Traditional ryokans, the quintessential Japanese inn, are few and far between in the neon-lit streetscapes of 21st-century Tokyo. However, perched atop a slope in the old-world neighbourhood of Hongō sits Hōmeikan, a beautifully crafted wooden ryokan, dating from the Meiji period.
Upon arrival, shoes are swapped for slippers and guests led down a labyrinth of stone-cobbled corridors by a smiling staff member. Rooms are kept simple: paper screens, low wood tables, and cushions set on fresh tatami mats representing an extension of the natural world. Meals are served in your room, and while the kitchen makes some compromises to western diets, the kaiseki-style breakfast – served in a series of ornamental dishes – is uncompromisingly Japanese.
There are no private bathrooms, so visitors kimono-up and head for one of the communal ‘ofuro’ baths (there are three in total). Here, naked strangers scrub, shower and enjoy a steaming soak together in complete silence.
Outside, birds flutter in the manicured garden, with stone lanterns and a koi pond conducive to the ryokan mantra: relation and reflection.
True, Hōmeikan is a wee schlep from the action around Shibuya or Shinjuku, but it’s well worth it to experience the charm of old-time Tokyo.