The perfect guesthouse in Gion (Kyoto, Japan)
Posted on April 19, 2013 by Aun
As mentioned in an earlier post, my wife and I decided to take our two year old son to Kyoto for a weeklong holiday. Because we wanted to visit during sakura (cherry blossom) season, we actually booked our tickets almost a year ago and started looking for places to stay, at the recommendation of friends in Kyoto, in early September. Because sakura season (which is the end of March and early April) is so popular, most places get snapped up months in advance. I actually advice booking your own accommodations no later than August the previous year if you can plan that far in advance.
When we were trying to decide where to stay, after considering several different hotel or ryokan options, S and I finally settled on the idea of renting a house or apartment for the week. Given the needs of a toddler, we felt that made more sense. We could cook breakfast or dinner for him if need be. We could do laundry, thus reducing the weight of our own luggage. And, theoretically, we’d have more space for him to run around in.
Additionally, once I started researching holiday homes and apartments in Kyoto, S and I both loved the idea of staying in a renovated/restored machiya (a traditional wooden townhouse) in Gion–the old historic district famous for its heritage buildings, temples and geishas–or by the Kamo River. There are many such properties being advertised on various websites right now. Some affordable, some ultra luxurious and very expensive. Picking the one that is best for you will come down to price, location, availability and a careful reading of the reviews that almost always accompany each house’s listing.
From the moment S and I saw Tokuji Tanaka’s beautiful little Machiya, which he calls “The Gion House”, we were sold. The exterior was charming. The interiors clean and bright. We loved the Yakusugi solid wood dining table. The Shiragaki ceramic bathtub was the icing on the cake that prompted us to email him immediately. Amazingly, the house was available during our dates and Tanaka-san generously offered to set up a baby cot for T.
Tanaka-san’s machiya was perfect in so many ways. The location was simply amazing, nestled at the intersection of Yamato-oji dori and Yasaka dori. Walk west two blocks and you’re at the Kamo River. Cross the river and you’re at the Kiyamachi dining area. Walk north ten minutes and you’re around the corner from the Shijo and Kawaramachi intersection. Walk east from the house and you’ll immediately face the south side of Kennin-ji Temple. Keep walking east 10 minutes and you’ll find yourself at Kiyomizudera Temple. Seriously, for us, the location was simply perfect.
The house fabulously offered the best of old and new. While the structure and design was that of a traditional Japanese townhouse, it also boasted very modern amenities, from a digital door lock to an automated system that would fill and heat the Japanese bathtub for you with a single press of a button. Tanaka-san also ensured that the appliances were modern and worked well. We used the rice cooker and washer-dryer extensively without any problems. And the whole house has its own strong WiFi network.
Tanaka-san also provides a few guide books for his guests as well as a detailed instruction manual for living in the machiya. He also included suggestions for a neighboring cafe for breakfast and a local supermarket–which had amazing produce for half the price of the supermarket in Isetan.
The house itself is not large. The ground floor has the living-dining area, kitchen, small outdoor zen garden and the bathroom. The upstairs area, which is essentially one large space, is for sleeping. The washer-dryer is also upstairs. In comparison with a hotel, the layout is akin to a large duplex suite.
Because we had a fridge and a kitchen, S and I decided to cook dinner for ourselves and T on two of the nights we were in town. On the first night, T had grilled buri with rice while S and I had rice bowls topped with seasoned toro, negi, shiso and ikura. We washed this down with some award-winning local sake. On the second night, we fed T some teriyaki chicken while we had grilled wagyu steaks with local tomatoes, cabbage salad, kimchi, pickled cucumbers, onsen tamago and rice. And of course, more sake. We loved that we could stay in and cook. On previous vacations, we’d go to places like Nishiki market or the food halls of department stores and whine about how much we’d love to buy and cook up all the amazing produce spread before us. Well, by staying in this machiya, we could finally do that.
After this stay, S has decided that Tanaka-san’s Gion House is going to be her home away from home in Kyoto whenever possible. It really was, for us at least, the perfect little hideaway in one of our favourite cities in the world.
Oh, Tanaka-san also owns another property, a machiya in Arashiyama. Arashiyama, as I’ve written about before, is the second most popular tourist area in Kyoto. It really is a beautiful, idyllic area in the Western part of the region. From what I can see from his website, the Arashiyama machiya is as, if not more, stunning than his Gion House. And it’s even been registered officially as an “Important Cultural Properties of Kyoto” by the Kyoto City Government. Check out the site for yourself here: http://arashiyamahanare.jimdo.com/