Yasunari Kawabata once said, “When I’m staying at Hiiragiya and watching the intermittent rain of late autumn, or the rainy season of early summer, I feel the serenity of old Japan”
Hiiragiya is the kind of place where you want to stay all day and not venture out; such is the ease and understated luxury you feel when you are here. From the century old antiques and silent, ancient wood panels that ooze serenity, to the fragrant Hinoki Bathtubs, whose wood softens the water to a gentle caress and envelops you as you sink deeply into the bath. It is a moment of bliss that lingers long afterwards.
The original rooms preserve the ambience of the late Edo to Showa period last century with their traditional Japanese architecture and decorations. Like the ryokan itself, the antique furniture has served many generations. The burnished patina of the wood grain is complemented by the calm earthy tones of the sofas, both of which create a timeless and tranquil environment.
For those who want a brighter and more contemporary room, the new wing could be what you are after. Clean lines, light hues and the strategic placement of sky lights all add to a feeling of floating in the skies.
There is also a conference or meeting room for parties or Japanese dance performances, including a kabuki like stage for your own private show, while the frameless floor to ceiling windows allow the courtyard gardens to be the silent stars with their gentle features. After Yasunari Kawabata had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he said in his work that he sought “a harmony among man, nature, and emptiness.” He could quite easily be talking about the rugged trees and rock gardens that have become even more beautiful with time.
The tariff at Hiiragiya includes breakfast and Kyo-kaiseki dinners, which showcase seasonal cuisine and modern Japanese tastes, like asparagus. Children dining with adult guests receive a discount on their meals. If you are worried about the price, however, you probably wouldn’t stay here. This is the kind of place you want to enjoy for a special occasion, and it is no wonder that many pre-jet age honeymooners have made Hiiragiya their first destination.
My conversations with many Kyoto residents lit up when I mentioned Hiiragiya. Yukari tells me that her parents travelled from Fukui to Hiiragiya on their honeymoon. The connection between Hiiragiya and Fukui began a lot longer than the Age of Aquarius. In 1818, a merchant hailing from Fukui on the North West coast of Honshu made his home here and called it Hiiragiya, the house of holly, which was a symbol of holiness.
Six generations later his family continues to nurture the same sense of quiet hospitality. When I first stepped in the ryokan, I saw a poem on the wall which says" Those who visit us are like our family who come back to their sweet home."
Service at Hiiragiya embodies the tradition of Omotenashi, which is the heart of Japanese hospitality. It is about anticipating your every need and providing what it takes to make you feel comfortable without you having to ask for it; from a welcome hot cup of tea whenever you come back to the ryokan, to the housemaid, having worked her whole life here, immaculately tidying the flower arrangement. No wonder esteemed guests from Charlie Chaplin to Elizabeth Taylor called this their home in Kyoto.