Located in the authentic and traditional district of Higashiyama, and featuring artwork by mural artist Hideki Kimura, Kyoto Traveler's Inn offers affordable accommodation in both Japanese and Western style rooms.
Straddling the boundary between hotel and guesthouse/hostel, Kyoto Traveler's Inn is independent, family owned and run. It has 78 rooms in total.
Review: Kyoto Traveler's Inn
By Rob Dyer
Location: the traditional Higashiyama neighbourhood
The Higashiyama district is in the north-east of Kyoto. It's away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre and well located for exploring this uncommercialized part of Japan's old capital.
It's close to Bijutsukan-mae bus stop (route No. 5) and Higashiyama or Keage Stations on the subway are a 7 minute walk.
The Heian Shinto shrine, one of Japan's important cultural properties, is just moments away. As are several museums, including the National Museum of Modern Art. Kyoto City Zoo is a 4 minute walk east.
If you want to be in heart of the action, this may not be the hotel for you. If you prefer to be away from that, but within a few minutes walk of several of Kyoto's cultural highlights then it is ideal.
Book a stay: Kyoto Traveler's Inn
Rooms: choose from Japanese or Western style
There's a choice of traditional style Japanese rooms or modern western counterparts. The Japanese rooms are plain and simple and available in two sizes. The smaller (6 tatami) of the two is ideal for couples. The larger (12 tatami) family sized room sleeps up to five.
All rooms (both Japanese and western style) come with en-suite bathrooms.
The western style rooms come in Standard Twin, Standard Triple (three beds), Superior Twin variations. We stayed in one of the Art Concept Twin rooms. At 19.7m it's a decent size and good value for money.
The 'Art Concept' relates to the decoration which uses contemporary styling of traditional Japanese motifs. The lighting matching or enhancing the main colours in each room. Ours was gold which tied in nicely with the bed covers designed by local artist Hideki Kimura. More on him later.
The bathroom has a toilet room as you enter and a built-in shower cubicle to one side. All as minimal and clean as you'd expect from accommodation in Japan.
The hotel has been in the Nakagawa family for more than 40 years
When we arrived, the hotel was part-way through a refurbishment plan, with rooms being upgraded and redecorated. Currently managed by Izumi Nakagawa, who inherited the business from her father, the hotel has been in the Nakagawa family for more than 40 years.
To save space in the bathroom, the wash hand basin is outside, opposite it, near the room entrance. At first this seemed a little odd, but it was actually very practical. The bathroom has a modern washlet style toilet as you enter and a shower.
Reserve a room: Kyoto Traveler's Inn via Booking.com
Our room also had a fridge, air conditioner/heater, tea and coffee-making facilities. We were pleased to see there was a safe as well. The TVs are small. But we rarely watch TV in hotels so that wasn't an issue for us. It may be for you.
Originally, we were thinking of staying in a Japanese style room, but I needed to do some work while we were here. And this room had a console running along the wall at the foot of the beds, with a space in the middle for a chair - which made an ideal makeshift desk. Free wi-fi is included with all rooms - so that was handy.
Yukata sleepwear, bath towel, toothbrush, soap, shampoo and conditioner, and hair dryer come with each room.
There was a small 'open wardrobe' in our room as well as a few hooks near the door that we used for a few things we needed to hang. Enough space for hanging a couple of items each, plus space by the door for coats.
We were only staying for two nights, so we didn't have much. If you're staying longer and bigger wardrobe space is essential to you this might not suit you.
Although our room faced a road, it was very quiet at all times. Indeed, the entire hotel was. There are wheelchair accessible rooms and a wheelchair accessible bath available to hotel guests.
Note: all rooms are non-smoking - but a designated smoking area is provided.
Showa era Japanese baths
On the basement level is a bath with male and female entrances and separation. It's a traditional, somewhat old-school, beige tiled affair that you see in a lot of accommodation dating from the Showa era.
Perfectly functional, if not exactly essential to try. The baths are accessible daily between 3pm and 12:30am.
Related: Onsen Tips For Those With Tattoos
Outside the entrances to the baths there's number of open storage baskets where you can leave your clothes. (Bring a towel from your room.) There are no lockers, but that's not so unusual in smaller Japanese hotels and ryokan.
Theft in Japan is extremely uncommon, so I never worry about leaving clothes in such areas. Just be sensible and leave any valuables in your room.
In this area outside the baths are several washers and dryers. So if you have laundry you want to do, then that's possible for a small fee. A one-day dry cleaning service is also bookable.
There's also a couple of toilets and a seating area with a small library.
Breakfast at Café Green Box
Breakfast (western and Japanese options) is not included in the room rate and is an extra 950 Yen.
It's served in Café Green Box, at the front of the hotel, which has a terrace area outside overlooking Kyoto's Municipal Museum of Art. Breakfasts are served between 7am and 11am, and lunch between 11am and 2pm.
It's possible to stop at the café for lunch too. The menu based around several staples including curry rice, katsu curry, gyu-don (beef bowl), pork dishes, fried chicken, etc. Beer, sake and shochu are available. However, the hotel does not serve dinner.
The coffee served at Green Box is blended just for them by Kyowa Coffee House. If I'm having a western style breakfast then I almost always have a black coffee with it (keeping it black with no sugar is a good way to test the quality and taste). The coffee was good.
Instead of the pre-prepared, buffet style of larger or chain hotels, the breakfasts at Kyoto Traveler's Inn are freshly prepared by their chef.
The western style is a mixture of hot and cold. Unexpectedly (given that this is a small hotel) elements were cooked to order, including an excellent soft omelette. This came with a couple of small Weiner sausages, a slice of ham and a mixed side salad.
The Japanese version was based around freshly grilled fish and a selection of small side dishes. These included a slice of that wonderful egg omelette, pickled root vegetables, kabocha (pumpkin), seaweed and beans.
An onsen tamago (poached) egg in soy based sauce was an unusual and welcome element. The expected miso soup and white rice completed the set. Extra servings of rice and miso are free on request.
I tried both the western and Japanese breakfasts and the freshness and quality of the ingredients struck me on both. If I had to choose between the two, then I think the selection of superb-tasting side dishes means the Japanese option wins out.
My Japanese wife is a tough act to please when it comes to Japanese food, but both she and I think the breakfasts at Kyoto Traveler's Inn are worth adding onto the room rate.
We didn't enquire about vegetarian or vegan options - so if you're interested in either it is worth checking beforehand.
Design & décor: Hideki Kimura art
A unique feature of the Kyoto Traveler's Inn is that it has several, specially-commissioned artworks on its walls by the unorthodox mural artist Hideki Kimura.
Kimura was born in Osaka, and was a promoter in the heydays of the Japanese rock music scene before turning his talents to art.
His characteristic approach, wherein his vividly-coloured images of nature and animals are clearly delineated by gold outlining, can be seen as soon as you walk into the hotel entrance.
The lobby and the ceiling of the Café Green Box are covered with his J-Flowers artwork, completed in 2014. Other details, such as the bedding in some rooms and the noren (curtains) at the entrances to the the bath, also feature Kimura's art.
There are several other public examples of his work across the city. Room bedding and the noren (curtains) to the baths in the hotel also feature designs by Kimura.
Those particularly taken by his art may want to check out a store in the city dedicated to his work. There you can buy silkscreens of his art, as well as a wide range of Kimura-designed merchandise and apparel.
See the Resources section at the bottom of this post for a link.
Parking is possible but must be reserved in advance. During the regular season it's priced at 2,000yen. However, rates are subject to change based on the season, so confirm the price with the hotel.
The front desk is open 24/7 and include English speaking staff. Check in is from 3pm each day. The standard checkout time is 10am but, handily, it is possible to extend that for 500yen per house, per person until 12 noon.
Items like iron, trouser press, dehumidifier and humidifier are available from the front desk.
There is only one vending machines in the hotel and that's on the ground floor. Nearby is an coffee machine that freshly grinds beans for every cup, and a microwave. Both available to use for a couple of hundred yen each.
The hotel offers a bicycle rental service for an additional charge. Should you need to hire space, the hotel has three bookable function rooms. Two at 100m² and one at 50m².
Nearby: perfect for culture buffs
Heian Shrine, a Shinto shrine and one of Japan's important cultural properties, is just moments away. It's huge red torii (entrance gate) can be seen from the front of the hotel.
Several nationally important cultural sites are within a few minutes walk
Heian Shrine is a big attraction, especially for Japanese tourists. As ever, with popular attractions, the best way to avoid the crowds is to come here early. Something that is easy to do with Kyoto Traveler's Inn being so close.
Culture buffs will be in their element here. The hotel sits directly next to the Okazaki area of Kyoto.
Located at the foot of the Higasjiyama mountains, Nanzen-ji Temple is one of Japan's most important Zen Buddhist temple. It's just a 10 minute walk east from the hotel.
And for those who like animals, the Kyoto City Zoo is only 4 minutes walk from the hotel.
Useful Local Information
Kyoto City runs what it calls a Foreigner-Friendly taxi service. There are two ‘foreigner-first’ taxi stands outside Kyoto Station.
You can also have a Foreigner Friendly taxi dispatched by using the Taxi dispatching app “Japan Taxi”. Visa and Mastercard credit cards and several smart travel cards are readily accepted for payment - so there is no need to have cash.
The service can be used to visit local tourist spots. See the Resources section below for links to the Foreigner-Friendly taxi app.
Kyoto Traveler's Inn is an uncommon example of accommodation in Japan. Although it's rated as a 3 star hotel on Booking.com, in its public areas it feels more like a high quality hostel/guesthouse. But once you're inside the rooms the 3 star hotel rating makes sense.
Hideki Kimura's design work throughout the hotel is a standout feature, meaning the hotel would be the perfect place to stay for anyone interested in art - particularly with the National Museum of Modern Art directly opposite.
The location is excellent for a several of the country's national cultural centres.
Video: Kyoto Hotel That's Also An Art Gallery
Standout Hotel Features
Book a stay via Booking.com: Kyoto Traveler's Inn, Kyoto
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Official Hotel Website: Kyoto Traveler's Inn
Book a Stay via Booking.com: Kyoto Traveler's Inn, Kyoto
Official Hideki Kimura Website: Ki-Yan Stuzio (Google translated into English)
Train Tickets: Tokyo to Kyoto Shinkansen bullet train