~ It rips me apart to report that back in August (2012), the Three Sisters Inn Annex burned to the ground. Fortunately there were no injuries, but many questions remain. Here’s the link to a too-brief news report (in Japanese) from August 24, 2012. I just found out a few weeks ago. I write this on December 30, 2012. I hope to get back to Kyoto within the next 90-120 days, talk with Kay, find out more, and report back. In the mean time, here’s my essay on the Three Sisters Inn Annex from a few years ago. ~
If when traveling you like to stay in quirky, cool, friendly, “atmospheric” places, and you want to try one out in Kyoto, then keep reading . . . Allow me to introduce you to Kikue “Kay” Yamada, part-owner and manager of the Three Sisters Inn, Annex, in Kyoto. I’ve known Kay since late September 2001, when I and my then-spouse first stayed at Three Sisters. I’ve stayed at the Annex six or eight times over the past several years, and through a few life phases . . .
- Kay Yamada at the Entrance to Three Sisters Inn, Annex.
I‘ve stayed elsewhere in Kyoto, notably the Kyoto Royal Hotel on Kawaramachi Street (great location, but is getting pricey these days, though unless you catch it “off season”) and at the home of my former Japanese language professor and his wonderful wife from back in University of Alabama days, but Three Sisters has become my default location for when I’m in Kyoto. It’s a ryokan of sorts. Ryokans are Japan’s traditional inns where you sleep on tatami mat floors on and under plush, comfortable, immaculately clean futon bedding that have been laid-out for you every evening by the housekeepers. Kay’s version doesn’t feature communal baths or lavish, in-room meals, but it’s less expensive than the more traditional ryokans and it caters almost exclusively to foreign visitors who use it as a hotel, not as a destination spa. Three Sisters’ inclination towards the foreign guest became vital to me and my former business partner (who happened to be my spouse) when we were making 1-4 buying trips to Kyoto and its environs per year to stock-up on various antiquities to bring back and sell in the U.S. — imagine your average hotel room, let alone hallway outside the hotel room, filled floor-to-rafter with large boxes filled with porcelain plates, bronze incense burners, scrolls and other 19th Century Japanese antiquities. Guests making a habit of using their hotel as a storage depot for their export business could wear out a welcome pretty fast in most places. But not at Kay Yamada’s inn. One time we were so overloaded with merchandise and so short on time, with a truck on its way to pick up our load of boxes to take to Nippon Express to be pallettized and shipped, that with Kay’s kind permission we ended up leaving an large, 80-or-so pound, stone Jizo-san in the front foyer of Three Sisters, for several months until our next buying trip. Unless it’s been sold or moved that Jizo-san now graces the gardens of Escondido, California’s Golden Door Spa. A night-in-the-life of me and my former spouse in Kyoto during one of our Three Sisters stays can be read here, A Night in Kyoto. It begins and ends in our room in the Three Sisters Inn Annex.
Three Sisters is tucked away off the quiet, north end of Okazaki Street, just about where it ends at Marutamachi Street. It was once the home of a prominent Kyoto doctor. On on its south side, just over a wall whose ledge is playground for three to five cats, is the back of the famous Heian Shrine garden.
“Omikuji” (fortunes) at Heian Shrine. The film “Lost in Translation” shot a brief scene here.
On the other side, right on the corner of Okazaki and Marutamachi, is a church and day care center — Shinto and Christianity, intersected by Three Sisters. There’s something deep there. Perhaps.
In the mornings I often wake early, around 6:00 a.m. and walk down to the Lawson convenience store and get a can of hot or cold coffee, or I just stop at the jidohanbaiki at the corner, in front of the small, Yaosen grocery store, and buy a can of Georgia, or Boss, or some such coffee from the machine (hot in the fall and winter, cold in the spring and summer), then walk over to Kurodani Temple, just five minutes away through a couple of narrow, residential streets, and listen to the priests chant a greeting to the morning as the sun rises up from behind the East Mountain, Higashiyama. I might walk straight back to Three Sisters, or stroll back to Marutamachi and get a cup of “Kilimanjaro” at the peaceful Hanafusa Coffee shop, “Home of Kyoto’s First Siphon Coffee”, which is always library-quiet, except for the cool jazz almost always playing low in the background.
In my little, single room, 2009.
Looking east down Marutamachi Street, with Okazaki Street just behind. About 1 min from Three Sisters and 4 or 5 minutes from Hanafusa Syphon Coffee.
For now I will hold off telling “Tales of and from Kay.” Trust me, though, they’re there. And she’s become a dear friend over the years. And she plays the koto. And she’s gotten incredibly angry at me for missing, alas, curfew, a few times. And she and her sisters, Sadako (“Sandy”) and Terumi (“Terry”) are decended from samurai. And for the past several years, whenever I walk down the flagstone path from Okazaki Street to Three Sisters’ entrance and slide open the front door and step through it into the stone genkan (where one takes off and leaves their shoes before stepping up and into the tiny foyer-proper), I now say, “Tadaima” . . . “I’m back home”. To which Kay or whomever of her staff is there answers, “Okaerinasai” . . . “Welcome back” . . . .
January 20, 2013. This note from Kay Yamada arrived in last week’s mail. The return address is the Three Sisters Inn Main Building. Kay obviously made up many of these notes to send to friends and Three Sisters Inn Annex guests around the world, so I don’t think she’d mind me sharing it. I did, however, redact a couple of personal, handwritten lines at the very bottom.
Kay Yamada’s New Year’s 2013 Note.
Update: January 30, 2013 . . .
On the same day, January 20, that I posted the note above, Kay Yamada mailed another couple of letters to me. One was personal, just in her hand. I’m not sharing that one. The other one, folded twice and placed in the same greeting card (Hokusai’s “Akafuji”) as the personal note and, like the one above, was obviously sent out around the world to friends and former guests of Three Sisters. I share that one with you below. I don’t think you have to have experienced what I have for your heart to break as you read this . . .