Our first night in Kyoto we stayed in a Ryokan (Japanese guest house) that butts up to the Heian Temple and garden. Ryokans are basically the equivalent of a bed and breakfast (sometimes minus the breakfast) and can be very traditional and personal to the owners. By the end of our trip, we patronized three very different Ryokans and learned a lot about what you get for your money. Despite their differences, all three had tatami-mat floors and futon beds that are stowed away during the day.

I would say that our first Ryokan was definitely middle-ground and a bit past-its-prime, perhaps (the bathroom was clearly built and designed in the '60s) but clean and was run by a very nice and helpful couple.

Our second Ryokan, located in the heart of a very old district in South East Kyoto was the nicest (upper middle level) and run by a very traditional woman. (She winced when Sebastian rolled the suitcase onto the tatami mats - a faux pas that neither of us had done previously (or again) and then we both biffed and wore slippers on the mats just because we were really tired, I guess) It only had three guest rooms and shared toilets (3 separate W.C.s: Japanese "squat" style; Western; and a urinal) and one bath/shower room. I'm pretty sure we were the only people staying there and basically had the run of the place. (We did have a sink in our room which was very convenient)

Our last stop found us at the sort of Best Western of ryokans. A you can imagine, these small establishments can get pretty pricey and they usually charge per person. The tourist office by the train station helped us find this one and booked it for us at half-price. However, you get what you pay for. The room was completely bare except for a T.V. and two low, small tables. We had to set up our own futons. It was nice to have our own toilet and sink, but the first night we slept with the entry-area's light on because we couldn't find the switch! (turned out to be outside our room door near the top of the door frame. This was after Sebastian wedged slippers into the cutout to the entryway trying to block the light.)

The public showers were very nice, if a bit traumatizing. Let's just say that there was a high learning curve to determining the etiquette for Japanese baths, compounded by the fact that they didn't provide towels at our price-point (but did for others). I have never been jealous of towels before! All in all, great price and location ($25/person/night) but worth the extra money in this case to get Western-style rooms with private baths.

After the first night it also became obvious that the ryokan catered to school groups. On our last day in Kyoto, one of the school groups (twenty-five 18 year-olds) had a problem with one of their girls who never made it back the night before (Sebastian and I walked out of the room in the morning and straight into the middle of an argument between the chaperones - we got the scoop on the elevator ride down) By all accounts, Japan is an extremely safe country and Kyoto is a safe city. Sebastian's feeling from his time in Asia is that she partied and passed out on someone's couch. I sincerely hope that's the case, but I just as sincerely hope that one or more parental figures dole out serious consequences when she is found.