how to stay at a ryokan

1. Find a traditional Japanese inn that accepts foreign guests. The Nunoya Ryokan in Matsumoto came highly recommended.image

2. Find your ryokan and check in. Mine was right on the cute shopping street. Pay in cash, like almost everywhere else in Japan. Ask about the curfew (11:30pm), and shower facilities (close at 11, open again from 6 to 9am).image

3. Discover your room has sliding doors with views over the city, fresh towels and yukata, a comfortable clean futon, and a pot of hot water and green tea waiting. Like a typical ryokan, the bathroom and shower facilities are shared. image

4. Explore the city! Matsumoto is quite beautiful and the downtown area is pedestrian friendly. In some ryokans, meals are included. This one didn’t offer meals so I headed out to a nearby (and very inexpensive) restaurant.

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5. Spend a comfortable night! Check out the next day. If you’re lucky, the owner will let you keep your giant backpack there until your train leaves. This was my last night traveling before heading back to Fujino to stay at the farmhouse one night and collect my things. This was a great way to end my solo journey.

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how to do shukubo (stay in a temple)

1. Find a temple that will host your non-Japanese-speaking self. (Thanks for the help Julie!) Shunkoin, a Buddhist temple within the Myoshin-ji complex in northwest Kyoto, caters to English speakers. Their deputy head priest Rev. Kata studied in the US and is a member of the US-Japan Leadership Program. He is rad.
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2. Make your way to the grounds. Pose for a photo with two junior high girls.
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3. Check in to your room: a nice clean space with a private bath and a futon at the ready. This was my most luxurious accommodation while traveling. (Other than the farmhouse of course). After 3 capsule nights, I badly needed space to repack my entire backpack and see where I was carrying the cement blocks. (Okay, books and art supplies.)

4. Go out exploring. This temple had no curfew, there were bikes available for use, and there was a shared kitchen upstairs. Using the best map in Kyoto (beautifully hand-illustrated!), find a local restaurant for dinner.

5. Get up early and explore the grounds. This area was a byway for students and runners at 6:30am.

6. Attend meditation class, taught in English. This is unusual in Japan. Rev. Kata lead us through two fifteen minute meditation sessions with a talk in-between. Because of his scientific background, much of his talk focused on the physical effects of meditation on the body.
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7. Tour the temple and enjoy a cup of matcha tea made by Rev. Kata. One of the cool things about his tour was that he gave a short overview of each aspect of the temple, giving you an ‘in’ to an appreciation of what you were seeing. For instance, zen gardens are meant to be observed through the sliding doors. The doors act as a frame and add another layer to the view. Moving the doors means the garden view changes as well, which allows for additional depth and complexity in small spaces, as the view can constantly change.
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8. Check out, feeling refreshed and at peace, and ready for a day of exploring northwest Kyoto.

9. Keep returning to this idea that Rev. Kata mentioned: (I’m paraphrasing here) Don’t be afraid to question tradition and the ways things have always been done. In fact, strict adherence to tradition keeps us tied and attached to the past, and one goal of your practice is to reach a stage of non-attachment. So, question the dogma that says how things must be done, and work on the practice as it can be done, by you, in your daily life.

So many other areas in life this can be applied to, I think. I’m still working on this idea days later.

how to stay in a capsule hotel

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Go to Tokyo and decide on a neighborhood to stay in Tokyo. I picked Kabukicho, very close to Shinjuku station and known for its nightlife (ie: Red Light District). My plan was to start with the Folkcraft museum, then Shibuya crossing, then on to Shinjuku for the evening. Day two was Yoyogi Park, the Meiji shrine, the fashion street and the ukiyo-e museum. Shinjuku is central and close to all these stops.

Find a capsule hotel. Julie, the French girl studying here who speaks Japanese, helped me find one online.

Arrive, put your shoes in a locker and check in. If you’d like, ask for the all-female floor. In this hotel, it was the top floor and had an extra key code for security.

Go to your floor and find your capsule. I was in the corner on a bottom row. Occupied capsules have their green lights lit up. Because it was the middle of the week, there were lots of empty capsules.

Realize your capsule has just enough space for your body but not your backpack. Find your locker, and discover a towel and cotton robe and pants to use for the shower. Lock away the goods you don’t need.

Head down to the lounge and use the wi-fi and order something from the lounge chef. Then order it again in 30 minutes when your food never shows because you don’t actually know Japanese.

Bedtime! Return to your floor, shower, use the fanciest most technologically advanced bathroom you will ever see (including a button that makes the sound of running water to give you privacy) and head to bed.

Pull down your shade and lock it under the catch. Turn out your light and we’ll see you in the morning!