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TRAVEL WATCH: MARCH 6, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 9

Hot Spot

    ALSO IN TIME
Memories and More in Magical Kyoto
Though a thoroughly modern city, parts of Kyoto's past can be found

Web Crawling
This collection of pictures of Kyoto taken by amateur photographer Kenkichi Niwa (1911-97) captures Kyoto's evolution during the 20th century

Hot Spot
Stepping into a traditional Japanese ryokan like the Tawaraya in Kyoto is like entering the Japan of our dreams

Off the Shelf
After Memoirs of a Geisha, Lonely Planet's guide to Kyoto is the only book you'll need during your visit

Stepping into a traditional Japanese ryokan like the Tawaraya in Kyoto is like entering the Japan of our dreams. Inside, the gaudy, noisy world of pachinko parlors and hostess bars is replaced by the elegant shuffle of attendants bringing tea to the room. One of Kyoto's oldest inns, the Tawaraya caters to an upscale crowd (Leonard Bernstein, Walter Cronkite and, more recently, Julie Taymor have been among its guests), and visitors pay handsomely for the privilege: rooms start at $315 a night, double that for dinner and breakfast.

We spent an idyllic afternoon in our tatami-matted room, gazing out at the delicately arranged private garden. The atmosphere of the ryokan is so subdued that visitors unaccustomed to Japanese traditions may find themselves ill at ease, although this isn't the fault of the accommodating staff. Do we wear our slippers outside the room? Yes. Do we wear them on the tatami mats? No. Do we tip the attendants who bring tea, newspapers and breakfast? At the Tawaraya, no; at other inns, maybe. Can we talk out loud? Probably, but we spoke in hushed tones the whole time--it just seemed the right thing to do.

Our room was appointed with antique vases and scrolls, the muted light of paper lanterns and balsa-and-paper Shoji screens. Each room has its own bath with a cedar tub--and a view of another garden--for soaking away the day's stress. Tucked in an antique wooden chest is the mini-bar, and the TV is hidden behind a sliding panel in a wooden cabinet. "Maybe if we were a Buddhist temple, we would do without the amenities," says the proprietor, Toshi Satow. "People want them, so we have to find a way to make them unobtrusive." Everything seems calibrated at the Tawaraya, but in a way that strikes a chord of simplicity and beauty. Reservations are a must, at (81-75) 211-5566.

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