Right in the middle of Oita Prefecture, sits Oita City. It’s one of the home cities of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but also a fascinating and diverse pocket of Japan that is well worth visiting all year round.
The city is flanked by steaming hot spring hubs to the north, stunning ocean views to the east, and rugged, untamed mountains to the west, offering so much to see, do, eat, explore, and discover. Oita Prefecture is located on the island of Kyushu, an area famous for its stunning natural sights and abundant natural hot springs.
If you’re looking for a new destination to add your Japan itinerary, you should definitely consider penciling in some time in Oita City.
Similar to its neighboring Rugby World Cup hosting city Kumamoto, many of Oita’s most exciting attractions are outside of the city boundaries. There are so many, to discuss them in depth would require another article in its entirety, so let’s briefly go through them here. Yufuin onsen village is a laid back hot spring resort an hour by train. It’s well worth a day trip or a weekend away, we loved it so much there’s an entire feature on it here. For the thrillseekers, there’s also Mt. Aso, a smoldering, active volcano that sits between Oita and Kumamoto. A 2.5-hour journey from the city by train, we think Aso deserves a position on the list of Japan’s 12 best natural wonders. Finally, if a still-temperamental volcano isn’t enough excitement, then head to Beppu a corner of Kyushu that’s home to Japan’s “8 Hells”; a collection of visually spectacular onsen pools hot enough to hard-boil practically anything within the blink of an eye.
Closer to the center of the city, Sekizaki Kaisei Universe Museum is Oita’s endlessly fascinating observatory, viewing platform, and museum. The museum’s telescope is powerful enough to give you some pretty magnificent views of the clear starlit Kyushu sky, the moon, nebulas, and more planets than you can probably remember the names of. There are also universe-dedicated exhibition rooms, and if all that intergalactic speak has gotten you famished, there’s also a restaurant on site.
Not to be mistaken for the Oita City Museum, the Oita Prefectural Art Museum is one of the most striking pieces of architecture in the area. The museum was designed by the internationally renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Its exterior is impressive and the collection inside follows suit. The main exhibits are located on the third floor of the gallery, it’s here you’ll find a permanent collection of work from Oita based artists. There’s also a temporary exhibition room that showcases everything from paintings and sculptures to performance art and poetry.
It’s said that the people of Oita Prefecture consume more chicken than any other prefecture in Japan. It’s a reputation the locals celebrate each September during their famous karaage (fried chicken) festival. Toyoken in Beppu is the best spot to sample the local version of karaage known as ‘toriten.’ The dish is small, bite-sized pieces of chicken covered in sake, garlic powder, ginger, rolled in flour and then deep fried in a more tempura style. It’s a little out of Oita City if you want to be pedantic, but nothing for fried chicken fans.
Another excellent Oita specialty worth trying is the classic dango-jiru. Made from thick wheat noodles, shiitake, onions, and carrots in a pool of miso soup, it’s a simple, wholesome dish that will replenish you after a long day exploring. For the full traditional dango-jiru experience, head to Takeya, a traditional home-style Japanese cafe and restaurant in Beppu.
For a cozy cocktail, a relaxing whiskey or a refreshing beer, Cask is your Oita local. The ambiance is intimate and the spirits collection is practically unparalleled. The drinks menu is expansive, but a nice added touche is that it includes local cocktails too, so if you’re feeling ambitious, leave it up to the bartender.
For the super budget savvy traveler, Hotel Area One Oita is a no-brainer, it’s located right by Oita Station for easy transport, and is a short stroll to the sea. Here, you’ll find plenty of rooms all under the 10,000 yen mark. Style wise it’s a rather basic affair, but if you’re just looking for somewhere to crash after a long day of adventures, it’s perfect.