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New York City has the Catskills, London has the Cotswolds, and Tokyo has Nasu. You’d be forgiven for not knowing the last destination, but Nasushiobara—a forested region 75 minutes away by bullet train—has long been the weekend escape for Japan’s sophisticated city dwellers.
However, the scene at this year-round retreat of sprawling farmland and steamy hot springs is decidedly more agrarian. And though a few hotels have popped up among the lakes and mountains, there wasn’t a resort to lure international travelers out of Tokyo. Until now.
You could mistake the 43-room Risonare Nasu for another one of Japan’s many Tadao Ando–style structures, with its intersecting planes of concrete and glass sheets jutting over a hill- side. But wander the 34 acres and you’ll find a blend of styles, from an enclave of wood-slatted estates hidden among the maple trees to an Edo period–inspired structure that houses more suites and a reflecting pool. The two-floor Maisonette suites have double-height windows that every morning provide a spectacular light show of rays of sun dancing through the leaves outside.
What Risonare Nasu aims to bring to this picturesque countryside is...more countryside. The property is an introduction to the modern farm-to-table culinary trend that has just begun to arrive in Japan. There are newly planted gardens where guests can pull up carrots longer than their forearm and fat radishes by the dozen. In the greenhouse they can sip fresh herbal tea among bundles of dried flowers. There are squash that grow so plump they sometimes crack open, onions so fragrant they make your eyes water, and arugula that spreads so fast guests can snip bunches to take home.
All of this bounty is showcased at Risonare Nasu’s restaurants, and you’ll find the best of it at Otto Sette, where the seasonal tasting menu is a trip to Tuscany by way of Japan. On a recent visit, the first course alone comprised more than 30 different fruits and vegetables. It looked like an artist’s palette of red and yellow dots (juicy gooseberries and ultra-sweet cherry tomatoes) mixed with streaks of green and white (a sprig of broccoli rabe and a brush stroke of cauliflower purée). Though much of this feast is bursting with the flavors of Italy, its presentation is largely inspired by kaiseki, with each stuzzichino presented in its own tiny dish or elegant spoon. It’s a detour for the taste buds of any traveler expecting all the umami and intrigue of traditional local cuisine: It delivers something unexpected yet, at its roots, singularly Japanese.
Rooms from $565; risonare.com.