'Elegant rooms and gardens, an escape from modern Japan'

Something was amiss. Three nimble-fingered ladies had enveloped me in a blue and white cotton yukata before sealing it with a rib-crackingly tight red obi band. Now, struggling for breath as I made my way to dinner, I glanced down at my feet – I had mislaid my slippers.

I was staying in a traditional ryokan inn, an escape from modern Japan, where rooms are filled with tatami mats, sliding shoji screens and paper lanterns – and guests indulge in tea ceremonies and traditional baths. But there are rules, one that shoes are swapped for slippers on entering a room and slippers swapped for socks on mat floors. Hence my predicament.

Hiiragiya, Kyoto's most famous ryokan, is the best place to learn these rules. Built in 1818, it is set in a traditional wooden house in a quiet street in Kyoto. But its plain exterior belies an elegant network of rooms and gardens within, where stone, wood and bamboo dominate. The inn has been in family hands for six generations, with former guests including Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Japanese royal family.

The bedroom

There are 28 rooms where, at night, kimono-clad staff unroll futons with buckwheat pillows and deeply comfortable eiderdowns. Unusually, televisions are present but discreetly covered with a cloth. Almost every room has a traditional Japanese bath - a deep, square tub made from cypress trees from Mount Koyar. (Another rule: always wash before getting in the bath.)

Food and drink

A pot of green tea, a bowl of frothy green "mocha" and some red bean pastries are placed in your room on arrival. But the highlight is the Kyoto-style Kaiseki feast consisting of 12 courses .

The access

Children are welcome. No pets. Please enquire about facilities for guest with disabilities.

The bill

From 30,000 yen (£122) to 90,000 yen (£364) per person per night. The writer travelled with the Japan National Tourist Organisation (020 7734 9638; seejapan.co.uk) and ANA (0870 609 0243; anaskyweb.com), which offers daily flights from London Heathrow to Tokyo from £817 return.

The address

Hiiragiya Ryokan, Nakahakusan-cho, Fuyacho Anekoji-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto (00 81 75 221 1136; hiiragiya.co.jp).