Kyoto Ryokan: Shiraume

Posted on May 10, 2011 | 0 comments

In addition to our ryokan experience in Hakone, we booked a second ryokan stay in Kyoto. After reading rave reviews on Tripadvisor, we booked a night at Shiraume (which means White Plum) through their website’s online booking form.

Shiraume is located in the Gion district so we knew it wouldn’t be a far move from Hotel Mume, our hotel for our Kyoto stay. Little did we know it was less than a 5 minute walk away, and that the ryokan was located on Shinbashi, the charming and beautifully preserved little street we had grown to love and used to get back to Hotel Mume every day.

Situated in one of the most enchanting and historical areas of Kyoto in the Gion district, the entrance of the ryokan is reached by crossing over a short bridge that crosses the romantic Shirakawa Stream.

The entrance of Shiraume Ryokan

Shiraume originated as an ochaya teahouse called Oyagi. In 1949, after surviving World War 2, the previous female manager of the ochaya teahouse decided to convert her family business into an elegant inn which she renamed Shiraume or White Plum.

Our Room

A young girl who spoke pretty good English welcomed us and showed us to our room — the Umekoyomi (Plum Diary) room. She was our Nakai (maid/attendant) who would be looking after us during our stay. Our room was located on the main floor of the two-story ryokan, facing the Shirakawa Stream with our own private wooden bath. Not all rooms have a private bathroom, and there are two jacuzzi baths that are available to all guests.

Our room was just lovely

Our private wooden bath

We were served green tea and sweets while our attendant Satoko arranged our dinner and breakfast times. At Shiraume, you have the option to book a room with breakfast only, or with both breakfast and dinner. Because we wanted the full ryokan experience, we booked the room with both breakfast and dinner.

Welcome tea and sweets

In-Room Shiatsu Massage

While flipping through the information binder provided, we learned that the ryokan offered in-room shiatsu massage. Shiatsu means “finger pressure” in Japanese. The masseuse uses his fingers and hands to press and relieve your pressure points.

LJ was feeling a little stiff and sore, so we booked one for her shortly after a nice hot soak in one of the two jacuzzis. While enjoying our bath, the ryokan staff laid out our bedding for the massage. Satoko brought the masseuse into our room and asked LJ if there were specific areas she wanted to be worked on and helped translate as he did not speak very much English. The masseuse used a towel so there was no direct touch between him and LJ. LJ claimed it was painful, but in a good way, and probably one of the best massages she ever had. She highly recommended that I book one for after diner. At 5000 yen for an hour in-room massage, it is a must-try.

Dinner

Because our bedding was already laid out, we enjoyed our dinner in the Hatune dining room, a alternative room where guests may enjoy dinner and/or breakfast. The room consisted of a table and a counter area with a lovely view of the stream.

The Hatune Dining Room

Dinner was elaborate and beautifully laid out. Our room attendant asked what we wanted to drink for dinner. We asked for sake and she brought us a sampling of three types for us to try before deciding which one to order. The first one we tried was very smooth with a hint of sweetness. The second was a huge contrast–a very sharp taste that I can only describe as a punch in the face. The last one was quite mellow and fell somewhere between the two. We chose the first one and it was served in a glass teapot that had a concealed glass casing in the middle where ice was placed to keep the sake cold.

We chose one kaiseki dinner featuring a selection of grilled fish and one kobe steak dinner. It was the first time we had kobe beef, and it tasted like an overly marbled rib eye. It was a bit too fatty and rich for my liking. Dessert was the absolute best part of the meal. Housemade black sesame ice cream that was out of this world accompanied with some fresh fruit. Despite being stuffed (and knowing I would be getting my massage right after dinner!), we both finished up all of the ice cream with no troubles whatsoever. During our meals, Tomoko, the Okami (female manager) came in to check on us and chat with us. She explained to us all the various local ingredients used in our many courses, as well as shared some wonderful information on Kyoto culture and customs.

We were served a brown tea at the end and I asked Satoko when they would normally serve brown tea versus green tea. It was at Shiraume that I learned that the brown tea served was not an oolong that I have been thinking, but called bancha. Bancha tea is made up of roasted stems and branches of the tea plant and has less caffeine and a milder taste, and therefore usually served at the end of dinner.

The Kobe Beef course of our elaborate multi-course dinner

A shiatsu massage was a wonderful way to end of a relaxing evening. Tomoko had a suggested a walk to see Todaiji Temple lit up at night, but we were too relaxed and comfortable to leave our room. We had a wonderful sleep on the futon.

Breakfast

We arranged for breakfast for 8:30 so I woke up early to enjoy a bath before breakfast. Tomoko called our room at 8:25 to let us know she was coming down to prepare our room for breakfast. While she put our bedding away and set up our table for breakfast, we asked her about the geisha sightings we saw nearby on previous nights. We learn that there are a number of ochiya (teahouses) around the area, and that there is a teahouse just a couple of doors down upstairs that houses about 10 geiko (the Kyoto term for geisha) and maikos (apprentice geisha) so that is why we have seen them. She says that maikos start their apprenticeships after school at the age of 15. There is a year of intense training before their debut as an maiko. She says it is not easy though as they need to learn the art of dance, music, tea ceremony, as well as conversation. About one in ten apprentices actually makes it as a geiko/geisha. We found the information really fascinating.

We had a choice of Western or Japanese styled breakfast and we both choose Japanese. Our breakfast was an incredible spread of miso soup with fried tofu, special tofu from Mt Koya (saltier and spongier), various picked items, rice toppings, tamago (Japanese egg omelette) and miso glazed black cod. I asked Tomoko what she would normally have for breakfast. She said for her kids, she made miso soup, a rice bowl and yogurt and fruit that morning. For her, she had miso soup and a rice bowl. She says what was served to us is considered a traditional breakfast. Back in the day, the Japanese used to eat two large meals a day: breakfast and an early dinner so breakfast was quite substantial.

A beautiful Japanese breakfast in our room

We check out of Shiraume and are presented with each with a plum blossom incense satchel. We had inquired about the Marks and Web toiletries products that they offered as we tried the cleansing water and it was absolutely wonderful. Tomoko showed us on the map the department store to go to — Fuji Daimasu on Shijo-Dori. She told us to go to the 5th floor and she had written the items we were looking for in Japanese for the staff member to read.

Bottom Line
We had a really lovely stay at Shiraume. The ryokan was beautiful, the food was lovely, and the service was excellent. The only drawback is that a night’s stay is pricey. It was by far the most expensive night out of our whole trip. If you can afford the splurge, I highly recommend it!

Shiraume Ryokan
Telephone: 075-561-1459
Fax: 075-531-5290
http://www.shiraume-kyoto.jp/en/about/index.html

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