Oita 大分 & Beppu 別府
Things to see and do in the Oita / Beppu region
Ranging from the tacky to the traditional, the hot spring baths of Oita Prefecture should be high on any visitors' list of things to do.
Beppu is famous for a number of jigoku or "hells", a term often given to places where geothermally heated water bubbles up to the surface as steamy ponds or sulphurous gloop. These hells are given the full tourist treatment so be prepared for tack.
The Hells - see boiling, steaming colored ponds such as Blood Pond Hell and Oniyama Hell.
Beppu is also well know for its seedy side as a walk around the downtown area or a visit to the Hihokan Sex Museum will show you.
Hihokan Sex Museum in the Kannawa Hells area (9am-10pm, 1000 yen) - now unfortunately closed (2011).
Of course, a trip to Beppu would not be complete without a soak in a few of the innumerable onsen dotted around town.
The adventurous might want to try a mud bath or shell out to be buried in hot sand. The popular seaside Beppu Kaihinsunayu (sand bath) (Tel: 0977 66 5737) is a short walk east of the ferry terminal on your right on the ocean side.
Other onsens well-worth a visit are Shibaseki onsen (Tel: 0977 67 4100) near the historic Kifune Castle, Horita Onsen (Tel: 0977 24 9418) and Hyotan onsen (Tel: 0977 66 0527) near the Hells.
Other attractions in the Oita-Beppu area include a soak in the historic Meiji-era Takegawara Onsen (tel: 0977 23 1587), which also includes a hot sand bath, and visits to the nearby Umitamago (Sea Egg) Aquarium complex (Tel: 097 100 1010) on the seafront west of Beppu and the adjacent Takasaki Monkey Park (Tel: 097 532 5010).
A 30-minute drive from Beppu, 600m up into the hills is the beautiful Lake Shidaka, part of the Aso Kuju National Park with stunning views of Yufu-dake and Tsurumi-dake. A camping site on the shores of the lake makes for a perfect place to relax.
Yufuin is a quite different onsen town to Beppu on the coast. Yufuin is more geared towards gentle strolls and arts and crafts and attracts an older clientele.
There are pleasant walks to be had around Kinrin-ko, a warm(ish) pond at the foot of Mt. Yufu and the mountain itself is a not too strenuous two hour climb.
Baths in Yufuin are in plentiful supply and traditional ryokan accommodation is of a very high standard, if a little expensive.
Foreign Tourist Information Centre (9am-5pm; tel 23-1119) in Kita-Meitengai Department store in north-east corner of JR Beppu Station.
Outdoor Beppu / Oita
The Yamanami Highway heading out of Beppu leads, via Yufuin, to the mountains and rolling plateaus of the Aso caldera, the world's largest volcanic crater. The area offers numerous trails and scalable peaks for hiking enthusiasts as well as log houses and campsites. The area is still very much alive as the steaming crater of Mt. Aso testifies and many visitors take the ropeway (cable car) to the top to peer into it - sulphurous gas emissions permitting.
Onsen are also in abundance. Kyushu's highest peaks are however to be found in the Kuju range, also volcanic but significantly less active than Aso. Animal lovers should visit Mt. Takasaki (15 mins south of Beppu) where hundreds of wild monkeys can be seen. The monkeys form distinct "tribes" which take turns to feed at the foot of the mountain.
Another fun excursion in Beppu is to drive out to African Safari, a drive through safari park set in wonderful countryside with tigers, cheetahs, elephants and many other animals to see from your car or park tour bus.
Much farther afield off the south-west coast of Kyushu the natural island of Yakushima is a hiker's dream.
It is speculated that it was in Oita that Buddhism first gained a foothold in Japan over 1300 years ago. Evidence of this can be seen in the form of numerous stone Buddha statues carved into cliffs and rock faces all over the prefecture. Over 80% of all the stone Buddhas in Japan can be found here. Most famous of all are the statues at Usuki. Obviously once a site of some importance, there are 60 well-preserved 12th century carvings here in an atmospheric rural setting.
More carvings can be found on the Kunisaki Peninsula, where modern Japan seems a million miles away and the sleepy farming villages are almost eerily quiet. Countless temples and shrines dot the rugged landscape including Fuku-ji, where you can see the oldest wooden building in Kyushu and one of Oita's grandest temples, Futago-ji.
The Usa-jingu shrine is the most important of all Japan's Hachiman-gu shrines dedicated to the God of War. Usa Jingu Shrine is in the city of Usa, adjacent to the Kunisaki Peninsula.
Rakanji Temple in Takatsu
Rakan-ji Temple is another of Oita's grandest temples. Rakanji dates from the 13th century, is built into a towering cliff, and incorporates several caves. Rakanji Temple is home to over 3,700 stone Buddhas. A chair lift (or stone stairs for the hale and hearty) takes you up to Rakanji itself, and then on to the top of the mountain for a panoramic view of the the surrounding peaks and valleys. Read more about Rakanji Temple
The historical onsen town of Hita often called "Kyoto in Kyushu" makes for a pleasant excursion by train or hire-car from Beppu, Oita or Fukuoka. The hot-springs are located near to the river, where you can also see cormorant-fishing from May-October, and the Mametamachi area behind the station contains a number of preserved wooden buildings including a sake factory still in use today.
Oita was put on the international map by the 2002 World Cup. The purpose built "Big Eye" stadium, somewhat reminiscent of a giant titanium turtle, was designed by the celebrated Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa (who also designed Toyota Stadium, the Wakayama Museum of Modern Art, Kuala Lumpur Airport and the New Wing of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam).
Oita Stadium can be reached via shuttle bus from Oita Station. Oita Stadium (aka Oita Bank Dome; 大分銀行ドーム) is the home ground of J-League soccer team Oita Trinita.
Funai Castle in the center of Oita city has been partially renovated and its historic stone walls and moat contain a public park known for the beauty of its cherry trees.
Access To Oita/Beppu/Eastern Kyushu
Oita is on the main JR Nippo Line which connects south to Miyazaki, or north through Beppu and Nakatsu to Kokura. The Hohi Line connects to Aso and Kumamoto. The Kyudai line runs to Yufuin Station and on to Kurume.
Oita Airport is about an hour north of the city by car or limousine bus.
Ferry to Kobe (11 hours 20 mins) or Osaka (12 hours).
Kansai Kisen Ferry Reservations (0120-56-3268):
Osaka (tel 06-6572-5181), Beppu (tel 0977-22-2181)
www.ferry-sunflower.co.jp (Japanese & English, online reservations)
Daily, 7090 yen.
Regular overnight ferry services run between between Oita and Kansai. Cars and bicycles carried. Accommodation is either in large shared tatami rooms or in private cabins of various classes. There is a restaurant, shop and public bath on board.
Train to Fukuoka/Hakata Station 2 hours, 5560 yen from Oita.
Connects with the Shinkansen bullet train for Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama and Tokyo.
From Fukuoka (Hakata Station): 2 hours (Ltd. Express Sonic)
From Kokura: 1 hour 20 mins (Ltd. Express Sonic)
For up to date train timetables and fare information for Kyushu click here
There are air connections to Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kagoshima, Seoul and Okinawa from Oita Airport.
Regular buses run to and from Oita Airport depart from Oita Station, the Tokiwa Department Store in Beppu and the bus station in Yufuin.
Book highway buses in Kyushu including buses on the JR Yufuin Station to JR Kumamoto Station, Kumamoto to Yufuin, Kumamoto to JR Beppu Station, JR Kagoshima-Chuo Station to JR Hakata Station (Fukuoka) and Hakata to Kagoshima routes.
Media Cafe Popeye
Across from Oita Station, a little down the Centporta shopping arcade that starts right next to the WING Ekimae Pachinko & Slot.
Hotel Accommodation in Beppu & Oita
Oita city and Beppu have a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets ranging from traditional Japanese tatami-floored ryokan and minshuku with futon beds to western style resort hotels with en suite bathrooms and full facilities.
Chances are that wherever you stay in Beppu and Oita your accommodation will have its own onsen hot spring spa. For an authentic Japanese style onsen ryokan try Yamada Besso or the Kappo Ryokan Sennari.
Other recommended places to stay in the Oita and Beppu area include the Rembrandt Hotel Oita, the Oita Regal Hotel, the Hotel New Tsuruta in Beppu and the four-star Motoyu-no-yado Kurodaya also in Beppu. See here for a full listing of hotel accommodation in Beppu and Oita.