Historically known as Funai, Oita is the capital of its prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan. Oita will be the dream destination this autumn when the Rugby World Cup 2019 holds a number of its games at the Oita Stadium in October:
New Zealand v Canada (2nd October)
Australia v Uruguay (5th October)
Waves v Fiji (9th October)
QF1: W Pool C v RU Pool D
QF3: W Pool D v RU Pool C
If you are visiting for the rugby or otherwise, don’t leave Oita without seeing some of the top tourist attractions:
The beautiful coastal city of Beppu lies Coastal city approximately 15 miles north-west from the city of Oita. Beppu is famous for its onsens (hot spring baths) as it produces more hot spring water than anywhere in Japan!
The spectacular 1375 metre-high Mount Tsurumi overlooks Beppu and visitors can ride the Beppu Ropeway which takes them to 800m up the mountain where they can enjoy panoramic views of Beppu and Oita City. For amazing views, this is a fantastic excursion and the perfect excuse to spend the evening relaxing with an authentic Japanese dinner. If you’re a fan of local delicacies, be sure to eat at Toyotsune which is a favourite with the locals. The menu features Beppu specialities including chicken tempura (toriten), local beef (Bungo-gyu), soy-marinated fish (Ryukyu), as well as seafood tempura and fresh fish.
History-buffs will love the Usa Shrine which was built in the 8th century. It was the first of around 40,000 shrines in Japan dedicated to the Shinto god, Hachiman, who symbolises war, protection and victory. The shrine’s main hall, Hachiman-Zukuri, is a site to behold with its bright interior and is amongst Japan’s National Treasures. Surrounded by ponds, paths, and woodland, a visit to Usa Shrine is tranquil and refreshing, especially if you’ve spent time in the city. If you go to visit, make note that you will need to wash your hands in a cleansing room in order to go further along the pathways. To pray at Usa Jingu Shrine, you must bow twice, clap four times, and then bow once to pay respect to Hachiman.
Of all the things to do in Oita, onsens are a must. With Beppu being the heart of onsen culture, Oita is the place for the traditional hot bath experience. For an immersive, authentic Japanese onsen, try staying at a ryokan. Ryokan inns are traditional Japanese guesthouses which offer meals and typically include communal hot bath facilities. Ryokan may come across as rigid and structured but can also be very relaxing retreats. Here are five recommended Ryokan Inns in Yufuin, Oita. For onsen etiquette tips check out our previous blog.
On the east coast of Oita, in Kyushu, you will find the former castle town of Usuki. It is especially known for its hand-carved stone buddhas which are classed as national treasures. Stone buddhas are much rarer than wooden or metal buddhas and, in Usuki, they are built into the walls of cliffs. If you are interested in Japanese history, wander through the stone lanes in Usuki’s city centre where the original samurai heritage is preserved by beautiful traditional buildings and old samurai residences. Usuki is also one of the oldest places in Kyushu to find miso (soy paste) and the Kagiya Soy Sauce Shop has been making soy sauce since 1600! If you’re feeling adventurous, look out for shops serving ice cream with miso syrup.
For a peaceful escape from the city and more hot baths visit the rural onsen resort of Yufuin. Nature-lovers will adore Yufuin – home to Mount Yufu, a twin peaked mountain which serves as the town’s breath-taking backdrop. There are a number of shops and restaurants in Yufuin where you can try carving your own chopsticks at Hachiya Ichizen, for an authentic keepsake to remember your time in Japan. To avoid the bustle of tourists at the weekends, try to visit on a weekday!
If you decide to visit Yufuin, make time for Kinrin Lake. Not far from the town centre, visitors can walk the footpath around its perimeter, stopping at onsens and a small shrine along the way. ‘Kinrin’ means ‘gold scales’ and the name was given to the lake by a Confucian monk who said the lake’s surface glittered when the evening sun reflected on the lake’s fish. The hot springs below the lake create a steamy mist in the colder autumn mornings which looks atmospheric and mysterious against the colours of autumn leaves and the mountains which lay beyond.
Jigoku Meguri “Hell Tour”
The ‘Hell Tour’ in Beppu is a series of seven naturally occurring hot springs which are intended for viewing rather than bathing in. Each ‘hell’ has unique features that set it apart from the others:
-The Umi Jigoku (sea hell) has boiling, cobalt blue water from the high levels of iron sulfate.
– The Oniishiboxu Jigoku’s mud bubbles resemble the shaven heads of monks
– The Shiraike Jigoku’s (white pond hell) water is white and milky
– The Kamado Jigoku (cooking pot hell) has several boiling ponds and the hot water is used to drink, for foot baths, and to steam food with
– The Oniyama Jigoku (monster mountain hell) is home to a large number of crocodiles who thrive in the subtropical-esque heat of the springs
– The Chinoike Jigoku (blood pond hell) is over 1300 years and is named after its hot water coloured by the high levels of iron and magnesium oxides
– The Tatsumaki Jigoku’s (spout hell) boiling hot geyser erupts every half hour!
If you’re heading to Japan and are thinking of visiting Oita, we hope this mini travel guide has inspired you with several ways to enjoy traditional Japanese culture!