An exceptional lodging merging evolution with tradition
Less than an hour’s drive from Oita Airport, looking up at Mount Tsurumi and Mount Yufu as one arrives in a basin among the mountains, there are two long-established ryokan that are said to have been the cornerstone of the village, as well as one more recent, but aesthetically superior inn that comprise Yufuin: Kamenoi Villa, Tamanoyu, and Murata. Kamenoi Villa, constructed in Taisho 10 (1921), is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2021. It was established by Mijiro Nakaya, a connoisseur who, having squandered his inheritance, fled his hometown in Ishikawa Prefecture and found his final home in Oita. It is said that he opened the villa in response to a request by Kumahachi Aburaya, a businessperson who was active in promoting tourism in Oita Prefecture.
The present proprietor, Taro Nakaya, is the fourth generation in his family to run Yufuin. His father, Kentaro Nakaya, had a passion for community development, and was a figure whose accomplishments, overflowing, went beyond the Yufuin Basin, bestowing pride and exuberance to regions all over Japan. I felt that the Kamenoi Villa was full of a dynamism and pride that taps the veins of vitality lying dormant in the natural features, climate and the daily course of life here. This inn, exceptional and magnificently vigorous, delivered a hard blow, making me feel small as a designer who had only moderately managed to hone his ideas on beauty, and at the same time reminded me of the significance of buckling down to the effort of creating beauty.
Triggered by the 2016 Kumamoto-Oita earthquake sequence, the fourth-generation Taro embarked upon a renovation of the inn. As a result, the guest rooms, which were imposing yet rustic, were improved and refined according to a carefully thought-out renovation plan. The renewal, including the tatami-mat rooms with vertically adjustable horigotatsu (traditional Japanese low table with recessed flooring) and a shoin (study) with a similar sunken area below the desk, all responding to the changes in guest preferences; most now bring with them both work and a desire to relax. In addition, great care has been taken to make the private baths indoor-outdoor amenities.
Also entirely convincing is the rebirth of one of the guest rooms as a six-seat sushi bar. For guests staying two or more consecutive nights, if any fault is to be found in the food here is that it is rather rich and extravagant for daily dining. For these guests, a sushi bar meal is most welcome. In addition, the color of the Oregon pine bar is a great match for this inn. I hear they’re considering creating a spa in the future. If they do, I would suggest thorough deliberation on a design and concept featuring a Japanese-style space and spa treatments that suit this inn. At an inn such as Yufuin’s Kamenoi Villa, which fully recognizes the fact that global value lies in the local, we can anticipate tranquility and contentment.
Mr. Taro shared with me his concept that what he has inherited is the garden. After experiencing the earthquake, he recognized buildings as things that fade, but the garden would never be shaken. The trees in the inn’s garden, which used to be the grounds of a Shinto shrine, are somehow divine. The “couple cedars” planted in pairs everywhere are said to be at least 120 years old. While there is a plan to replace a great Japanese red pine that unfortunately died, it will take over a century for the new tree to mature to the point at which it will exude an appropriately august aura.
The grandeur of the sound system of the Danwashitsu lounge, the black lustre of the tables and chairs of the coffee shop, Tenjosajiki, which at night transforms into the bar, Yamaneko, and the unique tastes created and offered by the restaurant, Yunotake-an, with its eye-catching, large-lettered signs announcing the highly rated Japanese Black beef, freshly picked vegetables, Shamo chicken and soft-shelled turtle connote. These are things one wishes to designate as cultural assets. An inn is a family business carrying the gene that transmits the past into the future. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to support those proprietors of each generation who will freely develop their strengths and, while validating the legacy that must be preserved, will continue to nurture and foster their individual inns into the future.