Shangri-La Tokyo and Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo : 5 Star Luxury vs Tradition in Japan

Kyoto Garden Ryokan and Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo

People come to Japan to experience both the old and the new. It’s a place where age-old traditions contrast with futuristic modernity, but where’s the best place to stay? 

A convenient yet basic business hotel? A quirky capsule hotel? A hostel? A Japanese B&B? Or something a bit more distinctive?

We may visit a new city in order to explore - but the place we rest our heads at night always leaves a lasting impression.
I wanted to experience both sides of the coin - Japanese opulence vs Japanese tradition, so decided to treat myself to a night at the magnificent Shangri-La in Tokyo and the serene Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo in Kyoto.

I thought it would be interesting to compare the height of luxury and the height of tradition head-to-head, so here’s how the rooms shaped up:


 Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo

 Location: Great location, especially when arriving on the Shinkansen train. It’s right next to Tokyo Station and 10 minutes from the trendy Ginza district and The Imperial Palace.

Check-in:  The ideal check-in – no waiting around, killing time or queuing. I was greeted by English-speaking staff at the hotel reception on the 28th floor and immediately whisked off to my room by a member of staff who couldn’t have made me feel more welcome. She carried my luggage, gave me a tour and also provided a fascinating insight into the highlights of Tokyo and what buildings I could see from my room.

The room in a nutshell: Outstanding attention to detail.

First impressions: Spacious, luxurious, modern, immaculate – everything you could want from a room and more. There were spectacular panoramic views of Tokyo and I was so glad I arrived in the evening to see the skyline at night.

Shangri-La Hotel Detail

What I loved: To expand on the attention to detail – I couldn’t believe how this hotel catered for every whim. There were pleasant surprises around every corner. From the welcome selection of miniature Japanese sweets and pastries, to the light up LCD screen of Mount Fuji on the phone by the bed. I was particularly impressed by the evening turndown service. After returning to my room following dinner, there were freshly pressed pyjamas on my bed, slippers on the floor and a bottle of water on the bedside table. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover the Wi-Fi was complimentary in this hotel. I could get used to this!

Minibar: Western and Japanese drinks and snacks; from pretzels to Japanese rice crackers, chocolate cookies, Belvedere vodka and Hibiki Whiskey – nothing but the best. There were also coffee and tea making facilities and a selection of polished glasses for every type of drink. 
Minibar Shangri-La Tokyo
The Bed: The bed was huge and I could tell that the bedding was of premium quality. Loved the sensual earthy colours and mood lighting. The black-out shades are controlled with switches by the bed and ensured the perfect undisturbed night’s sleep. It was definitely one of those beds that’s hard to leave in the morning!

Bed Shangri-La

Bedroom shangri-la at night

Night Shangri-La

The Bathroom: Three separate rooms, fit for royalty. A rainforest walk-in shower, a huge bath with pillow, bath salts and toiletries, a separate washbasin area and toilet. The bathroom is separated from the bedroom by a glass wall and there’s a blind for privacy, so you can choose whether you look out towards the bedroom during your bath. 
Bathroom in Shangri-La
To sum it up:  If you want to experience the height of luxury in Tokyo – this is the place to visit. I’m so glad I chose this hotel. It’s clear that it strives to be the best and in my opinion, that goal has been achieved. It’s the sort of place you visit if you’ve got something really special to celebrate and want the full pampering treatment. The hotel also has a spa, pool and gym which I didn’t get to try but I heard that sometimes you can even get a glimpse of Mount Fuji from the pool in the early morning.


Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo

Location: A quiet off the beaten track yet historic location surrounded by temples such as Nanzen-ji. The ultimate place to feel like you’re getting ‘away from it all’, but it’s only a 5 minutes walk from Keage subway station if you need to quickly get back to the centre of Kyoto. It’s 25 minutes by taxi to Kyoto station.

Check-in: Remember to take your shoes off before you step inside the building, then you’ll have around 50 pairs of slippers to choose from. This is a Japanese family-run place and I loved that about it. The staff communicated well in English and a lady dressed in a kimono took me down the dimly-lit winding corridors to my room and handed me one of the biggest keys I’ve ever seen in my life.

The room in a nutshell: Minimalist traditional room with exceptional garden views.

First Impressions: Love the decor – but where’s the bed? All I could see was a felt rectangle on the floor – so there was a true element of mystery upon arrival. I had never stayed in a Ryokan before – which is a type of Japanese inn dating all the way back to the Edo period. The owner dropped off my bags then left me to settle in. I began searching for the bed – had I missed something? Maybe there was a separate bedroom somewhere?

Ryokan bedroom

What I loved: This was the way to experience authentic Japan. The decor was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before – the room was separated into sections by wood-framed sliding doors with paper panels and the floor was covered with traditional tatami matting. There was a table at the centre of the room and a low chair and lots of cool things to discover – from a tea set to an incense burner to my personal favourite – the garden. Two seats looked out upon a colourful Japanese garden with maple leaves, a water feature and a cobble stone path. There were even two pairs of Japanese geta (clogs) outside my bedroom.

Kyoto Garden Ryokan Garden Collage

The Bed: After my initial confusion – the hotel owner returned and asked me what time I was going to bed so someone could make the bed for me. Eureka! There IS a bed! I replied ‘in one hour’, and what a surprise unfolded (literally). In exactly an hour – two young men dressed in white knocked on my door and the proceeded to create a bed! I was fascinated watching them skilfully putting everything together. They started with a thin mattress on the floor, and then covered it with a sheet and a thick gold goose-down quilt. I’d never seen anything like it! I wondered what it would be like sleeping so low to the ground – but I’m pleased to say, with the relaxing trickling sound of the waterfall feature in the garden – I slept like a baby!

Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo Bedroom

The Bathroom: Even though it was a traditional old-style Ryokan, there was a still a modern Japanese toilet with a remote control! The bathroom itself was in a separate room to the toilet – it was basic room with a low bath and separate shower but very clean. There were complimentary toiletries, a separate sink area and even a dressing area near the garden door with a hairdryer, mirror and perfume.

Ryokan Bathroom Kyoto

To Sum it up: If you’re the type of person who craves a unique experience – this is it. I have never woken up so relaxed and refreshed. The garden view was a big highlight and I loved the ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ bed. It actually disappears the next morning if you go out for breakfast and suddenly the room looks much bigger again! I’d go out of my way to stay in a Ryokan again when I next visit Japan.

Kyoto Garden Ryokan External

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, I would definitely recommend experiencing both luxury and tradition. The Shangri-La gave me everything I wanted and more from Tokyo and Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo was the ideal way to get a feel for Kyoto’s ancient past. A perfect contrast.

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'Shangri-La Tokyo and Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo : 5 Star Luxury vs Tradition in Japan' have 2 comments

  1. May 4, 2015 @ 2:52 am Richard

    Love this article. We will be checking out the Kyoto gardens when we get to Japan. We are very close to going there with our daughter. Love all the photos. We can save everyone money on travel worldwide with our exclusive travel membership.


    • June 1, 2015 @ 12:06 am Alicia

      Thanks so much Rich! I fell in love with Kyoto. When are you heading there?


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