the local flavour away from the tourist crowds who tend to throng around major landmarks. Walking around the area, it’s easy to find hole in the wall izakaya and ramen joints, get a cheap shave, or do a little gift shopping.
The walk to the popular Asakusa district, which is home to both Senso-Ji Temple and the Tokyo Skytree, takes just twenty minutes and gets you nicely off the beaten track as well.
Out of the way doesn’t mean that Andon Ryokan is inaccessible. A subway station is less than five minutes walk away, and the front desk can sell you 24, 48, or 72-hour train passes that are invaluable in navigating Tokyo’s exhaustive subway network.
Local buses are also an option, and the owner was only too happy to offer us some suggestions on this front.
The best part? You’re less than ten minutes on the subway from Akhibara, which is a vital crossroads for getting to the rest of Tokyo.
3. Delicious Food
It wouldn’t be a true Tokyo ryokan experience without the signature hospitality that sets ryokan apart from traditional hotels and hostels.
While Andon Ryokan didn’t quite live up to the same culinary standards to which we’d become accustomed in Mie Prefecture, the daily breakfast was a filling and tasty treat before a long day of exploration.
Options include both western favourites and a daily Japanese breakfast.
There’s also complimentary tea and coffee for guests, which we definitely availed ourselves of on multiple occasions.
4. That Hot Tub
While not all ryokan come with an on-site onsen (many have them nearby), we were lucky enough to stay in a handful during our Kumano Kodo hike. There’s nothing quite like washing away the sweat and dirt of a long day’s hike and then submerging yourself in skin-tingly hot water.
Andon Ryokan continues its tradition of fusing old and new together with its unique take on the onsen concept. While every floor of the ryokan has traditional shower and restroom facilities, the top floor is home to a gigantic hot tub that acts as the onsen.
Bookings can be made at the front desk for your own twenty-five minutes in heaven, with late night bookings an option on the weekend in case you need to sweat out some of that sake.
5. Activities and Hostel Charm
One area where Andon Ryokan really differentiates itself from other Tokyo ryokan is its fusion of the ryokan and the hostel.
I’m not talking about crowded common rooms or cramped accommodations, of course. I’m talking about the way hostels provide their guests with information, entertainment, and those little extras that make you feel welcome in a new place.
Andon Ryokan offers up daily activities to its guests such as Japanese cooking, sake tastings, origami lessons, and much more.
There’s also a charming hand-drawn map of the neighbourhood available for guests, the aforementioned coffee and tea station, and information on local sights, bus schedules, and much more.
While all ryokan tend to have this personal touch, Andon Ryokan differentiated itself with the sheer variety of activities and information available.
If you’re looking for a unique Tokyo ryokan experience or just looking for a place that is affordable without being dull, Andon Ryokan is a great fit for you.
While two nights of our stay were given in exchange for this review, we liked it so much that we paid for a third night!
Have you ever stayed in a Japanese ryokan? What was your experience like?
Disclaimer: Our stay at Andon Ryokan was provided on a complimentary basis in exchange for this review. However, we liked it so much that we paid to stay a third night! All opinions are my own.
All photos courtesy of Adventures Around Asia.