Where Hot Springs Meet Farm-to-Table: Enowa Botanical Retreat, Yufuin

Nestled beneath the twin peaks of the 1,500-meter-tall Mt. Yufu, about an hour’s drive inland from Oita in Kyushu, sits the quaint town of Yufuin. Famous for its hot-spring inns and spectacular scenery and its lake and rivers, the place is a popular destination for day-trippers and hot-spring aficionados alike.

Enowa, a “luxury auberge” that opened in June 2023, is located high on a forested hillside to the north of Yufuin. With just nine rooms, eight villas and two pavilions—all generously proportioned and fitted with private outdoor hot-spring baths—Enowa is the height of boutique luxury. Luxury, however, is not all that Enowa is about. The clue is in the name. Meaning something like “circularity and connections” in Japanese, it evokes themes such as the “cycle of life” and the “cycle of greenery connecting you to your new self.”

That’s because Enowa is a “botanical retreat.” The rooms are quite simple to encourage a “retreat into nature” mindset. Through enjoying healthy food with an emphasis on fruit and vegetables, the guests get the opportunity to feel refreshed, take stock of their lives and rethink their attitude to what they eat.

To provide guests with the best and freshest fruit and vegetables, Enowa runs its own organic farm about five minutes’ drive from the hotel. The 150 varieties of fruit and vegetables grown on the 0.6-hectare plot include 10 varieties of carrots, five kinds of kale and turnips, and three kinds of beets. At an altitude of 600 meters and hemmed in by mountains, Yufuin has its own microclimate, cool in summer and freezing in winter. These, it turns out, are the perfect conditions for growing the root vegetables central to Enowa’s botanical retreat concept.


A few of the multicolored snack carrots growing on the Enowa farm

Enowa takes a “farm-driven” approach to dining. The menu is decided based on what produce is at its best that particular day, both on Enowa’s own farm, and in other farms around Kyushu. Chef Tashi Gyamtso, who came to Japan in 2020 to set up Enowa’s restaurant, is a veteran practitioner of farm-driven cooking. From 2015 to 2019, he worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant on the old Rockefeller country estate in New York where the celebrated chef Dan Barber pioneered the whole farm-to-table concept. “The kind of cooking they do connects to my roots. They grow fine vegetables close to the kitchen, then use them to cook for their guests,” Tashi says.

Indeed, as a child in Tibet, Tashi lived the authentic farm-to-table life, helping his mother grow their own food, milk their cow, and make butter and cheese. He moved to the United States for college at 18, but changed course after discovering his passion for cooking. As well as working in major restaurants in New York, Tashi has done stages (unpaid work experience) in restaurants in the United States, Europe, and Japan.


Chef Tashi Gyamtso worked with farm-to-table pioneer Dan Barber in the United States before coming to Japan.

After moving to Japan three years ago, Tashi quickly discovered that Yufuin, Oita Prefecture, and Kyushu more broadly were the perfect setting for him to put his farm-to-table philosophy into practice. Oita, he says, is almost self-sustaining, in terms of having everything it needs locally.

“We have outstanding mini-tomato, spinach and turnip growers here in Yufuin, while Oita is famous for its peaches and Asian pears. The farmer we get our pears from grows many varieties, some super sweet, some a bit acid. You can arrange them on your menu for different purposes,” Tashi enthuses.

Tashi is careful to visit multiple local producers before selecting a supplier. His milk, for example, comes from a small dairy farm in Tsukahara a few minutes’ drive up the road, where all the cattle are raised on grass. He chose Fukudome Small Farm in Kagoshima for pork not just because of the meat’s superlative flavor, but because he likes the way the pigs are raised and fed there.


The final main course is three cuts of Kagoshima pork—snout, coppa and leg—served with potatoes and rhubarb.

Oita is well-known for its seafood too. The mackerel and horse mackerel are highly regarded because of their firm flesh, the result of swimming against the strong currents in the Bungo Strait between Kyushu and Shikoku. Tashi also likes sea bream and yellowtail from the nearby port of Usa. Tashi gets all his fish directly from fishermen, who bring it to the restaurant alive, where it is killed in the most humane way possible.


The Bungo Strait

Despite the care Tashi takes when sourcing fish and meat, his primary goal is to provide a dining experience with a better balance of vegetables versus meat and seafood. “Many restaurants focus all their attention on the meat and seafood. Personally, I want to give vegetables their own spotlight, and take the guests on a journey through the flavors, textures, different cooking styles, and different herb-and-spice combinations of different vegetables,” he explains.

And quite a journey it will prove to be. Dinner at JIMGU, Enowa’s restaurant, is a 15-course extravaganza, with just one fish (Usa sea bream) and one meat dish (Kagoshima pork) at the very end—though salmon, caviar, scallops, bacon, salami and pastrami play a supporting role along the way.

Dinner starts in the bar, where we are served a couple of amuse-bouches, as we contemplate the herbs and edible flowers in the indoor garden. Raw baby radish, baby turnip, baby carrot, three kinds of zucchini, and snap peas come with a fresh and zingy green dip. The brightly colored ensemble is only made more striking by the exquisitely crafted Arita-ware plate on which it comes.


Herbs, vegetables and edible flowers are grown in the indoor garden beside the restaurant.


All the ingredients in the amuse-bouches come from Enowa’s own farm.

Tashi’s own artisanship is very much on display in the second amuse-bouche: a pair of exquisite little flowers, one made of beet slices, Yufuin salmon, and lemon jelly; the other of fried slivers of carrot with carrot mousse. As with the preceding dish, we are encouraged to eat the flowers with our hands to “feel closer to nature.”

Then it’s across to the dining room, where we will make our way through a further 13 dishes over the next three hours. Rather than provide an exhaustive catalogue, let me just point up a few of the most “Tashi-esque” and botanical ones.

The carrot dish features four different kinds of exotically colored carrots grilled, sliced lengthwise, and served with herbs, turmeric sauce, carrot leaf purée, and pink apple butter made using red apple skins. (The pureé and butter both reflect Enowa’s philosophy of cutting food waste by scrupulously using stems, peelings and other “scraps.”) With its mixture of long thin verticals and patches of vivid color, the dish resembles a lively abstract by Kandinsky.


The sliced grilled carrots dish resembles a Kandinsky painting.

The beets dish is another signature Tashi creation. This too is beautifully plated. Pink and red beet slices cluster around a succulent mound of ricotta cheese (made with milk from Tsukahara farm) beneath a garnish of red and green Mizuna leaves. It is paired with Nabeshima, a fruity sake from Kyushu’s Saga Prefecture selected to complement the fruit-salad image of the beets dish.


Pink and red beets with locally made ricotta cheese and red and green Mizuna leaves

Kyushu has a long and proud history of sake-making, and Enowa is keen for foreign guests to sample the local tipple. Thanks to the sommelier’s connections, the restaurant can serve everything from small-lot sakes to the most prestigious sakes from all over Japan. His basic policy is to serve Takakiya, a dry sake from Oita, to the more sophisticated “foodie” types, and Yatsushika, a sweet, fruity and more accessible sake (also from Oita) to people who are new to sake. He then ups the sweetness quotient over the course of the meal to create a crescendo effect.

In addition to the current wine and sake pairings, Enowa plans to introduce a shochu pairing in the future. Although most foreign guests are unfamiliar with the drink, Kyushu is a major producer of this clear distilled liquor made from sweet potatoes, barley, rice, or brown sugar, with famous local brands like Oimatsu Shuzo.

Returning to our dinner, finally we are approaching the end of the meal. It climaxes with a series of three desserts. Of these, the most overtly botanical is probably the vibrant green celery ice cream that comes with fermented rhubarb and is topped with a wonderfully lurid purple beets twill.

After fifteen courses, I have experienced the desired green revolution in my consciousness: I feel a whole new respect for vegetables and what a master chef can do with them—while also looking forward to doing a little vegetating myself in the private hot tub outside my bedroom window.


Celery ice cream with fermented rhubarb and a beets twill is typical of Chef Tashi’s “vegetable first” approach.

“We want to provide our overseas guests with the type of cooking and flavors they are familiar with, but using all Japanese ingredients and products. At the same time, we want to show them the beauty of Japanese gardens, interior design, and hospitality,” Tashi says.

Non-Japanese visitors currently account for around one-fifth of Enowa’s guests, but that proportion is rising as word gets out about the retreat’s amazing cuisine, hot-spring baths, and accommodations.

Whether you want to luxuriate in a mineral-rich hot-spring bath, enjoy the delicious farm-to-table cuisine or explore Kyushu’s wines and sakes, you should treat yourself to a visit. When the experience is this good, a “botanical retreat” quickly turns into a “botanical victory”!


All the rooms at Enowa are equipped with private hot-spring baths.

Enowa website: https://enowa-yufuin.jp/?locale=en
Tashi Instagram: @tashi__gyamtso


Nishinoseki Tezukuri-junmaishui

Kayashima Sake Brewing Co.LtdExternal site: a new window will open.

A rich and aromatic sake, which perfectly expresses the taste of rice. Equally delicious served cold or warm, this Kyushu-style sake pairs well with flavourful Kyushu cuisine.


OIMATSU SHUZOU Co.,Ltd.External site: a new window will open.

Produced in a very cold climate, and brewed with limpid subsoil water, this sake has a full, robust flavor with a clean, crisp taste. Serve well chilled in a wine glass.

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