Visiting Tokyo in February is just before the Tokyo cherry blossom season. We have found a gem of a hotel with a Japanese onsen in Tokyo, a convenient budget-friendly ryokan with an excellent location in tranquil street in Bunkyo near Ueno Station.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 05 JAN 2020
In Narita Airport we jump on one of the frequent, super accurate express trains that will take us into the metropolis of Tokyo. We are on our way to the Hotel Edoya in Tokyo, a hotel featuring a Japanese rooftop hot bath or onsen with both indoor and outdoor sections. From Narita it is fast and smooth to get to both Ueno Station and Keisei Ueno depending on whether you take the Narita Express or the Keisei Skyliner. Hotel Edoya is located within a 15-minute walk from both stations.
Most streets in Japan haven’t got names. The addresses are based on geographical areas: prefectures, municipalities, districts of town, blocks and apartment numbers. This is also the case here and when we leave the broad avenue, the quarter turns intricate! To find our way is not quite as amazingly simple as it looks on the map – even if we are extremely close to the hotel!
A group of Japanese young people come to our rescue. Despite the language barrier, they offer to help us by designating the one in the group having most knowledge of English. His communication skills in English are not overwhelming, but with straightforward gestures he lets us understand that he is going to accompany us right to our hotel!
” Sometimes the Japanese take you by the hand and lead you to your destination.”
He will catch up with his friends later, and we confidently follow him. We zigzag through the quarter, and then all of a sudden he stops, with a service-minded expression on his face and an accompanying slight bow. It appears that we are just in front of our hotel or ryokan Edoya, named after the ancient Tokyo: Edo.
Hotel with an onsen in Tokyo
When we searched online for a hotel before coming, we found this old Tokyo hotel, or ryokan as it really is, by chance – near Ueno Station. Discovering that the hotel featured an ofuro or onsen style bath, we just had to book a room here!
Edoya is even very budget-friendly compared to many other Tokyo hotels. It may be a bit old-fashioned – but this goes hand in hand with the traditional style. Besides the ofuro bath, the hotel offers a Japanese style buffet breakfast with a variety of customary Japanese food. However, there are also some Western breakfast options. Most rooms are Japanese-style – from single rooms to the large tatami family room which sleeps five.
The host welcomes us in the small reception. With an accommodating attitude he immediately makes us feel at home. He may be a bit reserved at first sight, but behind his modest conduct he reveals a cordial mind and shows sincere interest in us.
During the short check-in process we get a chance to see both rigorous Japanese etiquette as well as distinct politeness. Slightly bowing he returns our credit card with both hands. In our conversation, while taking us to our room, he explains about the place and the amenities. We listen carefully since it is definitely not a Western hotel, and the facilities reflect the Japanese culture.
There is a guest lounge with small tables and Western chairs, as well as a Japanese low-table living room with a tatami mat floor and Japanese decorations. Additionally, the ryokan features a pleasant roof garden for beautiful days!
The term ryokan can be translated as a Japanese inn. Typically, the ryokan features rooms with tatami floors, sliding doors, futons to sleep on, low tables and couches to sit on, and an entranceway to leave your shoes in. The ryokans also provide the guests with yukatas (a kind of casual Japanese kimono) as well as they offer the possibility of having an ofuro bath.
The ryokans go back to the 8th century as the prevailing type of lodging and have existed ever since as conventional accommodation in the country. However, today they tend to be more frequent in the rural areas of Japan, since the Western hotel culture in general has outcompeted the original ryokans in the cities.
Our hotel room has tatami mats on the entire floor. The futons lie side by side directly on the tatami floor. Opposite we have a low table with legless chairs around. They are astonishingly comfortable to sit on – despite what we initially imagine.
We sleep on customary futons with long, rectangular pillows stuffed with rice or pearls to the extent that they are unbelievably hard. Our immediate impression is therefore that they must be inconvenient and unpleasant to sleep on. Nevertheless, we wake up the next morning deeply puzzled that we have slept so well. Apparently they adapt to the individual shape, modelling the face as a mold which results in a terrific sleep!
” We sleep on pillows stuffed with rice or pearls which turn out to be unexpectedly comfortable.”
The entranceway behind the sliding door is flanked by a row of meticulously placed slippers. Guests use slippers everywhere inside. There is even a pair of red plastic slippers for use in the bathroom! Very fast the entranceway gets filled up with all our shoes in addition to the slippers provided.
We are stunned to experience one of these technological Japanese toilets with heat and a control panel full of Japanese characters allowing for a number of sophisticated functions besides flushing. Prior knowledge about these conventional functions would undeniably be an advantage, as well as knowing how to read the hiragana or katakana characters. The automated panel is not immediately understandable to us … but we figure out how to flush! There is also a deep cedar tub, but we opt for the shower facilities on the top floor when we try the common hot bath there!
Onsen / ofuro
An onsen is a Japanese hot spring or bathing facilities with geothermal hot water due to the subterranean volcanic activity. Traditionally, the onsen facilities are outdoor facilities, but some ryokans, hotels and other public establishments today often feature indoor facilities. The water typically has a temperature of 40-50 degrees centigrade.
An ofuro bath is in all its simplicity a bathtub with hot water. It is, though, connected with traditional rituals to take a bath in Japan. First you must rinse by pouring water over you from a bucket while sitting on a stool. This is the traditional way. Nevertheless, today you also often find a handy shower in the first room as an alternative to the bucket of water. After this first step you are now ready to descend into the tub.
The water in the ofuro bath is commonly shared among many people, whether it is in private homes or in a public place. The bath is supposed to be a pleasure and you are supposed to take your time there! The water temperature can easily reach over 45 degrees centigrade, so it is wise to sink slowly down into the water to avoid a sudden heat shock!
Our traditional hotel in Tokyo with onsen / ofuro
Our Hotel Edoya is one among a handful of still existing, traditional accommodations in Tokyo that have an onsen style / ofuro bath. It is even on top of the building, on the very rooftop which makes it a pretty unique experience!
” A few hotels in Tokyo offer a real onsen bath.”
We are a little bit curious how the bathing procedure is – although already having read about it. So we take the lift to the top floor for a look before trying it ourselves. In the evening we then come back and confidently enter the room ready to get our own personal ofuro / onsen experience.
However, being so focused on behaving in accordance with Japanese etiquette, we mistakenly seem to understand that we must change our slippers for some other ‘bathing’ slippers before entering the bathing section – just like the red ‘bathroom slippers’ available in our room to use when you go to the bathroom. We slip into the neatly placed slippers right at the stairs outside the bath, leaving our ’own’ slippers behind. Not until we enter the room already being used by a few Japanese guests, do we realise our mistake. They cannot help smiling and are pointing at our slippers! We have taken THEIR slippers which they left outside!
A visit to the traditional washing room with stools, wash bowls and showers to be used for rinsing, is our first step before gliding down into the hot tubs.
” The hotel open-air rooftop onsen is absolutely outstanding on a sharp, frosty night in Tokyo.”
So we enjoy the frosty February night in the steamy outdoor bath way above the streets of Tokyo, while contemplating the twinkling stars on the dark night sky. It is awesome! There is one section for women and another one for men, both having an indoor and an outdoor bath available to the guests.
It is absolutely phenomenal considering that we are in the largest metropolis of the world with over 38 million people in Greater Tokyo Area. And still it is possible to bring elements from nature, like the subterranean hot water, directly into a building. On the rooftop among green plants and stunning silence, we experience a synthesis of traditional Japanese culture, geothermal water and cold winter crystal air speckled with stars. The onsen bath in our hotel is definitely one of our top experiences in Tokyo so far. An ‘onsen hotel’ in Tokyo, and even in central Tokyo … that is really outstanding!
Japanese style buffet breakfast
Like the other guests we simply must try the yukatas on. The yukata is a casual style kimono to wear at home. Contrary to many others, we stick to wearing them only for the bath. Many Asian guests surprise us by appearing in yukata for breakfast in the restaurant with access from the street via an automatic sliding door.
The breakfast is mainly Japanese with ingredients such as fish, rice, raw eggs, weeds, miso soup and a whole range of other specialities unknown to us. Not everything, though, seems to be for picky Western people! I have to admit that there is also a thing (or two) I try only the first morning! But everything else is delicious! The restaurant also offers toasts and a few other Western things on a corner table!
Located a bit away from the bustling streets around Ueno Station, the neighbourhood has a relaxed atmosphere. Outside Edoya there are sets of traditional-looking benches with red blankets and cushions to sit on. It is just perfect for a rest or to follow local life in the small street and around. We take our time here to enjoy the lovely mild February weather and process all impressions. With its quiet location in a gem of a neighbourhood, it is definitely a hotel we will get back to the next time we are in Tokyo!
The Ameyoko market near Ueno Station
Edoya is not far from the busy Ueno Station and the Ameyoko market street literally below the train line between Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station. After World War II it started out as the black market of Tokyo offering American products. Ameyoko is short for Ameya Yokocho with the original meaning ‘candy street’ and the prefix ‘Ame’ for American.
The Ameyoko market has existed ever since as a shopping street and today it features a whole range of shops where you can buy just anything from fresh fish to voluminous travel bags and stacks of clothes. The small restaurants are popular with their offers of ramen, soba and udon. All in all, it is a real bazaar style market. Prices are extremely reasonable compared to other parts of Tokyo.
Read more about Tokyo (vibe, see & do, accommodation, price level, transport, safety, climate, history) in our Facts About Tokyo – Travel Guide.
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