Nara By Night - Edosan Ryokan
Edosan Ryokan, Nara 江戸三
by David Rogers
Arriving early and leaving early is all very organized and efficient. It's true you can see most of what there is to see in Nara without experiencing it by night, but why give up a wonderful opportunity to feel what the area is all about, too?
In its 100th year at the time of writing, Edosan has been nestled away in Nara Park since 1907.
This historical, foreigner-friendly establishment is the perfect place to end your sightseeing day. It seems a somewhat unlikely feature in the grounds of a park, wandered in and out of by deer, and when first noticed has an almost fairytale air about it.
The eleven villas of this easy-to-miss ryokan (inn), all constructed of Japanese cypress, are spread out amongst the trees. Built mainly in the traditional style, each is unique. Some come complete with thatched roofs.
There is one Western-style cottage and a larger one for groups and banquets.
Two of the cottages have a small private bath, conventional in design and not particularly large, but the water is piped from local hot springs, which somehow seems to invigorate those limbs aching from a day of sightseeing much more than plain old hot water. The rest share a bathhouse in the middle of the complex which visitors must make a reservation for when they arrive.
The bath is deep but fairly small - by no means a full onsen experience - but definitely worth the short transit there from your villa back.
Reception is the largest building, closest to the main path. Checking in is relaxed and friendly, and English is spoken. The charming hostess, in an exquisite kimono, shows you around your private chalet and provides you with traditional Japanese clothing to relax in.
Before the age of the in-room telephone each cottage was equipped with its own gong or drum to summon staff from the main building, and each still bears the name of its particular percussion instrument.
As with most Japanese ryokan, dinner is served early - from 6.30pm at the latest. Edosan is distinguished by being a ryori ryokan, or 'culinary inn' meaning what is served is of top gourmet quality. Japanese food, especially of this kind, is as much presentation as taste, and however hungry you might be, your eye, too, will demand at least a few moments of satisfaction.
The first course of five or six dishes varies according to the season so visiting in winter or spring you might be treated to shabu-shabu, a popular Japanese dish of meat or fish with vegetables dipped in boiling water and eaten right away. Next comes a meat course, again exquisitely prepared and presented, and finally rice and miso soup, finished off with a delectable dessert.
Alcohol is available just by calling the main building, although you can also bring your own.
After dinner take a soak while they prepare your futon, and/or, perhaps, a stroll. The deer are still grazing in the park, and nearby Kofukuji temple with its five storey pagoda is best viewed at night, as it is lit up.
Kofukuji is open until 10pm and the night hours imbue it with the kind of atmosphere denied it in the touristic comings and goings of the daytime. If you fancy a pint or two before bed, head back towards the station and you'll come to the English pub Rumours. Rough around the edges but Guinness on tap.
Back in your cottage you can settle down to sleep, listening before you nod off to the somewhat eerie sounds of deer still wandering around outside. Sleeping on the floor doesn't feel anything like sleeping on the floor (let alone like sleeping in a park!) when you're in a futon.
The sleep is sound and invigorating. When morning comes, open the shutters, breathe in the freshness of the morning, then head out in traditional geta (wooden clogs) for a slightly wobbly (to begin with) pre-breakfast walk.
Breakfast is Japanese-style omelet, tofu boiled in green tea and various fish dishes. Checking out is as gentle as checking in. Rather than being thrust back into the gurning city as you are with an ordinary hotel, saying goodbye to your hosts means a final wander through the serenity of the park on your way back to the station.
Edosan. Nara deserves more than just a daytrip and after a day of touring it, so do you.
Edosan is open all year round, but is particularly busy in April's cherry blossom season and beginning of May (Golden Week).
One night with two meals:
Access - Getting to Edosan Ryokan
From JR Nara Station; head out of the central exit onto Sanjo Dori and towards Nara Park. Walk for 15 minutes, past Mos Burger and an amusement arcade on your right, and continue up the hill until you come to a crossroads where you will see a torii (Ichi-No-Torii) directly in front of you. Head up the steps just to the right of the torii and the path will lead you to Edosan.
From Nara Kintetsu station: Take the east exit and turn immediately right out of the station, past the statue and into the covered arcade. Walk through the arcade to the end (you will see Ayura caf in front of you) and turn left onto Sanjo Dori, heading up the hill (past souvenir shops and the large Kofukuji five storey pagoda on your left) to Ichi-No-Torii. Head up the steps just to the right of the torii and the path will lead you to Edosan.
Takabatakecho 1167, Nara City, Japan 630-8301.
Other Japan articles by David Rogers