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Tawaraya, Kyoto 

Fuyacho, Oike-agaru
Japan 604-8094
Tel: 81 75 211 5566
Fax: 81 75 211 2204's insider take:

If you've heard rumors of Tawaraya, you've heard that it's a favorite of heads of state, movie stars, and obsessive Japanophiles. You may have also heard that it's devastatingly expensive. All true. Tawaraya, the three-centuries-old ryokan located in the heart of town, is Kyoto's über-inn—perhaps one of the finest in the world. Its wabi-sabi elegance and attention to even the tiniest details will make the aesthete in you swoon: the wetting-down each morning of the stone path in the garden; the perfectly aligned slippers inside the front entrance; the candle lamps in the hallway; the deft intermingling of mid-century Danish pieces among the Japanese furnishings; the sublime service performed by maids whose kimonos reflect, in design theme and color, the season. There are only 18 rooms, and they're almost always full (though, as one visitor remarked, you feel as if you're the only guest). If you want to experience traditional Japan in all of its excruciatingly understated splendor, call—way, way in advance—for a reservation at Tawaraya.

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