Rice paddies and hot springs

The Onsen bathhouse tradition is alive and well in modern Japan. Besides their warming and therapeutic qualities, they’re believed to possess a mystical and holy powers because of the minerals.


Nestled between Japan’s majestic Mount Yufu and the region’s terraced rice fields, we’ve discovered one in a collection of modern Japanese Auberges that pay homage to the country’s ancient Onsen bathhouse tradition.

Located on the island of Kyushu in the Oita Prefecture amidst cascading rice terraces, natural hot springs, and rolling mountains, the landscape surrounding KAI Yufuin was clearly the focal point for architect Kengo Kuma’s  reimagined farmhouse style. It’s a look and feel that continues throughout the property… from the lobby floor made from a mixture of gravel, soil and lime that invokes tataki, a traditional dirt floor entrance, to the spherical shape of the front desk that mimics kamado, a traditional farmhouse kitchen stove. Kuma has also channelled an  itama (room with wooden floors) in the inn’s restful Travel Library. Here, flooring is made of bamboo and has lighting fixtures designed by Kuma from washi paper—said to be inspired by the fluttering motions of local butterflies in the fields.

 Aside from the inn’s coveted public spaces and views, there are 45 charming guest suites… some in the main building and others in private villas tucked between the fields and the Sawtooth oak forests. Both Kuma’s interiors and exteriors are a pleasant nod to Oita’s regional culture while the nature of Yufuin can be felt from all directions.

 Front row seats
From the communal Rice Terrace Deck, visitors can soak up dreamy mountain views and seasonal changes to the lush paddies: filled with water before planting in spring, as emerald-green rice stalks move with the summer breeze, or fields of gold ahead of the fall harvest.

 Regional design and cuisine
Multicourse Kaiseki meals, served in a semi-private dining room, channel Oita’s food culture through the use of seasonal local ingredients. The modest lighting that hangs over each table was also created by Kuma himself from wrinkled washi paper and thin bamboo sticks. Starters may include wild boar meat and shiitake mushroom pate sandwiched in a monaka wafer, served alongside watercress salad with a dressing of signature kabosu citrus. A popular favourite, the shabu-shabu consists of a hot pot of thinly sliced beef, wild boar, and venison, paired with different dipping sauces for each kind of meat.

 Spring to life
Kuma’s ryokan plays host to mineral rich natural spring indoor baths in a dark subdued, restful décor with imposing mountain views.  One, the steamy “Atsuyu” (hot water), flows directly from the source, and the other, “Nuruyu” (warm water), said to calm both mind and body. An additional outdoor bath has a lie-down area so a long and calming bath can be enjoyed as the seasonal wind blows through.

A few days here at KAI Yufuin, or at one of the other nearby ryokans, is a truly unique experience that’s good for both the body and the soul.          




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