If you have traveled to Japan before or are thinking about it, you have probably considered staying at a ryokan. A ryokan is a Japanese style hotel. They are popular because visitors can enjoy an authentic Japanese experience which you would often miss out on in the larger hotels. This means your room will have a futon instead of a bed, rice mats instead of carpeting, and décor that takes you back several centuries. The problem is finding a ryokan that suits your needs. I like to travel around during the morning and afternoon, but then be able to relax after a long day in peace. Unfortunately, quiet hotels are often located far from cities and central ryokan may be in noisy surroundings. Thankfully, I was able to (and you can, too!) have the best of both worlds with a visit to Miyagi prefecture at the Bansuitei Iokiso Ryokan.
Bansuitei is a small set of streets in Sendai, the prefecture’s capital, which is named after a remembered local poet. Iokiso can be translated as a place of relaxation, and it is easy to see why before you even step foot inside the hotel. Although it is only located an 8 minute walk from a nearby subway station and a 15 minute walk to the busy downtown entertainment and shopping district, the hotel is a place of tranquility. Tucked between two buildings off a side street, Ikoiso welcomes you with an entrance design borrowed from Japanese teahouse architecture. A small garden area next to the front door sets the mood. You enter the hotel, change into some slippers, and heave a sigh of relief. The lighting shines just the right brightness off the always spotless and polished wood countertops and floor. As you perhaps walk up to the second story where most rooms are located you pass by a flower vase and several pieces of fine art. Take a listen and you realize classical jazz is played softly over the speakers, creating an environment focused on inner harmony.
When you enter your room (single to triple accommodations available), you are greeted by a clean and cozy interior of traditional Japanese design, along with modern necessities you would expect, such as a television and wifi internet access. Why stop your Japanese experience when you return to a hotel? Bansuitei Ikoiso has wonderfully smelling tatami rice mats, a tea set, and Japanese yukata robes to wear standard in every room. Bathrooms are shared on each floor but since the hotel is not huge it maintains its charm—plus the bathrooms are seldom crowded or occupied. Hot bath areas are also open to guests mornings and evenings. Women enjoy a stone bath with a view of a miniature private garden. This is a special design courtesy of the owner’s daughter, which also was in charge of many projects when the hotel did a major renovation last decade. Men can melt away their stress in a large jacuzzi whirlpool. Many Japanese men also seemed interested in a golf practice swing area the owner set up when I visited. He gave advice and words of encouragement while the group laughed and enjoyed good times. To top off your visit, make sure to grab a quick breakfast or a scrumptious dinner of authentic traditional Japanese cuisine made fresh daily onsite. The chefs go out of their way to select special rice from specific farmers in the southern part of the prefecture to ensure consistent quality and great taste.
Although Bansuitei Ikoiso is not the most exciting hotel and does not stand out immediately from many other ryokan, there are several reasons why you should choose this hotel over others. Its central location yet serene surroundings and interior make it perfect for relaxation. Sendai’s abundant greenery also definitely helps in that regard. However, I find the small extras a pleasant surprise over other hotels I have stayed.
Not to be under emphasized is the free parking. Just let the friendly staff know ahead of time and they will save you a spot in the safe and secure rear lot of the hotel. I still remember not too long ago when I went to a “luxury hotel” in Japan but they did not have a separate designated parking lot. After 45 minutes of circling, I reluctantly pulled into the only open parking available within walking distance of the hotel (there was a large festival in town for that weekend). I nearly had a heart attack the next day when I found out one night of parking had cost me 8000 yen, about 80 US dollars!! Another something you don’t see often is the adjacent pet hotel. Air conditioned rooms can be rented for your pet with an advanced reservation. Though I doubt many visitors traveling to Japan would come with pets, any hotel that is full of pet lovers is somewhere I feel happy to stay. Plus, some of my Japanese friends do have pets and they wouldn’t need to be concerned about finding a pet sitter if they traveled there.
All in all, Bansuitei Ikoiso is lovely ryokan where relaxation can be experienced in the heart of the big city. It is reasonably priced with a true Japanese experience included with every stay! Take a trip up north, enjoy your daily adventures, then return to a place where you can let go and unwind.
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.