Ryokan adventures: sorority girl edition

Ok, this is a slightly unfair post title since not EVERYONE in our Japan travel group is in a sorority, but suffice it to say that we all easily fit that description.

At circa 8:00 pm two nights ago, I was crying at the dinner table, in a fit of laughter with my friend Mary, who was sitting to my right and was no longer able to control her reaction to the absurdity of our dining situation. We had just received dessert, which was presented to us by two bowing women dressed in full traditional Japanese robes, and which looked like a raw egg in a bowl. I had taken one look at this “dessert,” decided that it was indeed a raw egg, and guessed that I was supposed to drink it somehow – which honestly didn’t come as a shock after the meal we had just been served. I whispered to Mary, “I can’t eat that” with what must have been a very concerned look on my face, and she immediately fell into a fit of hysterical laughter, which soon spread back to me and to our friend Meredith, who was sitting on her other side. A minute later, we all had tears streaming down our faces.

We were eating in a large golden room that had been specially set up to accommodate our large group of ten for dinner. We each had our own little tables, which were arranged in a U shape to face each other. We had been ushered from our rooms at 6:00pm on the dot by the same women who had served us tea in our rooms an hour earlier, and as soon as we arrived in the dining room our two attendants waited on us hand and foot, serving us beer and a four-course meal which consisted mostly of food items we didn’t fully recognize, but which we did our best to eat politely and enthusiastically. We did a pretty good job until the laughing fit struck; the laughing only grew louder and more tear-inducing when we realized that the dessert was not a raw egg but simply a rather unappetizing blob of a gelatinous mango substance.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese hotel. As I stated in my most recent post, I managed to inadvertently book the best one in Kyoto (classic Expedia mix-up, don’t worry about it; but actually Japanese units of measurements are confusing). Anyway, how they work: You check in (after leaving your shoes at the door) and go up to your room, which doesn’t have any beds in it. It just has a low table with floor seats around it (this is where we were served tea), which is later replaced – in our case, during dinner - by the mats that you sleep on. Essentially, the floor mats, all right next to one another, are a set-up for the best sleepover ever, and extremely comfortable despite being much harder than American mattresses.

Before we went to bed, we stopped by the “onsen,” or public baths, downstairs. We donned the Japanese robes we had been provided and walked right into the best bathing experience in the world. I’ll walk you through it: First, you leave your robe and your slippers a room with sinks and cubbies. Then, you move into a room with a giant wooden bathtub and several stations with showerheads, shampoo and soap, wooden buckets, and stools. The proper way to use the bath is to rinse off at one of the shower stations, hop into the bath for a few minutes, head back to the shower station to get all soapy and rinse off again, then get back into the bath for a while before getting out to dry off. It was INCREDIBLE. We had already done something like this when we were up in the mountains to see Mt. Fuji, but we had been in sulfuric hot springs in the freezing cold (which was just as lovely but not nearly as luxurious). I felt like a princess. We then spent the rest of our evening journaling from our beds and pillow-talking until we fell asleep and woke to greet the day and take the train to Kobe.

Hope that gives you a good picture of my ryokan experience. It was a lovely adventure; if anyone’s planning to head to Japan, this must be on your bucket list!!