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Inns and Outs: Five “Ryokan” in Tokyo

Tokyo, a city known for its high tech and blazing neon, still has traditional inns tucked away in its back streets that can provide travelers with comforts from an older age. A night at one of these establishments is a great way to top off a long day of seeing the sights. Photographer Andō Seita takes us on a tour of five ryokan that offer guests distinct ways to experience the metropolis.

A More Intimate Way to Stay

The photographer Andō Seita is something of an expert on the quaint charms of Tokyo’s many ryokan, or traditional inns. Having spent three years training his camera lens on these small establishments and compiling his efforts into the 2016 Japanese guide book Tokyo no sugoi ryokan (Tokyo’s Amazing Ryokan), he laments that many visitors to the capital by default choose standard accommodations, blissfully unaware they are missing out on an engaging way to enjoy Japan’s largest city. “If you travel all the way to Tokyo,” Andō asks, “why stay at a bland business hotel when you can have a one-of-a-kind experience at a ryokan?”

Below Andō introduces five traditional inns that will add a new layer of enjoyment to any trip to the metropolis.

A Skytree Lullaby

Asakusa’s famed Kaminarimon.

The Asakusa district is one of Tokyo’s top tourist destinations, offering up a smorgasbord of traditional architecture, cuisine, and entertainment. Andō confidently states that visitors to the area are guaranteed to have a great time. However, he warns, “Once visitors return to a nondescript hotel near some hub station, the excitement of the day will quickly begin to fade.” Instead, he says travelers should top off a day wandering the lively and historic district with a night at a local ryokan, saying that “sliding into a futon in a tatami-matted room is the perfect way to keep the spirit of a day in Asakusa, or indeed any of Tokyo’s authentic locations, alive.”

Clockwise from top left: A water bus terminal on the Sumida River across from the iconic Asahi Beer Hall and Tokyo Skytree; Yoshikami, one of many cozy eateries around Asakusa; dusk at Asakusa Hanayashiki, Japan’s oldest amusement park; the historic Mokubakan theater has been in business since the Meiji era (1868–1912).

Andō says he could easily recommend any number of ryokan in Asakusa, but that Mikawaya tops his list for the spectacular views it provides of the Nakamise shopping arcade in front of the temple Sensōji and Tokyo Skytree, two of the area’s landmark attractions.

When completed in 2012, the 634-meter Skytree added a pleasing, modern accent to Asakusa’s historic scenery that includes Nakamise’s busy shops and the Buddhist temple of Sensōji. Guests at Mikawaya can leisurely admire the towering structure, which dominates the neighborhood skyline, while relaxing in one of the cozy, traditional ryokan rooms.

The afternoon view from Mikawaya’s room 405 overlooks Nakamise (left); guests in room 403 can admire the evening glow of the Skytree while relaxing in their futon.

To enjoy the view to its fullest, Andō insists that Asakusa’s streets must be strolled at night. “Skytree is at its best when the sun goes down. The lights of Nakamise are also nice. By staying in Asakusa, guests can wander the streets after hours savoring the view amid the wonderful calm that settles over the neighborhood after all the tourists have gone.”

Mikawaya set out to actively court foreign visitors beginning with the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was cohosted by Japan and South Korea. The inn is looked after by an experienced and attentive okami, or hostess, who diligently cares for guests. Although the establishment lacks a large bathing area, just a short walk away is Jakotsuyu, a public bathhouse founded in the Edo period (1603–1868) that boasts natural hot spring waters. In fact, guests will find that strolling back to their rooms after a relaxing soak adds a whole new dimension to the Asakusa experience.

Clockwise from top left: The exterior of Mikawaya; the ryokan’s lobby is stocked with travel guides and other tourist information; Nakamise presents a strikingly different face after the crowds have left.

Clockwise from top: A room at Mikawaya; the entrance of Jakotsuyu, a bathhouse in business since the Edo period; lanterns from Asakusa’s famous Sanja Festival decorate the front desk.

● Mikawaya Ryokan

Location: Asakusa 1-30-12, Taitō, Tokyo
Access: Five minutes from Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Subway Asakusa Line, and Tōbu Line
Tel.: 03-3844-8807
Rates: From ¥7,500 per person (meals not included)

  • [2017.05.11]
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