You don’t expect to find a Japanese bed and breakfast in a town like Wartrace, Tennessee, but sometimes in life you get a welcome surprise. Nobuko and Itsuo Watanabe’s Japanese style Bed and Breakfast, Non Non, serves up authentic Japanese cooking in a homey, traditional setting that keeps customers coming back. Non Non stands out from many other quaint bed and breakfasts in the hills of Middle Tennessee, not only for its unique cultural experience, but also because of the warmth of the owners, who make every visitor feel like family.
Just outside Bell Buckle, famous for its Moon Pie Festival, art scene, and antiques, Non Non draws high-powered Japanese businessmen and millennials alike looking for something off the beaten path in more ways than one.
As far as the Watanabes can tell, they have the only bed and breakfast run by a Japanese married couple in the U.S.
Non Non sits on eight acres of Tennessee woodland off Highway 82 South. Itsuo named the place for his wife, whose nickname, Non, stuck. “People we knew from our restaurant in Murfreesboro begged us not to change the name so they could find us,” Nobuko says. Thirteen years ago, they retired from their Japanese restaurant and grocery store in Murfreesboro and opened Non Non. The couple has been married for twenty-four years.
“The restaurant was a good business but we were so busy,” Nobuko says. “Too busy. The bed and breakfast is hard work, but we have faithful, regular customers, good guests. They are like family.”
It would be next to impossible to find the personal service the Watanabes provide at Non Non.
“When someone books a reservation, we first ask about food allergies and sensitivities,” Itsuo says. Nobuko adds, “Everything we make is traditional Japanese cuisine with organic ingredients.” It’s best to give them a few days’ notice because t
heir menu is always fresh.
“We both do the cooking,” Nobuko says. She worked in a cooking school, teaching Americans Japanese cuisine. Itsuo worked as a chef both in Japan and the U.S. “Sometimes cooking together leads to unwanted advice in the kitchen,” she adds. “I notice that my husband sometimes takes credit for the meal even though I cook, too,” she says, smiling.
Itsuo admits that he doesn’t always correct his guests.
The Watanabes possess a love of nature and spend much of their time planting fruit trees and tending their garden. They use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Their house is filled with flowers, and from their back door, cherry trees they planted appear among the native cedars and locusts in their wooded glade.
Touring the lovely home, visitors get a sense of the Watanabes’ love of their culture, not to mention their talent and creativity. Itsuo remodeled many of the rooms himself. On return trips to Japan, they chose fine Japanese vases, statues, and wall art, from traditional Japanese cranes in flight to shadow boxes illustrating traditional folk tales. They even have a gorgeous red and white kimono often worn as the outer layer of a wedding garment hanging on the wall in the hot tub room.
The house of tongue-and-groove makes for cozy bedrooms featuring traditional Japanese foutons and short-legged tables with removable tops and heaters underneath. This kind of table, known as a kotatsu, is a sought-after item among Japanese families in the U.S. Another unique feature is the library filled with Japanese graphic novels. “We have some businessmen who love to sit in the library and unwind with a book.”
In fact, the Watanabes say that some of their most loyal customers tell them that coming to Non Non is like going to grandmother’s house. For so many Japanese families living and working near plants like Calsonic, Nissan, and Toyota Boshoku in Jackson, Tennessee, a place like Non Non can be a home away from home.
But the Watanabes have just as many loyal American regulars, people from half a dozen southern states, some who ask for the same dishes again and again.
In addition to operating the facilities as a bed and breakfast, the couple sometimes allows groups to hold dinner parties.
“We don’t advertise,” Nobuko says. “Our business is primarily word of mouth.”
From the first moment visitors enter the home, they are greeted with two messages: “Take off your shoes please, thank you,” and “Good friends, good food, good times.” Another sign reads, “When you’re here, you’re family.” The Watanabes’ gentle spirit is a guiding light for those looking for something out of the ordinary and for the far-flung looking for a little taste of home.
Non Non is located at 171 Loop Road in Wartrace, off Highway 82 South, which intersects Highway 231 between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee.
The Watanabes allow pets under certain conditions.
The common living room at Non Non. Many of the pieces were purchased in Japan.