Customs & Courtesies

Customs & Courtesies

In keeping with the inscription that hangs in our entry way, a saying that has become our motto at Hiiragiya, it is our wish that arriving guests feel ". . . as if they are coming home." But "home" to our Japanese guests may mean something different than it does to our guests from other countries.

The amenities of a Japanese inn, or ryokan, are much the same as those of a traditional home. One of the advantages of spending the night at a ryokan while you are in Japan is that it offers you an opportunity to experience the customs and lifestyle of the people. In an effort to insure that all our guests truly feel at home, we would like to explain the customs and courtesies observed in a traditional Japanese inn.

Upon your arrival at Hiiragiya, you'll notice that the stone walkway leading from the main gate to the doorstep has been splashed with water, a symbol of welcome in Japan. This informs our guests that they are expected, and that everything has been made ready for their arrival.
Taking off your shoes as you step up into a Japanese inn is a sign that you acknowledge this welcome, and wish to return your host's courtesy. Corridor slippers are provided at the entrance, and are customarily removed as you enter your room to preserve the delicate surface of the tatami mats. (You'll find an additional pair of slippers for use in the restroom only.)

The guest rooms at Hiiragiya are constructed entirely of natural materials-polished wood, sand and clay walls, ceramic tiles, straw mats, paper doors and windows. The use of these materials creates a totally natural environment, but at the same time necessitates a bit of extra attention, especially since some of our rooms are over one hundred years old. The tokonoma, or alcove, is one important feature of a Japanese-style room. This is the traditional place of honor. In the old days, a samurai would keep his sword on a special mounting in the tokonoma. Today there might be a hanging scroll, a flower arrangement, and perhaps a porcelain incense burner or a treasured figurine. Placing anything else there is considered a breach of etiquette. At Hiiragiya, art objects that have been treasured family possessions for several generations are displayed in the tokonoma of every room, and guests are requested to take special care not to disturb them.

One room in a ryokan serves many different functions, just as the rooms of traditional Japanese houses do. During the daytime with a low table in the center, it serves as a sitting room or a dining room. After supper in the evening, the table is put up, and thick cushioned futon bedding is laid down as the same room becomes a bedroom. Both breakfast and dinner are served in the privacy of your own room, where you can enjoy an undisturbed view of the garden.

A Japanese-style bath before dinner is a relaxing way to begin. In Japan, bathtubs are for soaking only. Washing is done before you enter, seated on small wooden stools in front of individual water faucets. Splash yourself with water from one of the wooden buckets, wash, rinse then enter the bath for a relaxing soak. The temperature of the water in a Japanese bath may be slightly hotter than most Westerners are accustomed to. This not only relaxes tired muscles, but was intended originally to keep bathers warm throughout the cold winter evenings in an age when central heating was not available in Japan. The baths at Hiiragiya are all hand crafted in the finest Japanese umbrella pine wood, and the buckets and stools were made by one of the last and finest of such craftsmen in Kyoto.

Thank you for your efforts in observing these customs with us. We offer them here in an attempt to add to your comfort and pleasure. Several English-speaking members of our staff are always on hand to answer any questions or requests you might have. Please enjoy your stay at Hiiragiya.


We have more plans to suit your needs, including for working vacations, dining-only, and event space use. Limited-time offers also become available.

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