Accommodation Review: Guest House Hennka Kyoto

Lord love a guest house. If you want a homey, affordable place to stay, look no further. Although some can be pretty sketch, the good places are fantastic. Guest House Hennka in Kyoto is one of the latter.

Reservations: You can make reservations online at TripAdvisor or through Hennka’s website, which available in Japanese, English, and Korean. There’s extensive information on the different rooms, as well as an availability calendar to help you plan your stay.The site is easy to navigate and the English quite clear and professional.

Access: This is the only major problem: Hennka is a 10-minute walk from the Imagumano bus stop, but it feels like it’s uphill both ways. Although climbing the steep road wouldn’t be too bad early in the day when you’re fresh, when you’ve already spent a long day exploring Kyoto it can feel like climbing Everest. The hike was particularly grueling after we climbed Mt. Inari (twice). Even worse, when we tried to take a taxi from Kyoto Station, the driver told us he had no idea where it was. A car rental would be a huge help, though someone on the more athletic side could probably get away with a bike rental. (It also looks like the owners have recently opened a new location called Hennka9 on Kujo-doori Street, possibly to address this exact problem.)

Night view from Guest House Hennka Kyoto. By Jason Gerecke; used with permission.

Night view from Guest House Hennka Kyoto. By Jason Gerecke; used with permission.

Neighborhood: Residential. There aren’t even any restaurants to speak of down by the bus stop, just a small grocery store (which mercifully stays open late) and the normal plethora of oddly-placed vending machines. Being on top of the hill, however, Hennka has an absolutely stunning night view. If you’re planning on coming in early most nights, the veranda outside the main house would make a good spot for conversation and a beer. In terms of tourist destinations, Sanjuusangendou is 20 minutes away on foot, Tofukuji Temple 30 minutes away by foot, and Kiyomizu Temple 10 minutes away by bus (after a 10 minute walk to the bus stop).

Checking in: Easy-breezy. A husband and wife team run Hennka, and they’re fantastic. The wife speaks good English and handles checking in and out. We checked in quite late without calling ahead (around 8 or 9 in the evening), but the wife got us squared away with good humor.

Staff: True to the guest house reputation, the owners make you feel like family. In the morning the husband makes a breakfast of eggs, toast, salad, tea and coffee. (They may also be willing to make a vegan option if you ask ahead.) The wife chats you up during breakfast and is happy to provide maps and expert advice on where to go, how to get there, and so on. The husband doesn’t speak English well, but he understands it fine and helps with requests. He even hung our laundry to dry one day when we had to rush out for an appointment! This is service, people.

The Tsukiya. From the Guest House Hennka Kyoto website

The Tsukiya. From the Guest House Hennka Kyoto website

Security: We were in the “Tsukiya,” a loft-style apartment separate from the main house. I can’t speak to the other rooms, but the Tsukiya is secure. You get a physical key to the door, so no one is getting in there except you and the owners (to clean). Just be careful going up and down the stairs, both to Hennka’s main building and to the Tsukiya; they’re pretty narrow and steep.

Size: Again, I can’t speak to the other rooms, but the Tsukiya is small. Although it’s advertised as being large enough for four, that’s four who are pretty comfortable being packed in and/or hearing one another snore. The layout has a bathroom, shower and living room on the bottom floor and a bedroom up the stairs in a loft. When we first arrived, the futon mats for all four of us were set up in the loft, taking up literally all the floor space. Although I’m obviously okay sleeping next to my husband, it’s a little crowded sleeping next to my brother and our friend. We moved two of the futon downstairs so Shannon and I could have a little more privacy, but because nothing but vertical space separates the rooms, it wasn’t much more. Even with this new bed configuration, all but one of us had to step over someone to get to the bathroom at night. I think this would be a better setup for a family with older kids (as the stairs are steep and the railing at the loft low), friends who don’t snore, or a couple.

Comfort: Although the size was a little suffocating, the futon and pillows were comfy, as was our tiny couch. The Tsukiya also comes with a mini-fridge, and the water in the shower is nice and hot.

Loft in the Tsukiya, bedding folded. From the Guest House Hennka Kyoto website.

Loft in the Tsukiya, bedding folded. From the Guest House Hennka Kyoto website.

Amenities: Free Wi-fi in all the rooms. Paid washer (large, closer to American size), and free hang drying on the veranda. Complimentary breakfast, and free use of the kitchen after breakfast time (fridge, stove, microwave, cookware, and tableware). If you request ahead of time, the husband will pick you up from the Imagumano bus stop (free) or Kyoto Station (500 yen; ~$5 USD) on your check-in date. Although it’s not listed on their site, they’ll also take you down to Kyoto Station after you check out if you ask nicely and they’re not too busy with other guests.

Price: This is quite variable depending on the room you get and the number in your party, but most rooms come to about $30-$40 USD per person per night. (Children under 2 stay free in the Tsukiya and Family Room.) Check out their site for more specific details.

TL;DR: I loved everything about this place…except the walk to get there. I definitely recommend it—the owners are lovely, the price low, the accommodations comfy, the view unbeatable, and the food made with love. It was probably my favorite place we stayed on the trip, save one. But you need to keep in mind that the hike up to it is seriously heinous after a long day exploring the city. A car rental would be helpful, but if you can’t line that up, remember to pace yourself during your Kyoto stops so you can make it back to your room at night. Or try out Hennka9! If it’s half as good as Hennka Classic, it’s worth it.

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