While most of us may be unfamiliar with Oita Prefecture (大分県), located at the eastern wing of Kyushu, it is home to not one but TWO of Japan’s most popular onsen (hot spring) regions – Beppu and Yufuin! Apart from great baths, Oita offers a variety of nature-related activities that will help you to relax and simply appreciate the beauty of Japan!
Beppu City (別府市)
As the highlight of Oita, Beppu city consists of 8 main hot spring areas collectively known as Beppu Hattō (別府八湯). If you want experience more than just the typical onsen, sand baths are available at Takegawara Onsen (竹瓦温泉) and Beppu Beach Sand Bath (別府海浜砂湯). Simply lie down in your yukata and let yourself be covered from neck to toe by thermally-heated sand, which contain various carbonate minerals.
Takegawara Onsen: From JR Beppu station, walk approx. 10 min. along Ekimae-dori. Beppu Beach Sand Bath: From JR Beppu Station (East Exit), take the Oita Kotsu Bus and alight at Rokushouen stop.
The steam also has another use, known as jigoku mushi (地獄蒸し). This unique way of cooking originated from the Edo period, where fresh seafood and vegetables are placed on top of a bamboo racked and cooked by geothermal steam. Attend a workshop at Jigoku Mushi Kobo (地獄蒸し工房) and taste it for yourself!
Jigoku Mushi Kobo: From JR Beppu Station (West Exit), take bus #2, 5, 7, 9 or 41 and alight at Kannawa stop.
Go on an amazing “Hell’s Tour” or Jigoku Meguri (地獄巡り) to visit eight unique natural hot springs. For example, Oniyama Jigoku (鬼山地獄) is a breeding place for crocodiles and alligators, while Chinoike Jigoku (血の池地獄) is so hot that the clay produces red coloured steam!
Yufu City (由布市)
Located within Yufu city is the small hot spring district of Yufuin (湯布院). This town has many ryokan (family inns) that serve as great accommodations for onsen-goers. Do book early when planning for a trip down, as rooms get snapped up very quickly. Ryokan generally provide kaiseki dishes (traditional Japanese meal) with private and/or public baths, with the latter overlooking beautiful scenery.
There are a couple of artsy museums and galleries, souvenir shops and cafes in the town, but otherwise a day trip would suffice. Experience a hands-on workshop with the whole family, from indigo dyeing of handkerchiefs to making your own wooden chopsticks, and many more!
Alternatively, go hiking at Mount Yufu (由布岳) if you want to get physical. With its twin peaks and easy trails, novice hikers can be assured of a fantastic view at the mountain top (1584 m).
Mount Yufu: From Yufuin-ekimae Bus Center, take the Kamenoi Bus to Yufuin Tozan-guchi stop.
Kunisaki Peninsula (国東半島)
Kunisaki is unusual in that it has a local religion known as Rokugo Manzan (六郷満山), which incorporates aspects of Buddhism, Shintoism and mountain worship. A characteristic feature of this unique culture is stone statues of Buddhas and other deities.
A central place of worship is Usa Shrine (宇佐神宮), this most important of all Hachiman-gu shrines (dedicated to the god of archery and war). It is built in the Hachiman-zukuri style, where two halls are connected at the roofs, form a single structure.
Usa Shrine: From JR Usa Station, take the Oita Kotsu bus and alight at Usa Hachiman stop.
If you can’t get enough of Japanese temples, then head down to Futagoji (両子寺), home to a statue of the Thousand-Armed Kannon Bodhisattva. Fukiji (富貴寺) is also a noteworthy site, as it has one of the top three Amida Buddha halls in Japan.
Futagoji: From JR Kitsuki Station, take Oita Kotsu bus and alight at Aki stop. There is a direct bus to the temple. Fukiji: 30 mins taxi from JR Usa Station.
Kitsuki City (杵築市)
Located in Kunisaki peninsula, Kitsuki is a very well-preserved samurai district. It is a great experience to rent a kimono and pose for photographs at picturesque spots around this quaint city. Many of the samurai residences are still in great conditions, such as the Sano Residence and the Ohara Residence. From there you can head forward to Kitsuki Castle (杵築城).
Kitsuki: From Kitsuki Station, take a taxi to the castle and samurai district.
Usuki City (臼杵市)
The main attraction here is Usuki Sekibutsu (臼杵石仏), which are stone Buddhas carved on the soft volcanic rock deposited by Mount Aso. This is an uncommon sight in Japan as most Buddha statues are generally made of wood or metal.
Despite harsh winds and weathering of the rocks, these statues are clearly visible, with some still bearing the paint from long ago.
Nearby sights include Mangatsuji Temple (満月寺) and Yamako Usuki Art and Historical Museum (ヤマコ臼杵美術博物館).
Usuki Sekibutsu: From Usuki Station, buses run every hour or two, hence taking a taxi would be quicker.
Kononoe Town (九重町)
Officially known as the tallest suspension bridge in Japan, Kokonoe Yume Suspension Bridge (九重夢大吊橋) hangs at an impressive 777 m above sea level. It takes approximately 20 mins to cross the bridge, and one can enjoy a spectacular view of one of Japan’s top 100 waterfalls – Shindou Waterfall (震動の滝), and the beautiful autumn leaves of Kyusui Ravine (九酔渓).
Kokonoe Yume Suspension Bridge: From Otsurihashi Nakamurakou Station, take the Hida Bus to the bridge.
If you want to get EVEN closer to nature, then Tadewara Wetland (タデ原湿原) should definitely be in your itinerary. It is accessible via Chojabaru Visitor’s Center (長者原ビジターセンター), which is located in the town centre. Learn about features of the Kuju Mountain Range, and the rare Bougatsuru Wetland (坊ガツル湿原) – a habitat that is nestled between volcanic mountains.
Tadewara Wetland: From JR Bungo Nakamura Station, take a bus to Chojabaru Visitor's Center.
Nakatsu City (中津市)
Oita has amazing fried chicken “popcorn”, commonly known as karaage (唐揚げ). The ones at Marukiyo (割烹丸清) is value-for-money and worth a try! The food are is prepared by experienced chefs who know a great deal about traditional cooking methods and local cuisine. Karaage is usually served with other side dishes in a set, which is referred to as teishoku (定食).
For example, the Karaage set comes with fried chicken popcorn, rice, soup, seaweed noodles and other sides. Meanwhile, the Kanbee set also contains karaage, in addition to rice, soup, and eel.
Marukiyo: From JR Nakatsu Station (South Exit), go out and turn left. The restaurant is 197 m from the station.
- Find out what are the different types of onsen and the associated health benefits.
- An video introduction to the entire jigoku mushi experience!