On my recent trip to Hokkaido, Hotel Tefu Tefu was the second outstanding hotel I visited, after the lovely Hotel Furano La Terre Span and Onsen. This fabulous property is a “Villa Hotel” hidden away on the outskirts of Biei, about a 10km drive from Biei train station. The boutique property is set in unique, beautiful, and green surroundings. Butterflies routinely fly outside in the fields next to the hotel – “tefu tefu” means “butterfly” in old Japanese.
The property was made famous by National Geographic since it is owned and operated by photographer Kent Shiraishi, who specializes in the nearby Blue Pond. The hotel is small, with basic rooms, and only four couples can stay at any time, making it the perfect location for an intimate getaway.
Aside from the stunning location, the hotel offers some fantastic food options and two onsens on the lower levels of the hotel. Where this hotel truly stands out is that the onsen can be booked privately to be used by two people only. Also, you can participate in Kent’s photography workshops and take your skills to the next level.
Conversations with the Owner
While most hotels do not have world-famous owners, this particular one does, and I was fortunate enough to chat with Kent Shiraishi during my stay and learn more about him and his fantastic property.
Although he is well known now, and his work has been featured in several issues of the magazine, things were not always so. Like many artists, he spent several years struggling to get noticed and have his work noticed and published by National Geographic. He decided to move to Biei in 2000 so that he would be able to photograph the nearby Blue Pond in all kinds of weather conditions.
Unfortunately, when he first moved, there was no internet in Biei, for ten years! His plan to show his images online was delayed for nearly a decade. He had hoped to soon have internet after moving. However, he was wrong, and the property only finally got connected in 2010 after the entire town had received its connection.
However, the setback did not hold Kent back. During that time, he spent his time fine-tuning his craft and taking some stunning images of the nearby Blue Pond. He took images of the pond in the middle of a snowy winter, and they ended up on National Geographic. Furthermore, you may recognize his images as a screensaver if you’re an Apple user. Steve Jobs personally selected them to be used as screensavers on some Apple products many years ago.
I must say that Kent was super generous with his time and spent about two hours with us, showing us his work, how he got there, and all his features In National Geographic.
Hotel Tefu Tefu Location and Access
Hotel Tefu Tefu is located on a very secluded bluff overlooking a valley, giving it spectacular views. The hotel is about 20 20-minute drive from Furano and Biei. Getting to the hotel will require some form of transport.
Although we took a taxi directly to the hotel, you can take a train to the nearby station and then take a shorter taxi ride from there. Unfortunately, there is no direct bus service that passes by the hotel. The Blue Pond is a very short five-minute drive to the east, while the Shirogane Onsen is only a ten or fifteen-minute drive to the east.
Hotel Tefu Tefu Booking & Check-In and Check-out
We booked online using the hotel website. However, one of the peculiarities of this hotel is you can only book online for a one-night stay. If you need to stay for more than one night, you need to call the hotel up.
We were welcomed by none other than the effortlessly charming Kent, and the hotel instantly had a homey feel. The whole property is shoe-free, and you must remove your shoes immediately upon entering the property.
At the counter, our forms and IDs were checked, and we were checked in and given physical keys to our room. We also confirmed our dinner and Breakfast reservations during check-in. Both meals are served at fixed times, and guests should plan for at least two hours for each experience.
Check-out was even smoother and more straightforward and simply involved us handing back our keys, and we were done. We told Kent about Oscape during our conversation and gave him the website details.
Hotel Tefu Tefu Style & Character
The hotel is very simply designed and only has two floors or levels. The lower level features the lobby to check in and out, the dining room, and the two small onsens.
You find the few guest rooms off a central hallway at the upper level. Here, you can also find several lounging spaces that are ideal for relaxing. The hotel is perfect for couples since only four can stay at any one time.
One of the guests on this stay was a doctor couple from Okinawa, who closed his clinic for four days and came here every single year. That’s how popular this hotel is.
The Hotel Tefu Tefu features a basic set of amenities comparatively, including:
- Full Dinner and Breakfast services.
- Private Onsens for couples.
- Photography workshops and tours.
- Lounging Areas.
Hotel Tefu Tefu Rooms
The Hotel Tefu Tefu features very clean and simple Japanese-style rooms for two people, although there is one for three people. The four rooms can be either double or twin bedrooms. The property has quiet hours from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The whole property has a solid and stable Wi-Fi connection that works very well.
Standard Queen Room
We stayed in a standard queen room. Aside from one queen-sized bed, the room had a side table with a lamp and a storage area with clothes hangers by the front door. The room also featured a smart TV and a small table with two chairs.
If you visit during the summer, there is an air conditioning unit, so things might not get too hot. The room also has coffee-making facilities, although we did not try to use them. There was no bottled water in the room; however, the tap water was delicious and fresh.
The bathroom is pretty much what you would expect from this type of hotel in Japan and comes stocked with a standard set of amenities.
The Hotel Tefu Tefu bathroom has a sink and toilet without an automatic flushing system. The bathroom also features a walk-in shower.
Dinner & Breakfast Services
Any stay at the Hotel Tefu Tefu comes with the most fantastic dinner and breakfast services. Both were exquisitely prepared, with the dinner service taking approximately a total of two hours and the breakfast following closely at one and a half hours total. Since times are prearranged, guests are expected to show up on time.
In both cases, I loved everything. The presentation was incredible, and everything tasted amazing. I found myself becoming more fond of fish. After my trip here, I have reached the conclusion that Hokkaido has some of the freshest and most organic food I’ve tasted, especially at this hotel, which had a very home-cooked familial feel to it.
The restaurant room is an incredibly peaceful and restful place to dine, and Kent’s photography is also on display and rotates on the main TV screen in this room. There are many inspiring and famous images presented as part of the screensaver.
Hotel Tefu Tefu First Course
The first course definitely had a fishy vibe and was utterly delicious. Items included:
- Salmon with Okra with myoga
- Kazunoko (Herring Roe) with lemon
- Sesame Tofu
- Jelly with Corn, local veggies
- Two types of Herring fish roe
- Sea Urchin
Hotel Tefu Tefu Main course
I especially loved the stunning main course; it was spectacular. The lamb was so tasty, and I can rave about the sauce it came with. Also, the rice is always so fresh in Hokkaido, and before I forget, yes, I loved the pickles as well. The main course consisted of the following:
- Lamb with steamed veggies.
- Special sauce.
- Fish from Lebun Island (west of Hokkaido near Russia).
- Japanese pickles.
- Clams in clam base soup with chive onions.
The dessert was a large, generous slice of Hokkaido Yubari Melon.
Dinner came with a unique Sapporo beer. These included the famous “Only Hokkaido” Hokkaido beer made with Hokkaido barley.
As its name suggests, this beer is uniquely only available in Hokkaido and is a special-tasting Sapporo beer with an extra sharp barley taste.
We were also served a hot local coffee with a beautiful, rich flavor.
Hotel Tefu Tefu Breakfast
Hotel Tefu Tefu breakfast is served at 7 a.m. sharp, and what can I say? It was another spectacular feast worthy of a king. The epic meal was organic and made entirely of local produce, including a special black cabbage. The breakfast menu featured the following:
- Eggs, Salmon, Sausage, Cabbage, Mustard
- Very fresh milk.
- Croissant and Bread
- Sunflower watermelon
Like every morsel of food served up at Hotel Tefu Tefu, the breakfast was delicious, and I wolfed down every bit. Would I have it again? In a heartbeat!
You can freely use the available lounge room on the second floor, which looks North and West towards the airport. It was pretty fun to watch planes turn to land at Asahikawa Airport.
The room has stunning tall windows that give an incredible view. In the summer, you get to experience wildlife and nature in full flow as you spend hours away watching butterflies and bees pollinating all the flowers in the fields outside.
Hotel Tefu Tefu Spa/Onsen
For such a small hotel, it is incredible that it has a pair of Onsens. Both of them face to the rear of the property, facing an elegant hill with trees. You can use the Onsens between 6 am and 11 pm. However, these have to be reserved in advance so that groups are not using them simultaneously.
There are two bathrooms on the first floor for four groups; these have dedicated showers and cleaning stations. These are not communal but are used before heading to the hot tub.
Then, there is a mineral hot tub mixed with water. The water is filtered, but the mineral contents are displayed outside. In addition, each onsen has an indoor and outdoor tub. The Onsen provides towels and all the additional amenities you would expect at Japanese Onsen.
These Onsens are quite unique. First, I love you can come in the Onsen privately as a couple. This is not the case in most Onsen Spas. Secondly, I got to see a ton of nature here. This included a tiny mouse in the woods, spiders, bees, butterflies, and even squirrels and hummingbirds.
If you are into photography and want to develop your skills or even get some tips from a master, then you can always take one of Kent Shiraishi’s photography workshops. This can be booked as a private lesson or a group activity. I plan on covering one of his workshops in the near future.
Overall, this Hotel was a spectacular experience whether you are into photography or not. It has Some of the most amazing food I had while in Hokkaido. In addition, it is very close to the Blue Pond, and what better experience than to be hosted by the person who made it famous?
Aside from all the positives, getting a booking here can be tricky. Being a popular hotel, with a tiny capacity means, more often than not, it is fully booked, and space is hard to come by. That said, if you get the chance to come here and meet the inspiring and talented Kent, you won’t regret it; I am definitely planning a return visit.
- Beautiful, secluded, and private spa and lounge experience.
- Excellent food!! Both dinner and breakfast were incredible – multiple courses, incredibly fresh, with a variety of individually presented choices. I would stay here again solely to experience the food services, especially if staying as a couple.
- Private photography conversations and history lessons with Kent were so much fun and educational.
- Rooms were basic but functional, with comfortable beds and very private.
- I love that you can come to the Onsen privately as a couple, whereas most Onsen Spas are not like this.
- Very convenient, local access to the famous Shirogane Blue Pond.
- This is relatively isolated and difficult to get to. There are no buses, and the taxi ride is far from any town. In all, this isn’t a bad thing, but more something to be mindful of.
- Due to its small size, getting reservations at this hotel can be difficult.