West of Japan, on Kyushu lies an area that as of 2019 became known to rugby fans around the world: Oita. So if you’re planning a visit, why not take a look at what this mountainous area has to offer before it gets too busy. Only an hour-and-a-half flight from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Oita Prefecture is perfect for those who love hot springs, the outdoors, and adventure.
Here (in no particular order) are our top recommendations for things to do in Oita Prefecture:
1. Go for a bike ride
The atmospheric area of Yabakei Gorge in Nakatsu City is a brilliant area to ride around. With a dedicated bike path you can safely take in the views along the tree-lined route. There’s a cycling terminal in the area where you can rent a bike. The friendly staff will help you choose from a range of over 2,000 types including, road, tandem, and for the person who likes to take it easy (me), they also have electric bikes! The ride along the bike path is beautiful, particularly on a crisp, bright, and colorful autumn day, it’s hard not to stop every few minutes to take photos of all the amazing views.
2. Eat the best fried chicken, ever
The area is best known for karaage, or fried chicken. Some of the best can be tasted in many of the restaurants in the area but the tastiest, in our opinion, can be found at Domon Patio in Nakatsu City. This farmers-market-style kitchen does an excellent buffet, so eat as much as you like. Domon Patio is also well known for its homemade, fresh vegetable juice, so you’ll not feel too guilty tucking in to the delicious fried chicken as long as you get your greens in too! What I really love about this restaurant (apart from the fried chicken… did I mention how great it is?) is the warm and bright atmosphere helped by the huge windows surrounding you while eat, drink, and relax.
3. Speaking of relaxing…
Have you heard of carbonated hot springs? It sounded a little strange when I first heard about it. I expected the water to look like what you would see in a bottle of fizzy water, instead, it didn’t look any different from other traditional onsen I’d been to. But the difference is when you get in. Sit still for a few seconds and you’ll soon see and feel the fizz attaching itself to your body, almost like a tingling pain, but definitely more pleasant than sore. Sounds weird, feels weird, but it’s a great experience. Oita Prefecture, and particularly Beppu, is well-known for onsen. I encourage you to go off the beaten path and try out Nagayu Onsen or Ramune Onsen (they’re down the road from each other), both have carbonated hot springs, and both have private rooms for you to bathe in if you’re not feeling up for using the public bath and getting naked with strangers. It’s all part of the adventure though and quite liberating!
4. Visit the wee shops in Mameda Town
I love stationery. I love design. And I love it when I unexpectedly come across a shop that features both. Around the old town in Hita City, is Life Design Shop Area (エリアス). The owner, skilled in the art of woodwork has many beautiful pieces ranging from lampshades, to kids toys, homeware, notebook covers (made from a thin piece of wood and covered with a plasticky film to make it bend easily)—and the largest piece, a stunning dining table made from a single plank, beautifully crafted. An absolute delight. Other shops in the area such as Hita Shouyu are a pleasant surprise. As well specializing in soy sauce (an umami delight, I bought some to take home) the owner of this company collects dolls, so you’ll notice when you walk towards the back of the shop that there is a doll museum (it costs ¥300 to get in) with what feels like endless room upon room displaying many different styles of traditional Japanese dolls.
5. Wander around castle grounds
Best explored with a local guide which you can arrange through the tourism office, walking around Oka Castle Ruins with its stunning views, I really got a sense of its history. It was fascinating to listen to the stories about what each of the spaces were used for, particularly during battles. The clever tricks that went into the design, the lookout point from where you could see your enemies were coming, the bathhouse which has been rebuilt to look like the original and in the exact same spot, was all brought to life. Wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes and bring your imagination along with you for a trip to this spot, you won’t regret it.
I visited Oita Prefecture over three days, and everyday there was something that pleasantly surprised me. The vivid autumn colours that surround this area added an extra-special something to my idyllic but adventurous trip—and I hope it does the same for you.