out of kyoto: a night at miyamasou

In our search for the perfect ryokan, or traditional inn, we stumbled across an old Wall Street Journal article that mentioned Miyamasou.  A centuries old retreat, owned by the same family for generations, it was known for incredible kaiseki meals with ingredients solely foraged from the property. Rumor said it may have inspired Noma.

And that was all we knew. All other English reviews were years out of date, with cryptic notes on needing to drive far into the mountains around Kyoto, snippets of "indescribable" lunches, and absolutely no proof it still existed.

Given the choice between confirmed luxury and an adventure in the woods with absolutely no transportation plan, we obviously went for the latter.

One cryptically charming email exchange later, we were mildly sure we had confirmed one of their three rooms. And so we were off.

Well, sort of: transportation was still TBD and the night staff at our budget hotel in Kyoto--while extremely enthusiastic--was also extremely flabbergasted ("but sir! guests normally leave from the station!"). After putting five of their best people on it, a cab driver was secured. And then we were off!

The path to Miyamasou twirls up a mountain, through a cedar forest. In late March, scattered patches of snow were seen, and a few cars. 

The entrance appeared like a fairytale: cottage roofs, and suddenly welcoming hosts running to our car from all directions. Within moments they had whisked away our bags (and our shoes) and settled us into a nook with beautiful ceramics of tea. Sweets arrived,  forest green and smelling like pine, and cups of matcha. Below us, a brook quite literally babbled, rushing by moss-covered trees. Not another guest was to be seen.

Our room--with a deck hovering above said brook--was beautiful and open, with tatami mats and a simple table. Tiny signs of hospitality soon appeared: the floorboards under a sunken desk were heated. A pitcher of cool water, hidden away, along with beers ready for the drinking. Two perfect circles of mat for the outdoors. And two sets of beautiful blue robes. Each time we left the room, we found two sets of sandals, waiting in the perfect place, facing the direction we wanted to go.

Unlike most traditional ryokans, Miyamasou is not attached to hot springs. Instead they have an enormous wooden tub, again with views of the surrounding forest, that they keep at an unholy temperature. We survived roughly three of our allotted forty-five minutes, and within moments of return to our room, wobbly and rested, the most spicy ginger tea arrived to revive us.

Rather than feeding us dinner in the room, as is traditional, we were escorted to the next building (robes and all). Our host--assigned to care for us during our entire stay-- gently entered the space on knees, delicately placing each dish in the exact right way, at the exact right angle. The first course arrived with hand-carved chopsticks, made from wood from the property, and the fairy-tale quality continued from there... piles of tiny fish, caught that day. Steamed bamboo shoots with fresh sansho pepper and dried sea cucumber, pungent as it comes. Fresh sashimi carp, marshmallowy yams, whole roasted brook trout, japanese celery. When they discovered it was our honeymoon, special rice and beans appeared for a happy marriage. 

When we finally stumbled back to our room, we found it had been transformed. (Despite knowing this was coming, I was only reassured we were not barging into a stranger's space when I finally recognized one of our bags.) Fluffy beds had been made up -- with an extra mat charmingly stretching out the man's-- and of course, a heated cushion placed in each one. Tea was waiting.

The next morning, we were escorted back to the main building for breakfast. It started out tamely enough: rice, salty fish, soup -- the basics of a traditional Japanese meal. Then came multiple types of vegetables, the most beautiful soft tofu, grated radish and neverending tea, including sour plum. It was one of the feastiest feasts we've ever had and it was 8am.

And then, alas it was somehow no longer 8am and with a final coffee and sweet (and a wave goodbye to our new favorite Toto - who solemnly raised her lid head every time we neared her home), it was time to give up the robe life and wind our way back down the mountain to civilization.