If you would like to experience staying at a traditional Japanese ryokan while not giving up modern luxuries, Sawanoya Ryokan is the place for you.
The rooms are beautifully traditional. There is a futon bed, a tea set complete with English instructions on how to enjoy Japanese tea, and a set of yukata that guests can change into after a bath. There are traditional sliding doors and a futon cupboard. My room also had a great scroll of Japanese painting.
Sawanoya Ryokan is run entirely by the Sawa family. I experienced their kindness firsthand when I arrived at Sawanoya at 10 pm one stormy night, all drenched from head to toe. The staff quickly offered me towels and wiped down my dripping-wet luggage. The Sawa family's service is not only thoughtful but makes one feel right at home.
At the lobby area, there are computers with internet access that can be utilized by guests at no cost. There is also a homey dining area where breakfast is served every morning at a small cost of 210 – 420 yen. The breakfast options are usually “Western”. The simplest option is a couple of pieces of white bread with fresh unprocessed jam. A choice of scrambled egg or sunny side up eggs is also available.
At the reception area, you can also find tons of information in the brochures displayed on the shelves on travel within Japan.
The best thing about Sawanoya, for me, is the baths. I appreciated the luxury of being able to dip into the baths after long, sightseeing days. At Sawanoya, there are 2 private baths available for its guests: a circular, ceramic one and a hinoki one. I thought that the private baths would be really convenient for foreigners, who may have qualms about getting naked in front of others, or have tattoos and cannot, on other occasions, gain entry into the common public baths.
Sawanoya’s location is superb. A major train station, Ueno, is 20-30 minutes by foot away. You will pass by Ueno Park when adjourning there, a lovely lush green park that is always crowded with joggers, people walking their dogs and buskers.
To add on, Sawanoya Ryokan is in a beautiful, traditional residential estate representative of the historical Edo period. You’ll find rows of small, traditional houses furnished with Japanese sliding doors. The Nezu Jinja, an old, symbolic temple of Nezu, is just a 5-minute walk from Sawanoya Ryokan. A stroll along the street Sawanoya Ryokan is located on would also bring you to several underrated food gems that only locals know.
Two of them are worthy of mentioning. Firstly, just within 500 m of Sawanoya is Imojin, a Japanese traditional dessert place selling handmade ice cream. The second one is the udon restaurant Nenotsu. Online reviews rave about the quality of the udon and a long queue is always seen forming outside the restaurant.
Its traditional vibe, great location and impeccable service make Sawanoya Ryokan a 5-star accommodation that I will recommend to anyone visiting Tokyo.