One of Tokyo’s most charming family-run traditional ryokan inns – clean, friendly, comfortable and quintessentially Japanese (but foreigner-friendly) – with tatami mat rooms, paper lanterns, Japanese baths and warm owners, located in the atmospheric Yanaka district.
The antithesis of Tokyo’s skyscraper’s districts, Sawanoya is set on a low-key street in the heart of Yanaka, just a nudge to the east of the city. Having serendipitously dodged devastation during wartime bombings and earthquakes, the time capsule area has a seductively slow pace of life and an old school atmosphere – as embodied by the old wooden houses, generations-old rice cracker shops and the countless immaculately preserved temples. Young creatives are also increasingly opening small boutiques, galleries and workshops across the area. Ueno Park – a major cultural hub – is about 25 minutes away on foot.
Address: 2-3-11,Yanaka,Taito-Ku,Tokyo, 110-0001 Japan.
Style & character
It feels like a stay in a very well-run private Japanese house. The hotel, which dates back to 1949, ticks all the boxes of traditional Japanese ryokan inn – from room décor to bathing – it’s been cleverly tweaked over the years to make it as comfortable as possible for overseas visitors. And so everything is accompanied by helpful English explanations – from the green tea in the rooms to instructions on how to bathe Japanese-style. It’s also very much a family affair, with the hands-on presence of the ever-smiling owner 79-year-old owner Sawa san, his wife and son.
Service & facilities
Staff are incredibly helpful. Before even checking in, Sawa san provides guests with an English map, marking stations, good local restaurants and the closest ATMs for overseas cards. The ground floor space – with its communal tables and free tea and coffee – has walls of travel books and information leaflets for destinations across Japan. Its two Japanese-style baths – one cypress wood, one ceramic, both overlooking a small garden – are a highlight. There is also a laundry room with free detergent, two rental bicycles and regular traditional dance performances.
Out of 12 guestrooms, only two have their own toilets or baths – the rest have private sinks, but shared toilet (so it’s worth booking as far in advance as possible if a private bathroom is essential). All rooms (including six doubles, two triples and four compact singles) are spotlessly clean, comfortable and a charming exercise in Japanese hospitality – shoes are slipped off, paper lanterns hang on wooden ceilings, sliding paper screens cover the windows, curved bamboo hangers fill the wardrobe, cotton yukata robes are provided for bathing and futons are unrolled nightly. There is also a note politely stating that TVs are not in the rooms in order to maintain a peaceful atmosphere – although they can be provided if necessary.
Food & drink
Breakfast is served downstairs at communal round tables – a simple choice of toast, with optional eggs and ham. A ground floor vending machine is a modern substitute for round-the-clock room service, selling water, teas, juices, milk and beer.
Access for guests with disabilities?
Not suitable (no lift or ground floor guestrooms).
All ages welcome. Free for under-threes if they sleep in the same bed as parents. Reduced room rate for three to 12-year-olds sharing with parents.
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