Question re. multiple kaiseki dinners at ryokans
I spoke with a wonderful lady today who was recommended by a poster on this forum as a travel agent (specializing in Japan tours) and she explained to me that when staying several nights in a ryokan, meals tend to become repetitve, sourcing the same ingredients - since the focus is on local seasonal produce. She said that there is usually only some variance when a ryokan switches betweek kaiseki and shabu shabu meals from one night to the next, but that due to the volume of guests (even at tiny and exclusive properties) they can not be expected to prepare different meals for everyone each night. I am wondering then, if it's worth saving money and only eating a single meal in each ryokan that we stay in? For instance, if we're spending 2 nights at Gora Kadan, 2 nights at Wanosanto, 3 nights at Kayoutei, 3 nights at Hiiragiya, 3 nights at Minamikan, 3 nights at Sakamotoya, etc... is there any reason to eat more than a single dinner at each of these properties? I imagine that a 9-course kaiseki dinner will be very difficult to do every single night for 5 weeks and I would not want to be spending unecessarily to essentially be repeating the same dinners 2-3 nights in a row. I just wanted to check in with the Chowhounds who might have better perspective before officially cancelling any dinners with the properties. I have never stayed in a ryokan before so while I've done my share of research, I'm not sure exactly what to expect in this regard. Is there any reason for instance, to have 2 consecutive dinners at Wanosanto? I understand that Hida beef is a regional specialty of Takayama, so is it likely that we'll get a kaiseki meal one night and a shabu shabu the next? What about 3 dinners at The Kayoutei, or Hiragiiya? Should we just plan one each? While I would really love to experience a couple of shabu shabu dinners, my wife doesn't eat red meat, so I wouldn't want to put her in that spot more than a few times. Do all ryokans shift betweek kaiseki one night, shabu shabu the next? Of the ryokans mentioned (if any are familar with them from experience) which would offer the shabu shabu course and which would you suggest that no more than a single dinner would be necessary? We're also staying single nights at Hoshi Onsen Chojukan, Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku, and Iwaso, for what that's worth (in terms of food!). I'd just like to get a better idea of what to expect so that when I write my travel agent tomorrow, I can request that certain meals be cancelled at different properties for the sake of savings (to spend on interesting meals elsewhere!) and also redundance.
Also, is it worth eating two consecutive dinners at Gora Kadan? Is there anything else in Hakone that's worth noting? I would rather not pay for two consecutive meals at Gora Kadan if there is another great restaurant in Hakone we could try. I'm not entirely sure how much of the cost of our stay accounts for the meals, but I imagine it's quite expensive. How is the food at the historic Fujiya Hotel?
Same question for 3 nights at the Kayoutei in Kaga.
And for 2 nights at the Wanosanto in Takayama. I wonder if I should leave this one as is, and request kaiseki for one meal and Hida beef for the next? Or is there an amazing place nearby in Takayama for Hida?
Lastly, what other good options are there around Minamikan ryokan in Matsue? I imagine a single dinner here should suffice.
I think I could easily figure out the rest on my own. Nagasaki there's no shortage of food and thus, a single meal on our first night at the ryokan should be enough. Same with Hiiragiya in Kyoto... though I wonder if it's worth experiencing two different meals at the ryokan and if they will differ?
I'm very relaxed. This is an expensive trip and I don't want to be spending $400/night needlessly to have the same meal several nights in a row. How's about offering some helpful insight instead of offhand patronizing commentary that's completely useless? I'm trying to shave costs off our trip and save ourselves the redundancy of eating the same meals for 2-4 consecutive night at each property. I assume this is what we're in for and thus why I've posted this thread, to verify.
Few if any of the people posting here are actually Japanese.
Regardless, given the amount of help you've already received from people here, your comment was uncalled for. A little gratitude will go a long way.
No one here knows what you would or would not appreciate. If you think you'll like ryokan meals every night, then go for it. I think they all start tasting the same after a while, but ymmv.
I don't believe ryokan give discounts if you choose not to have one of the meals. But again, ymmv. You should talk to your travel agent(s), as that is the kind of information you're paying them for. People here help for free, and that can only go so far (especially when that help appears demanded rather than requested).
They do give discounts amounting to average $200/pers. according to what's been relayed to me by a reputable TA who was referred through this board and has stayed at all of these properties.
I am not asking any questions that could be construed or interpreted as personal opinion; it has nothing to do with what we might like or dislike... I am simply asking whether these ryokans will serve the same (or very similar dinners) 2-3 nights in a row, if one were to eat at these places for that many consecutive nights.
I ask this question, because I was warned by a travel agent that this is a common practice. Because these ryokans focus on what's seasonal and local, and because they serve multiple guests each night, the same ingredients (albeit fresh) get rehashed throughout the week in meals.
I have not stayed at a ryokan before so I can't confirm this information. I am simply asking whether or not it is in fact, the case. If so, I would not want to be spending money that needn't be spent, on meals that we would have already enjoyed on previous nights.
I was also told, that some of the ryokans switch up their kaiseki dinners (for guests staying two or more nights) with a shabu shabu course. I was wondering if anyone knew specifically which of the above listed ryokans offer this, or better yet, specialize in it. I assume it would be more common in Takayama.
Beyond which, my question concerning Hakone, was simply to guage if there are any worthwhile alternatives to eating two meals at Gora Kadan; that would help us forumalte a decision as to whether or not we should dine at GK for both nights of our stay. I'm fairly confident that in all other cities and towns, we could find alternative options to the ryokans on our own. Hakone however, seems to be an exception as it's obviously a major weekend tourist destination for Tokyo and there does not seem to be that many food offerings.
For the record, I've shown much gratitude on here for all of the helpful advice and tips that were given in previous threads. The two brusque one-word posts above which were entirely irrelevant, useless, and didn't address any of my questions, were plain stupid. If nobody has anything helpful to add, then fine; move along. My questions were genuine and pertinent.
I would like to contact my TA and let her know which meals we'll be requesting to pass up and I would like to do so, with an informed opinion. I get the sense frm past discussions on Chowhound, that a number of people have visited the same ryokans as those on our itinerary. A little bit of feedback would be appreciated.
I was offering you what I think is useful advice. Stress is really bad for you. However, I don't see how it is relevant to the discussion that you're stressed about spending money.
eta: personally I would want to scream if I had to go through a series of these ryokan stays, and would prefer more/longer stays in cities where you have access to a wider variety of experiences, but it's hard to reconcile that with saving money. It seems like staying in ryokans AND refusing their meals is both not going to save much money (as you'll need to go somewhere to eat) and be great fun, but hey - maybe you'll find out you love it and end up moving to a Japanese house in the countryside.
I'm not sure how you've interpreted my initial inquiry as "stressing", but I assure you that I am both very relaxed and enthusiastic about this trip.
I'm not worried about spending money either; I know what I'm in for. I'm more interested in value, and acknowledging that we have many expensive and elaborate meals, I was simply wondering whether it would be of better value (ie. cost verus experience) to enjoy more of them outside of our ryokans. That would have been dependent on the amount of redundancy with regards to the menus and ingredients over multiple night stays.
I think I've got a pretty good idea of that answer now and I have been able to plan accordingly. The savings (which are not insignificant) are merely a welcomed advantage; not incentive for decision making either way.
I don't see how you can possibly perceive your comment of "relax" to be "useful advice", but apologies if that was the intent.
As per your eta: we are spending a full week in a hotel in Tokyo, a full week in Kyoto (incl. hotel stay), a full week in a hotel in Osaka... so longer stays in cities with access to a wider variety of experiences seems to get checked off in every category. In fact, I've purposefully planned for the most diverse and dynamic trip that I think we could have for a first visit to Japan and with our restricted time. I would perhaps add Nikko and Izu on return, along with extended stays in Hokkaido and Kagoshima... but we're basically covering the entire map of Honshu from big cities with nightlife and culture to mountain and seaside villages, UNESCO world heritage sites, etc. One thing you can't really accuse us of is not being well-rounded. Would staying in some of the oldest and finest inns in Japan, with exceptional cuisine, in the most spectacular surroundings, really make you scream??
As for staying in ryokans and refusing their meals... it may or may not save lots of money (fyi, it does in fact) because we will indeed need to eat elsewhere... but that's the very purpose of this thread. I was inquiring to determine whether eating elsewhere might offer a more varied and eclectic dining experience than the alternative, which would be eating in our ryokan multiple nights in a row. Again, I believe I got my answer and it seems to be "yes" eating elsewhere would be advantageous not just for costs, but also for a wider range of meal styles. The restrictions with dining times not being conducive to sightseeing was the best argument made in the end.
One thing I would caution is that "the oldest and finest inns in Japan, with exceptional cuisine" may not be that fine and may not have exceptional cuisine. I've never found those oldest and finest places to have exceptional cuisine, based on their price and reputation, Hiiragiya being a prime example (but YMMV). It's all very very good of course, but there are other ryokans with less steallar reputations and price points which provide better food, IMO.
In addition, without ever being in Japan, it's hard for you to gauge whether you will really enjoy so many nights in these inns as it is quite different from standard hotels and resorts in terms of activities etc. Unless you really enjoy the view from your various rooms, there is little point in staying in a ryokan and going out for meals elsewhere, especially considering that in rural areas this may be difficult as options are limited. you might end up screaming by the time it's over.
As great as those formal dinners are, served in your room or a separate dining room, the best part of dining in Japan for me is sitting at a counter in a small restaurant watching a chef prepare your meals and serve you. that connection, however small given my lack of japanese language is hard to replicate in other countries and other settings.
Thanks tigerjohn and I completely understand what you're saying. I feel as though we've planned for many of those small and casual counter style places and in fact, we have a whole week in Nagasaki which we're purposefully not planning or even researching anything at all, as we just want to walk around and "discover" places. We'll be doing many lunch counters and izakayas in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
What you suggest about the oldest and finest ryokans not necessarily offering the best food is reassurance that I made the right choice in opting out of meals every night. We're only doing a single meal at each ryokan, with the exception of Gora Kadan in which I'm leaning towards both, since there aren't many other options nearby.
It's true, we may not enjoy the ryokan thing... though I think that would be a huge stretch given our interests. I'm a history buff and whenever I travel, I look to stay in buildings of historic, architectural, or cultural signifigance. Beyond which, both my wife and myself are obsessed with pre-war Japanese culture; films, art, literature, etc. Part of my fascination with Japan, I think, is that very juxtaposition of ancient time-honored tradition and ardent futurism, and I can't wait to experience that. We are literally staying in some of the most beautiful ancient inns, some dating back to the Edo period. We are staying in rooms overlooking autumn painted hillsides and maple glazed valleys of russet, amber, burnt-orange, and scarlet; some of which open into private zen gardens with open-air onsens. I truly can't imagine not enjoying the experience... who would??
I'd be interested to know how many nights you will be staying in ryokan out of the total and how many consecutive nights in particular ryokan.
The reality is that it is extremely likely that you will get a repeat of the same kaiseki meal at the same ryokan. Moreover, the ingredients from one ryokan to the next could be quite similar as well, leading to kaiseki fatigue. It is true that there is almost always a second course of shabu-shabu, sukiayi or nabe, but usually not beyond that (in terms of something different a third night) and again the ingriedients could be similar. You might be able to arrange a third different course, especially given some of the properties you mention but there is no guarantee.
Beyond the problem of meal repetitiveness, you might also suffer from ryokan fatigue. I find the 1 or 2 night experience to be magical and relaxing but that it drags a bit beyond that. More diverse and interesting experiences to be had outside the ryokan. based on the typical daily schedule, there is not as much freedom to do ohter things as if you were staying in a hotel. Also, I am not as impressed with the overall food quality at high end ryokan in comparison to what one can find in restaurants, with some exceptions, of course.
Thanks so much for your feedback, tigerjohn!
I anticipated that the "novelty" of ryokans might wear off after a while; especially given that it's our honeymoon and sleeping on separate tatami mats the entire trip might not be the most romantic way to spend it. For that reason, I purposefully tried to plan so that we're never spending more than a few consecutive nights in ryokans, however there is approx. one week while travelling north of Tokyo where we'll be staying exclusively in ryokans. We'll be moving around a lot though, and we chose the properties mostly for logistical reasons as we want to see and do as much as possible. I did try to book a few extended hotel stays along the way, to give ourselves a break.
Here's the breakdown:
* The Peninsula Tokyo - 4 nights
* Gora Kadan - 2 nights
* The Peninsula Tokyo - 3 nights
* Hoshi Onsen Chojukan - 1 night
* Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku - 1 night
* Myojinkan Ryokan - 1 night
* Wanosanto Ryokan - 2 nights
* The Kayoutei - 3 nights
* Hyatt Regency Kyoto - 2 nights
* Hiiragiya Ryokan - 3 nights
* Nara Hotel - 1 night
* The St-Regis Osaka - 4 nights
* Minamikan - 3 nights
* Iwaso - 1 night
* Sakamotoya - 3 nights
* The Shangri-La Tokyo - 1 night
So it sounds like in addition to an overdose of kaiseki, we'll also be eating many repetetive meals. I really appreciate you confirming this as fact! What I'm going to try and do now, is request to only eat a single meal at each property and see if they will offer us a price discount to compensate. I'm told this is usually the way it works.
As for Wanosanto, I might keep both of our meals as scheduled, and request a shabu shabu of Hida beef for the second evening since I'm sure it will be done very well.
I am not sure whether it might be worth having two meals at Hiiragiya and Kayoutei given that they are especially noted for their kitchens; do you have any experience? I wonder if they would make a special effort to add variety and different ingredients, or if it would just be another kaiseki-one night / shabu shabu-the following setup?
I'd also like to know whether there are any destination-worthy restaurant options for Hakone as I haven't been able to dig much up. If there are really no great options, I would do both meals at Gora Kadan. It just seems like all those multi-course meals will start to weigh us down!
As for Minamikan and Sakamotoya, one night will be more than enough!
My last question is whether or not the kaiseki dinners will differ much from ryokan to ryokan, as we travel through diverse locations across Honshu? I understand that there are specific kinds of tofu, fish, beef, shellfish, etc. that are regionally unique and noteworthy. Would this make for interesting and distinct kaiseki experiences in each ryokan, coupled with the inspiration and creativity of each chef? Would it be like a fresh and new dining experience at each property, or more like visiting a different sushi restaurant each night (for comparisson) where we might be able to taste and appreciate subtle differences in preparation and skill but still feel like we're eating the same exact food that we ate the night before, and before, and before, and so on?
While I am very excited to be dining in many unique and historic settings, I am hoping that our meals at each ryokan will not be so similar that we're able to anticipate exactly what's coming up with each course. I also wonder if there will be significant difference between these meals and the more modern kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto or the contemporary restaurants in Tokyo that employ micro gastronomy and fusion focus?
Anyhow, it sounds like from what you've described - our best bet would probably be to experience a single meal in each ryokan and then dine out with our savings from passing on the other meals.
Thanks again for taking the time explain all of that... it's a huge help in finalizing our plans, both for food and budget!
I think it's going to be more like the latter with subtle differences although certainly more diverse than sushi (at least from my point of view). You will see seasonal ingredients that will pop up again and again even with your moving around different parts of the island. We see this during our twice yearly stays in tokyo a variety of different restaurants.
I just think that after the first night, branching out into izakayas, yakitori, noodles (of various kinds), eel etc brings a lot of value. I tend to like washoku (the general term for japanese food served in small courses) more than sushi and other areas of the cuisine but even we like to switch out some nights with other things. Izakayas, in particular, are a lot of fun and you will get dishes you won't get with kaiseki. I'll also mention again that even if you only eat kaiseki/washoku you can up the quality by only dining the first night in ryokans and dining in restaurants the other nights (though the atmosphere will usually not compare).
As an example, I highly suggest you do the 13 course tofu lunch (or higher priced yuba lunch) at http://www.kondou-touhu.co.jp/shop/sh... in Nara. It's in an old building, a lot of character, great tofu, fairly inventive dishes, inexpensive (don't expect elaborate preparations or top quality tableware etc). We had a great time when we went even though our dinner was back at Tawaraya ryokan in Kyoto.
You should be aware of the following fairly standard schedule at ryokan:
1. Breakfast: starting at between 8 and 9 am for an hour or so.
2. Dinner: starting around 5:30 with the latest start time around 7 or 7:30 continuing for 2-3 hours.
It leaves less time for touring.
I should also mention that even at top properties, your sense of privacy in terms of noise levels is not the same as a 5 star hotel. Might impact your honeymoon to some extent.
One final thing: sometimes ryokan have private rooms for dining separate from your room. Often all rooms have their own private room. but sometimes only a few rooms do or its on request. It's worth requesting this as I think it adds to the setting and feel. When you return your room is then made up for sleeping.
Thanks so much for all of this info!!
We definitely plan to branch out with our eating into all areas mentioned on nights when we are not dining in our ryokans. The only exception being the more modern kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto, which I'm very excited to try, both for the food itself, the presentation, and most of all the surroundings and atmosphere.
Thank you for the Nara recommendation too! That's really helpful as I hadn't yet explored food options and we'll be spending one night at the Nara Hotel. I'll add this place to our itinerary!
As for the privacy issues (I get you - wink, wink!) I think that we'll likely be a bit better off at many of these ryokans as we've made certain to reserve the largest and most private rooms in each place. For instance, at Gora Kadan we'll be in the Kadan Suite Aoi; at Wanosanto the Tenryo room; at Kayoutei the Higashiyama Suite; at Iwaso the Hanare room, etc. I believe some of these rooms are located in separate annexes or take up their own private sections of the ryokans. Many have private gardens or outdoor open-air baths, so I feel fairly confident that we'll still feel that we have some personal and intimate space. Most, if not all of these rooms, also offer separate private dining areas, which as you mentioned, is quite a nice luxury!
I will write to my TA this morning and let her know that we'll only be doign one single meal at each property. Thank you again for all of your help and great tips!
On Hakone, and anywhere outside Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka I don't have any specific restaurant recs (although see Nara below), but I wasn't that impressed with the food at Gora (looks impressive, ingredient quality and execution not up to the level of a good 10,000 yen washoku course in tokyo). If you can find a good rec, might be worth only dining there one night.
You have quite the itinerary! I will echo tigerjohn's sentiments that you are at high risk for "ryokan fatigue".
Plus, I hope you are traveling light, because that's a lot of packing and unpacking! I trust that you have a Shinkansen pass (green pass?).
Ryokan kaiseki meals can be exquisite, but if you are staying >1 night at any given ryokan, chances are you will be repeating the same meal again (and again). Every region of Japan is famous for some different aspect of nihonryori, and the ryokan are especially proud to showcase these local specialties to their customer in their kaisekis.
I will also echo tigerjohn's caution that there are fairly rigid time constraints in ryokan guest etiquette (set breakfast times, set dinner times). These facts will likely cut into your schedule for sightseeing. Western hotels are obviously more laissez faire in terms of when you get in/get out.
I suggest you only eat 1 meal at every ryokan (the showcase kaiseki). Then use the rest of your time to explore other aspects of Japanese cuisine (washoku, ramen, sushi, tonkatsu, tempura, curry, izakaya, etc. etc.)
Some of the most indelible dining experiences I've had in Japan have occurred serendipitously. Example: A few years ago, we got lost in Nara after touring the sites, walked aimlessly into a residential area, and stumbled into a nondescript local cafe in order to call a taxi. While waiting for our taxi, we decided to try the cafe's housemade chestnut mousse, simply out of boredom...
Oh. My. God. This mousse was a life-altering dessert - The textures, subtlety, and just deliciousness of this cup of chestnut mousse will be forever etched in my taste memory. By the time our taxi arrived to pick us up, we were so busy eating all the other incredible foods at this cafe, we didn't want to leave! And the whole cost for this unforgettable foray: 3500yen.
Thanks J.L. - very sound advice which we'll take!
We aren't doing a railpass because we don't want to be locked into schedules in advance, plus as we're staying for 5 weeks and renting a car for at least one week mid-way through the trip, it will get too expensive. Japan railpasses are good for a max. of 4 weeks. I suppose we can purchase by the week, but again, we prefer more flexibility. Beyond which, a lot of the trains which are quickest and most convenient (and specifically the upgrades in fare/class) are not available through the JRP for a number of the destinations that we're travelling to.
Anyhow, thanks again for reaffirming what I was concerned about with regards to the food at ryokans. Hopefully this will also save us quite a few bucks as a result!
We prefer hotels, but on our trips to Japan, we stay at one ryokan, always for two nights. It would never occur to us that the two dinners and two breakfasts might be repeats and they never are. The last two were Kayotei in Yamanaka and Ryokan Kurashiki in Kurashiki, both wonderful. The next one will be Gora Kadan.
I agree with the sentiments already expressed that you should just relax and let the ryokans be your hosts.
Could you please give me an example of what you were served for dinner at Kayoutei and how varied it was from the first night to the next? I'm just curious.
I think that staying only two nights at a ryokan each trip sounds like a very nice retreat, in which I probably would not want to plan to do much outside of the ryokan either, and take our meals "in-house" as well. However, we're travelling for 5 weeks across Honshu and that's a very different type of trip. I think that all of the feedback has effectively validated my concerns about relying exclusively on the food at ryokans for such long travels.
Ryokan is often positioned in guides to be 'small hotel', with the advantage to be not preoccupied with the dinner/breakfast.. and this is principally the hitch of your planning. As ryokan prices are per person, it makes your tour of 35 days, including expensive 21 days in ryokan, very expensive. Easily more than 1,500,000yens ! In fact, all the ryokan you chose are luxury, top rank ryokan, where the locals in this board would likely never experience.
As ryokan are usually good level, I would advise you to do a tour on cheaper ryokan (and/or less numerous). Hotels have far more marked differences, from business (cramped) to luxury. With ryokan, cheaper ones won't change the quality of your experience, and you could keep just 1-2 top notches ones for highlights.
One of my idea is, as November is the season for 'Kouyou', with autumn colors, to make temples a thema of your tour (you get to enjoy nature and history along with such thema). So Nikko for the temple of the emperor Tokugawa, which is very different than others (Ryokan Shikisai at 18,000/breakfast occidental/hotel navette), Hakone to see Mont Fuji (one day is enough, you can't climb it at that season anyway), Takayama for sight seeing, knife making at Seki (you should be able to easily web search a ryokan around 18,000yens, stay 3 days, for exemple Hodakaso). Kyoto (Nara is one hour from Kyoto, Osaka 30mn, no need to stay there, Kyoto is nicer). There, one night at the crazy expensive ryokan Iiragaya then after choose a cheaper hotel like Heian nori hotel (at 8,000!!!).. and hire a guide that will organise for you a tour of all the temples and book for you some (necessary to do in advance!). Then for the last tour on temples, I really recommend Koyasan the Boudfhist temple, eating shojin food (2 days necessary, 15,000yens) plus ballad in the deep forest.. between Takayama and Kyoto you can go to the East Japan visit Kanazawa (one day), and go more south to Matsue (a nice castle, another Temple style, classic Japanese food, crab, more affordable..).. and don't forget to buy something home like an old kimono/armure cask keep memories of your tour..
Info.link about bazaar markets in Kyoto :
Thank you so much, Ninisix.
I really appreciate your suggestions and feedback, however it's too late to adjust anything with regards to our itinerary at this point, as we've already placed deposits on all properties and have been working exhaustively with our regular travel agent and with JTB for many months. The properties are indeed expensive, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon splurge! We definitely do plan to make both "koyo" and temple touring a focus of our trip. I had not considered hiring a tour guide in advance for Kyoto though; is that necessary and recommended? We are staying for 5 full nights, so I just assumed we would have plenty of time to explore on our own and perhaps ask our hotel or ryokan to suggest a good local guide for a morning or afternoon during our stay. Anyhow, the lodgings are fixed but I do appreciate all of the links you've posted and I will research everything further. We're looking forward to trying shjin cuisin btw!
Thank you again for all of the great tips!
Prices will be fixed in mid July, so I do think that you can switch your reservations - by common practice here, you can cancel reservations if done reasonably in advance, but that's your call...
The choice of a guide for Kyoto, in my opinion, is necessary, especially to book in advance, as some temple/palace can only be visited by reservation done 2-4 months before !
I don't know specifically any guide with English skills, but your hotel might recommend a specific guide (or even reserve on your behalf such temples/shrines)