Mikasa Ryokan – Nara, Japan
We knew we wanted to experience traditional Japanese accommodation and after doing some research booked a room at Mikasa – located on Mt Wakakusa in Nara. If you’re looking for tranquil, peaceful
surroundings this is the place to go, there are even a few wild deer around!
Mikasa have a courtesy pickup shuttle (which you can book in advance) but we weren’t sure what time we’d be arriving in Nara, so took a taxi up to the ryokan instead. The road to the top was windy and steep, don’t attempt to walk it, especially with luggage!
As soon as we got out of the taxi the staff came out to greet us and take our bags. We got there quite early
and our room wasn’t ready yet, which was fine as we wanted to go out and explore anyway! They gave us a lift back down the mountain and told us where to wait to get picked up at the end of the day. Nara is amazing, if you’re in Japan you must visit this place! (More to come on Nara in a separate post).
At around 5pm we were picked up in the city, along with a bunch of other guests and were transported back to Mikasa. Back at the ryokan we were given Matcha (a type of powdered green tea) and an orientation, they made sure their only English speaking staff member went through the details with us – Which was really thoughtful and helpful as there are a few rules and regulations to follow around the ryokan, when going to the onsen (hot springs) and when wearing your yukata – Wear the left side on top of the right, the opposite is how they dress a corpse for burial!
They had a table laid out with womens yukata and I was told to pick the design I wanted for myself, men don’t get a choice! – These were to be worn inside and around the perimetre, along with indoor slippers for the public areas of the ryokan.
We were then shown to our room, we’d booked Japanese style with a view and a Keiseki (multi course) dinner plan, a traditional breakfast was also served the next morning. Our room was beautiful and traditional with a subtle modern feel to it. All the rooms have a TV and wifi, the floors are covered in tatami (straw mats) and the sliding doors are made of rice paper. We had a great view of the city from our room. The bathroom was traditional, basically a wet room where the shower is separate to the bath and is used to wash before stepping into the tub. The toilet….Well like most Japanese toilets it was a fancy gadget with a heated seat and about 10 different buttons to make your bathroom experience more exciting! Once we were settled in and dressed in our Yukata we set out for a walk
around the ryokan, the sun had set by then and we could see the bright city lights below us and the stars in the black sky above us, it really as quite magical.
The next part of the night was our Keiseki dinner – This was served to us in our room. We had a lovely hostess who didn’t speak English, come into our room and set up the table (which is low to the ground and you sit on the floor), she gave us our menu which was in English luckily! They were really great about our dietary requirements and made sure there was no beef or pork in any of the dishes, unfortunately for me there was a lot of fish dishes, which I’m not a big fan of!
The hostess would come in after each course and clear the table before bringing in the next one, we were stuffed after the 2nd but did our best to get through all 8 courses,
including dessert! There were even little burners next to both of us which were cooking a rice and fish dish while we ate other things! My favourite dish was the tempura vegetables, they were cooked to perfection.
After dinner, our hostess cleared our table and went about setting up our beds. She moved the dining table out of the way and proceeded to set up mattresses on the floor, meticulously placing sheets on top.
Once our beds were set up we made our way to the Onsen (hot springs) – These are gender specific and men can’t enter the women’s and vice versa. So if you haven’t been to an onsen before (which I hadn’t) it can be a little intimidating. Here’s a few things you should know!
- Be prepared to walk around in your birthday suit in front of all those using the onsen – It is considered rude to be using this facility with swimwear on….everyone is naked!
- You must wash/shower prior to entering the water – There is a washing area away from the water, you must use soap and ensure you are squeaky clean!
- The onsen is not actually for swimming, just sit there and relax.
- You can use your towel for modesty when walking to the water (I certainly did!)
- Don’t take your towel into the water , leave it on a rock or to the side of the onsen.
So I was feeling a little, ok maybe a lot apprehensive, I knew no clothes were allowed but I was secretly hoping there would be some tourists in there wearing swimwear…. Unfortunately not! I was not looking forward to taking my gear off but told myself I had to in order to fully embrace the experience!
There was a little area at the front with lockers for you to leave your clothing/robe in, the locker key was on a stretchy band, which I put around my wrist, then wrapped myself in a towel and walked into the washing area. There were a few people in there so I promptly made my way to a corner to wash…There were little stools to sit on and soap, shampoo and conditioner were provided. After I’d finished I wrapped myself in the towel again and made my way to the water, I placed the towel on the ledge behind me and stepped in, the water is quite shallow and you’re expected to sit down.
Let me tell you, even though I was terrified of being naked in front of strangers, it actually wasn’t that bad! It was relaxing, really quiet and peaceful. After a while I went outside to the open air onsen, there was a point when I was the only one out there, sitting in the water, under the stars – It was pretty amazing. I’m so glad I got over my initial fear of the nakedness and experienced it! (Sorry no pics of the onsen – I thought it was a little inappropriate to take a camera in with me!)
After a nice relaxing soak, I got dressed and headed back upstairs to our room, by this time Sanjay had got back from the men’s onsen and we shared our stories while sipping green tea. We were pretty tired and it wasn’t long before we fell asleep on our mattresses on the floor.
We woke the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to explore another day! Which means sleeping on the floor wasn’t that bad, pretty comfy actually! We got ready and headed to one of the dining rooms for a traditional breakfast…This consisted of many interesting things – Raw fish, rice, pickled fruit, some sort of tapioca pudding and good old apple juice. So it wasn’t my kind of breakfast but I gave it a go!
Our stay at Mikasa was so unique and in a really good way, if you’re looking to stay somewhere different try a ryokan!
Happy travels, Priti x