By Sandra Isaka
Have you experienced the situation where you have traveled halfway across the world, only to meet people from your neighborhood back home? Didn't you come to Kyoto for a traditional Japanese experience?
Here in the Kyoto Hana Hostel you can be assured that you can feel that you have stepped in the home of your Kyoto friends. As most of the staff are from Kyoto and the guests are Japanese (especially outside the cherry blossom viewing season in March), you will feel the calm and beauty of Kyoto from the moment you step in and are welcomed in the Kyoto dialect.
Kyoto Hana Hostel is a spanking new hostel with all the charm and personality of a Japanese home most Japanophiles dream about. Wonderful welcomes, beautiful smelling fresh tatami mats, washi (Japanese paper) lanterns, a communal 24 hour kitchen and living room full of green tea and Japanese rice, plus all the modern conveniences like large screen TV, free Wi-Fi and internet so I can chat and watch TV to the early hours. Otherwise feel free to read the Japanese and English newspapers and books at your leisure. There are also individual reading lights and curtains in the dormitory bunk beds should you prefer to snug up in bed with your favorite journal or ipod.
I am greeted by Shizuka at the front desk and as she has provided a welcome card on the counter listing her hobbies and travel history it is easy to break the ice, and soon we feel like we are friends with some uncanny connections. Being a small hostel you soon get to know everyone, and they have handwritten some wonderful recommendations around the hostel on what shrines I should go to in Kyoto, especially if I am praying for love or a dream job! As I have been blessed with both I ask her what is the best way to get around, and whether I want to feel the breeze using their rental bikes (at 500 yen a day is the cheapest in Kyoto) or go further with a one day Kyoto bus pass (she sells them too at the counter from 500 yen), meeting Shizuka and her front desk team is like meeting a human Doraemon (A magical character in Japanese anime) with all the goodies you need in her yōjigen-pocket!
So after a day of sightseeing all I want to do is to soak in a hot tub after scrubbing myself with some Japanese bath fragrances. Hana hostel have both in abundance! There are super clean showers, deep bathtubs and toilets on all three floors, so I never had to wait to use the conveniences.
Being a former ryokan, a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast in a traditional machiya (a narrow Kyoto style terrace house), the place is surprisingly cozy even though it has 3 walk up floors. No more Spartan industrial sized kitchens and shower blocks that you find in many other countries. They have even a solution to the smelly sock problem common in youth hostels. The shoe cabinet next to the front desk means you take your shoes off before you walk on the tatami mat corridor, and there is also an oversized luggage storage room next door (just so you don’t get waken up by the endless sound of zipping luggage in the morning).
Having only one common dining, living and kitchen area it is easy to bump or meet your housemates. I also got to practice my rusty French and caught up on the rugby scores with my new found friends from Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, it is good to know you can chat about home too in case you get templed out in Kyoto. Hana Hostel prides itself in bringing Japan to the world, so whether you want to converse in Japanese or English with the Japanese guests and staff, or cheer for your favorite football team at one of the many parties they have each month (they are especially famous for their yakisoba (pan fried soba) or takoyaki (Kansai Octopus ball) parties) even single travelers will not feel alone here, being like a home away from home. Speaking of home, they have all the usual home conveniences like laundry and air conditioning, but as their mum does not work here, you have to wash your own dishes. But what a better way to bond over some suds in the kitchen after a hearty yakisoba party!
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I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric lane ways of Kyoto last century. From the skies above Sapporo to the old charm of Naha's alleyways, I have been enchanted by the beauty and variety on every island. I am humbled to have met many distinguished people in my role as Regional Partner, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperial Family. From sushi cooking classes to Ninja training grounds I welcome your ideas on what you like from JapanTravel.com. Please visit us in Kyoto or Osaka and have some green tea or sake with us.