I went to Kyoto and interviewed the proprietresses of two legendary ryokan, the Hiiragiya and Miyamasou, about hospitality.
The Nishimura family traded seafood and received regular guests from their hometown on the coast. The Hiiragiya began as a place for their visitors to stay.
“Travelling was dangerous back then,” says Nishimura. “People risked illness and disease, so the ryokan was a way to give them rest and take care of them.”
Five generations later the inn is regarded as one of Japan’s finest, though you will have to pay close attention to appreciate precisely why. On arrival a guest will find the bath is full and of a perfect temperature. What you won’t see is the furoban, a gentleman whose role is to ensure that the bath is timed to greet you.
You will spot the scroll on the wall of your room, but you won’t know that it was selected from the ryokan’s collection of almost 500 scrolls to convey perfect seasonality.
You will notice cushions around the low table in your room, but only the keenest eye will spot that all the tassles are straight and pointing away from the table.
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