TBT: Kyoto and the Hoshinoya

Greetings and salutations!

I know that lots of peeps celebrate TBT on Thursdays, but I say why not Throwback Tuesdays? That way, you get thrown back 2 days earlier. Win-win, right?

So today, ladies and germs, I want to share with you an amazing experience AAC CPA and I had in April 2014 when we were visiting Japan. We had flown to Tokyo so that we could have the great pleasure of sailing back to Los Angeles aboard the beautiful Crystal Symphony. (Sound familiar?)

Whilst making our travel plans, we were told by our fellow travelers – nay, commanded – that we could not visit Japan without seeing Kyoto, for almost 1,100 years (794 – 1868) the capital of Japan.

We heeded their advice and had a marvelous adventure. Being train aficionados, we elected to travel from Tokyo Station to Kyoto via the famous Shinkansen, a network of high-speed trains, aptly nicknamed the “Bullet Train” because, I surmise, it travels faster than a speeding bullet. The distance between the 2 cities is 319 miles, which we covered in 2 hours, 18 minutes, or at an average speed of about 138 mph.  

Bullet Train - Mt. Fuji

Before arriving in Tokyo, we’d contacted our hotel’s concierge to arrange for round-trip tickets on the Bullet Train, so everything had been reserved for us in advance.

On the morning of our departure for Kyoto, we walked the short distance from our hotel into Tokyo Station and to the departure track for our train. We arrived with a comfortable 15 minutes to spare. As we were waiting, we noticed a brigade of young women impeccably dressed in what appeared to be Jackie Kennedy pink suits. (Does my memory betray me, or do I also recall matching pillbox hats as well?) In any event, we wondered who they were and what they were doing there. The answer wasn’t long in coming.

Bullet Train - 02
AAC CPA gets ready to board Nozomi 21 bound for Kyoto

As our train pulled into the station and the arriving passengers departed, these ladies rushed on to “refresh” each car of the train, making sure that each interior was perfectly tidy and clean. When we entered the train a few minutes to find our reserved seats, the car was indeed neat and spotless. We later learned that, should a seat cushion be stained, it would be immediately replaced. 

Amtrak: Please take note!

Need I mention that the train departed absolutely to the minute on time? Once we cleared central Tokyo, the train started to pick up speed, which you could totally feel, but not in an unpleasant way. With the majestic Mt. Fuji in the distance, we enjoyed the quick journey to Kyoto. Snacks and beverage service were available, if desired.

Bullet Train - 03
AAC CPA settled in and ready to go

All-in-all, a very pleasant trip.

Upon our arrival in Kyoto, we were met by a private guide and driver we had engaged to show us the sights, and suffice it to say that we saw some amazing things.

But what I really want to share with you is our experience staying at our ryokan (or traditional Japanese inn). Thanks to the oft-mentioned and fabulous Veronica at AmEx Platinum, she arranged for us to stay at the amazing Hoshinoya.

Hoshinoya - 01
The Hoshinoya at night

When, by mid-afternoon, our sightseeing was over for the day, our guide dropped us off at what looked like a small enclosure adjacent to a tranquil river. As it was raining and a bit cool, we were immediately offered hot tea and a Japanese cookie. Within a few minutes, we were escorted from our waiting area to a small river boat. From there, it was a 15-minute ride down river to the Hoshinoya.

Hoshinoya Boat - 01
Our boat driver taking us down river to the Hoshinoya

Hoshinoya - Arrival
Being greeted on our arrival

We were met at the dock and escorted to the check-in area and then to our lovely rooms, which consisted of a living room overlooking the river and separated by shoji screens from the double-futon bedroom. Adjacent was a lovely bathroom with a birchwood soaking tub. Next to the tub: a bottle of Saki. It was explained to us that, while it was certainly OK to drink the Saki, it’s real purpose was for soaking in the tub. Let me tell you: it was a fair exchange – after a long day of travel and sightseeing, it was delicious to soak in that Saki-filled tub.

Hoshinoya - 03
Our living room with river view

Hoshinoya - 04
Double futons in the sleeping area

Hoshinoya - AAC Bath
AAC CPA in the Saki-filled birchwood tub

Hoshinoya has a very well-regarded restaurant and chef (Ichiro Kubota) and we elected to have dinner there. When we were shown to our rooms, our host showed us two sets of pajamas: one for sleeping and another fancier set to wear around the premises. Also included were Japanese sandals and a slicker. We were encouraged, if we so desired, to wear our “going out” pajamas to dinner and we thought that was a great idea, especially as we were traveling light and it was still raining.

So we got ourselves all done up in our fancy  pajamas, sandals and slickers, and made our way to the restaurant, assuming that – because it was a Monday evening – the restaurant would be quiet and we’d have an intimate dinner. 

Well, we were half-right.

As we entered the restaurant, we could hear a somewhat boisterous group singing a Japanese version of “Happy Birthday”. And guess what? Everyone there was fully dressed: jackets and ties for the men, fancy dresses for the ladies, and AAC CPA and I schlumphing around in our pajamas!

However, we were taken away from the other diners and shown into our own private glass-enclosed dining room, which was surrounded by a beautiful garden in full bloom. It was magical and like being in our own private world.

The Hoshinoya offers a multi-course dinner, which one of us was excited to sample. Someone else begrudgingly agreed to go along with it (no names, please). There were just a couple of hiccups along the way, for instance: when the uncooked octopus leg made an appearance at the table and somebody shrieked in response. But, mostly, we had a wonderful dinner with wine and saki pairings and the most discreet and attentive service imaginable.

Upon returning to our rooms, which had been turned down for the night, we immediately fell into bed (that is, we fell into futon) and had a lovely night’s sleep – it was so quiet, except for the sound of a light rainfall, that you couldn’t help but be lulled to sleep.

Hoshinoya View
Foggy and mysterious early morning river view

The next morning, we had the option of ordering breakfast in the room (at an additional charge), and we totally took advantage of it. A discreet knock at the door at the appointed time, and we were greeted by 2 smiling faces. They came in, reconfigured the furniture for dining, and prepared our breakfast for us. We were totally charmed by the service and the food was delicious.

Hoshinoya Breakfast - 01
Our breakfast is prepared for us en suite

Hoshinoya Breakfast - 02
And a lovely breakfast spread

After breakfast, we made preparations to depart, as we had another half day of sightseeing before boarding our Bullet Train for the return trip to Tokyo.

Hoshinoya - AAC
AAC CPA on his way back to our river boat to reenter the real world

A stay at the Hoshinoya is not inexpensive – it should rightly be considered a “splurge” – but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

So it turns out that we were given great advice, which I now pass on to you – our brief visit to Kyoto and the Hoshinoya was an enchanting experience and not to be missed.

TRAVEL TIP: Hoshinoya – Kyoto

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