Introducing KAI Yufuin

Hoshino Resorts’ third modern ryokan in Japan’s Oita prefecture spotlights the culture of an area famed for its rice-growing traditions.

All photos courtesy of Hoshino Resorts

An immersive stay in the Kyushu countryside awaits at the newest hot spring ryokan by the homegrown KAI brand, which offers a contemporary take on the classic Japanese inn with Western comforts. Located a stone’s throw from Yufuin, a popular hot-spring town outside the seaside city of Beppu, KAI Yufuin has just 41 guest rooms within a main building and four standalone villas. Star architect Kengo Kuma has arranged the structures around newly sculpted rice terraces that restore the site to its original long-lost function.

Design details in the rooms nod to Oita’s regional culture and traditional crafts. The prefecture is the largest producer of giant timber bamboo in Japan, and that material is used for the headboards and sofas. Guest quarters also feature blinking ceiling lights inspired by the local habit of keeping fireflies in straw baskets before the arrival of electricity. Entry-level accommodations start out at a generous 42 square meters and house up to three guests.

All four villas feature tatami floors made from rare shichitoi grass grown on Oita’s Kunisaki Peninsula. Two come with verandas and are perched on the edge of the rice terraces at the center of the property; the remainder face a forest of native sawtooth oaks and have a private outdoor hot-spring bath. From the communal Rice Terrace Deck, guests can soak up views of Mount Yufu — the conical 1,583-meter volcano known as the area’s mini Mount Fuji — and observe seasonal changes in the landscape. It provides a front-row seat for admiring paddies filled with water before planting in spring, the emerald-green rice stalks moving with the summer breeze, and fields of gold ahead of the fall harvest.

Inside a Japanese-style room in the ryokan’s main building.

Guests can relax at the hot-spring baths on-site.

Shabu-shabu at KAI Yufuin makes use of seasonal local ingredients like wild boar meat.

Multicourse kaiseki meals served in a semi-private dining room channel Oita’s food culture through the use of seasonal local ingredients. For example, starters may include wild boar meat and shiitake mushroom pate sandwiched in a monaka wafer, served alongside watercress salad with a dressing of kabosu citrus, an Oita signature. Another highlight is the shabu-shabu hot pot of thinly sliced beef, wild boar, and venison, paired with different dipping sauces for each kind of meat.

KAI Yufuin’s public onsen is oriented toward Mount Yufu, whose slopes are colored by seasonal flowers and autumn leaves depending on the time of year. (The summit sometimes receives a light dusting of snow during the winter.) There are two indoor baths, one with warm water and the other using hot water flowing directly from the source; the outdoor onsen features a lie-down area for further relaxation.; doubles from US$149

KAI Yufuin’s buildings are arranged around a series of rice terraces.

A forest-facing villa at dusk.

The view from a wraparound veranda outside an upstairs lounge.

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