This ryokan is halfway along the willow-lined canal in Kurashiki and shares a 300-year history with the converted trading warehouses either side of it. The property and the manager Nakamura-san are the distillation of all that is refined and elegant about Japan, and they have welcomed distinguished western guests including Sophia Lauren over the last few years. There is nothing ostentatious about it though - there are just five spacious and well-appointed rooms with a wonderful array of antique furniture from Japan, China and Europe. The maisonette room is particularly homely and the open oak beams throughout the property are reminiscent of our own best inns. It would be difficult to surpass the aesthetic and culinary quality of the food, with handcrafted plates and lacquerware as well as ingredients changing with the seasons. The whole experience is one of Japan's finest examples of 'omotenashi', a uniquely Japanese approach to hospitality that anticipates the guest's needs without standing on ceremony.