Nasu, Tochigi Pref. – “I want to be a farmer!” shouts my 7 year old. “Me too!” her little sister yells in agreement.
The reason for their newfound agrarian passion? The girls, rosy-cheeked from exertion, have spent the past hour tipping out sacks of dried leaves into a pen, hosing the leaves with water and sprinkling layers of rice bran — before jumping up and down on it all, in rain boots.
Their activities — a traditional fermentation technique for seed planting — are part of a children’s farming class at Japan’s first agriturismo (agricultural tourism) resort, Hoshino Resorts Risonare Nasu, which opened late last year in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture.
The new resort, around 90 minutes by train and bus from central Tokyo, is nature nirvana for kids. Housed in the sleek contemporary confines of the former design hotel Niki Club (playfully renovated for Risonare by Tokyo-based Klein Dytham architecture), it’s home to a raft of seasonal activities — from roasting sweet potatoes over an open fire to going on forest treasure hunts. Our visit takes place in early spring, with the entire family (then happily mask-free) relishing the expanses of green, fresh air and lack of crowds — a refreshing antidote to Tokyo life.
Not to forget, of course, its agriturismo concept. The resort’s fully functional on-site Agri-Garden, housed in two large greenhouses, gives guests more than just a quick go at digging up a carrot.
Instead, it offers realistic insight into the life of a working organic farm, growing 80 different vegetables — from pumpkins to kabu (Japanese turnips) — alongside 100 herbs, most of which end up on plates in the hotel’s three eateries. As a result, the daily farming classes inevitably vary by season and weather, including everything from hilling soil to making fertilizer.
After arriving, we first make our way along a forested path towards Poko Poko, a trio of buildings with coned rooftops that would not look out of place on the pages of a children’s fairy tale. The girls make a beeline to the open fire on the terrace, where staff promptly provide snacks to cook: marshmallows, foil-wrapped apples and sweet potatoes (all consumed with enthusiasm).
Inside the airy space is a cafe, bookstore and craft workshop space (childcare services are also offered here) plus — an instant hit with the children — a white play area, complete with ball pit and netting for climbing up to the ceiling.
Next? It’s time for a self-guided forest treasure hunt. Each of us are given a small wicker basket, plus an illustrated list of things to find (from leaves to pine cones) as we follow a path through the forest. Returning to Poko Poko, the girls sit down to stick their new treasures onto craft paper.
We stop for a brief rest in our room, one of a clutch of (very family-friendly) two-level maisonettes, its clean-lined blocks of latticed wood and glass walls originally designed by Terence Conran (now with an interior KDa makeover). Pulling ourselves away from the double-height view across the rice fields, we dutifully head to the hotel onsen (hot spring) for a peaceful evening soak, before an exquisite, farm-vegetable-packed feast in the elegant Tuscan-inspired Otto Sette Nasu restaurant.
The next morning, it’s time to farm. We head to the Agri-Garden, swapping shoes for galoshes at the entrance (dog lovers, prepare to make friends with the resident Akita dog named, to my daughters’ amusement, Monkey).
Around half a dozen children are led past rows of wasabi, lettuce and parsley growing neatly in the ground, until they reach a straw-walled, pen-like structure. Here, Manami, one of the teachers, explains about a traditional farming technique called fumikomi onshō, which uses fermented rice bran as a heating device before planting seeds — and best of all, involves lots of stamping. “It’s nature’s way of heating up, so it’s warm for new seeds, without using chemicals,” she says.
After this brief lesson, the fun begins. First, the children are asked to tip around 10 bin bags of dried leaves, dutifully collected by earlier guests, into the pen, before taking turns to spray the leaves with water.
Next comes the highlight: stamping. The kids clamber into the pen and proceed to jump up and down — judging by their wide smiles, it’s as fun as trampolining. The final step is pouring buckets of rice bran across the surface of the leaves before the whole process is repeated again, building up several layers.
Mission accomplished, we then head to the adjacent greenhouse, devoted to growing herbs — an atmospheric space that wouldn’t look out of place in a lifestyle magazine with its natural light, wooden tables and straw mobiles.
The children make small sachets of herbs before sitting down for a grown-up cup of herb tea, while I struggle to make a Finnish-inspired Himmel mobile from straw and string (it’s harder than it looks).
Our last stop is back at Poko Poko for lunch, where we put on aprons and take part in a make-your-own pizza session, creating colorful veggie-packed pizzas with faces that (sort of) resemble unicorns.
When it’s time to leave, the girls, clearly relishing their newfound career plans as farmers, have just one question: “Can we come back again, please?”
A one-night stay at Hoshino Resorts Risonare Nasu (risonare.com/nasu/en), one of four Risonare resorts across Japan, starts at ¥21,000 per person and includes breakfast. Children under 11 are 70 percent of the adult rate; children under 6 are 50 percent; and children under 3 are free. Farming classes and experiences are free for guests. Classes are ongoing, with COVID-19 prevention measures in place.