Of the countless onsen inns around Yufuin, Tamanoyu is one of the most popular. Established in 1953, the inn is renowned for its outstanding hospitality, beautiful gardens and exquisite food. Highlighting Japan spoke with Izumi Kuwano, president of Tamanoyu and chairperson of the Yufuin-Onsen Tourism Association.
What makes Yufuin so special?
Many onsen towns around Japan are little more than a collection of hotels, inns and gift shops. Here in Yufuin, however, those facilities are mixed in with houses where regular people live, rice paddies and fields, as well as lots of unique cafés and galleries. The town is really compact, too, so you can walk anywhere. We also have beautiful natural scenery, with stunning views of Yufu-dake mountain, which towers over the town, and the surrounding countryside. On top of all that, we have a full calendar of cultural events all year round, including film, art and music.
Tourists also come to Yufuin from outside Japan, particularly countries such as South Korea and China. Overseas visitors often comment that Yufuin is a really charming town. We even get repeat visitors coming over for a second or third time.
When you welcome guests to Tamanoyu, which aspects of hospitality do you particularly focus on?
I think that giving guests a sense of the current season in Yufuin is a key part of hospitality. For instance, we always have decorations linked to seasonal events in the inn and serve dishes made from local seasonal ingredients. That might include vegetables grown by nearby farmers, seafood from the waters around Oita or the local specialty Bungo beef, which is reared right here in Oita Prefecture. More unusual ingredients include sasanaba mushrooms, which we use in dishes in the fall. These have an extremely rich aroma, so they're something of a delicacy like truffles.
As members of staff, we also try to maintain a sense of distance so that our guests feel more relaxed. Rather than bombarding our guests with detailed information about their meals or the gardens, we just make sure that we can answer any question that our guests may ask. We often get asked about the flowers in our gardens, for instance, so we all spend time reading books and learning about flowers.
Overseas guests tend to be most impressed by the plants and flowers in our gardens. They really enjoy looking out at the gardens while eating or drinking in our bar.