Nestled amid the forested mountains of Oita Prefecture in western Japan’s Kyushu region, the scenic town of Yufuin has been synonymous with natural beauty and healing waters since the 17th century. Situated beneath the spectacular twin-crested Mount Yufu, the area is blessed with a wealth of mineral-rich onsen hot springs.
The town boasts some of the country’s premier ryokan (Japanese inns), scattered among small shops and galleries, making Yufuin a fantastic destination for a rejuvenating weekend getaway.
In recent years, new additions have added touches of modern style to the charmingly retro atmosphere. A short walk from the old-timey train station, the lofty and light-filled Yufu City Tourist Information Center. This striking building was designed by architect Shigeru Ban and houses a library of resources on the region and a casual cafe.
Follow a path that winds through terraced rice fields reinforced with medieval stone walls to find the Comico Museum, a striking, minimalist structure by Kengo Kuma. It opened in 2021 and showcases work by world-renowned modern artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Yoshitomo Nara and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Immersion in Nature
Enowa, a newly opened hillside resort just a 15-minute drive from the heart of the town, builds on Yufuin’s onsen tradition. Its stunning contemporary architecture blends seamlessly into the terrain, complementing the area’s natural beauty. Dubbed a ‘botanical retreat’, the resort’s 44,000-square-meter grounds encompass 10 deluxe villas, a hotel with nine guest rooms, a sauna and a restaurant with its own greenhouse.
The garden at the center of the complex deftly incorporates elevation changes, native plants and stone benches, providing opportunities for quiet contemplation. Inside the spacious villas, stone, wood and earthen walls create a harmonious interior that reflects the beauty of the raw materials. Each villa has a private outdoor bath and infinity pool, offering tranquil views of the forested landscape.
Dubbed a ‘botanical retreat’, the resort’s 44,000-square-meter grounds encompass 10 deluxe villas, a hotel with nine guest rooms, a sauna and a restaurant with its own greenhouse.
Enowa’s farm-to-table restaurant, Jimgu, is reason enough to visit. Led by the talented young chef Taishi Gyamso, Jimgu takes a hyper-local approach to fine dining, blending international influences with Japanese sensibilities and ingredients.
Gyamso is a native of Tibet who immigrated to New York, rising to the rank of sous chef at two-Michelin-Starred Blue Hill at Stone Barns. He now works with master grower Teruhisa Ishiwari to develop the Enowa farm, as well as cultivating vegetables and herbs in the greenhouse that stands in front of the restaurant. The charcuterie is made in-house, along with Gyamso’s freshly baked brioche.
Dinner opens with a lush bouquet of seasonal produce and edible flowers – ingredients that play starring roles in the plant-forward menu. The highlights include: a vibrant puree of green veggies served with snow peas and radishes for dipping; the signature white salad of thinly sliced turnips with udo, apples and saffron mayonnaise; and flame-charred greens with a homemade burrata drizzled in apple butter and balsamic vinegar.
The restaurant’s ethos could be described as ‘enlightened omnivore’ rather than vegetarian. Meat options include a roasted sea bass bathed in pork reduction and paired with strawberries and fava beans, while the grilled pork comes with a sweet-and-tart beet puree. A living ikebana of regional trees and plants anchors the main dining space.
For a more traditional taste of Japanese luxury, Yufuin’s classic ryokan inns offer an immersion into an era of refinement and elegance maintained from generations past. Originally a retreat for Zen priests, Yufuin Tamanoyu has been transformed into a modern hotel while preserving its historic essence. Surrounded by 10,000 square meters of forest, the property has 16 Japanese-style guestrooms, each with its own hinoki cypress wood bath.
The onsite restaurant serves thoughtfully prepared multi-course meals using local vegetables, rice from Yufuin and Oita Prefecture’s prized Bungo beef.
Soak, relax and repeat – the best way to experience Yufuin.
Alternatively, just beyond Yufuin’s picturesque Lake Kinrin lies Kamenoi Besso, a ryokan with a history of more than 100 years. It welcomes guests with its soothing hot spring baths, elegantly furnished accommodations and manicured grounds, accessed through a gate covered with straw-thatched roof. The personal baths in each expansive Japanese-style suite feature windows overlooking miniature private gardens.
The inn has also gained a reputation for its excellent Oita-style cuisine. Dinner is a feast of blowfish and red daikon in a sauce flavored with chrysanthemum petals; the region’s famous local Shamo chicken simmered with wild mushrooms and Kujo onions; and Kamenoi Besso’s signature dish – perfectly plump grilled shiitake mushrooms that recall the blessings of the forest.
Finish the evening with a cocktail at Bar Yamaneko, a cozy enclave handsomely appointed with wooden fixtures and antique furnishings, and then dip in the outdoor public bath before bed. Soak, relax and repeat – the best way to experience Yufuin.