How To Fall In Love With Oita, Japan in 25 Photos
By Victoria Vlisides
On July 20, 2018
Leaving was joyless, like when nothing is wrong but the mere absence becomes detrimental. The thought of reintegrating into the crowds, the sunshineless subway commute and calculated exchanges with konbini clerks: Tokyo was a vapid beast after three days in Oita Prefecture. The sensation of temples with 900-year-old Buddhas, sipping (yes, sipping!) and soaking in the purest of onsen (hot springs), foods steamed in the same boiling pools and the people whose faces seem sore from genuine smiles: In Oita, joy isn’t too much to ask.Photo by Victoria Vlisides
Oita Oita Oita, onsen onsen onsen. This tiny prefecture in Kyushu not too far from Fukuoka is said to be the onsen capital of Japan. I had been previously fascinated by Beppu, its second most populated city, and that fascination proved worthy.
The typical reason travelers hop out here is to hop into the prefecture’s countless hot springs, supplied by the highest amount of wells (more than 2,200) in Japan also pumping out the largest volume of thermally heated water in the country (in liters per minute) and second largest in the world. Beppu even hosted the World Onsen Summit at the end of May 2018, putting the city on the map internationally.Photo by Victoria Vlisides
As a very rural area, Oita still has a way to go with tourism, but the real efforts I have seen here are already making a difference to draw foreigners and — more importantly — to give them the right info to get there. So in order to entice you to pack your bags and head there on your next Japan adventure, I am sharing my top photos from my trip that encompasses what Oita — for me — is all about, though it’s just a three-day slice.Photo by Victoria Vlisides
What is Oita hiding?
Ohara Chaya: The better bamboo forest
People traveling to Japan have an undying love of bamboo groves, and I stand by this unofficial-but-very-official theory. The sad part is that people think the only way to get this view is in the now so-famous-it’s-getting-defaced Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto. In fact, the bamboo entrance shown below in Oita’s Hita City holds a tea house and restaurant called Ohara Chaya. It was a much more memorable, not to mention peaceful, experience than in Kyoto.
Muruhara soy sauce brewery: Condiments with class
Oita is famous for its thick-and-sweet soy sauce and it did not disappoint. At this soy sauce and miso factory, owner Masayuki Jirouzaemon — who visited 52 countries in his younger years — loves speaking with the foreigners who visit. His factory also makes the classic ramune lemon soda drink that comes in the glass bottle with the marble. It’s a great place for picking up iconic but unique omiyage (souvenirs.)Photo by Victoria Vlisides
Beppu City: Onsen rules everything ’round here
Sporadically throughout the city are free municipal onsen and ashiyu (foot baths, pictured below), and you would be a fool not to dip in. Beppu has more than 15 onsen. Not all are free (like this one), but nearly 10 of them are tattoo-friendly!
Hyakuzaen no Yume, Beppu: A window, not an exquisite painting
Yet looking beyond some of the main tourist stops brings us to elegant places like Hyakuzaen no Yume, with a view to die for and sushi and sake that won’t disappoint. (You can make a reservation here. (Japanese)).
Mameda: A tiny town you can’t forget
Oita Dome: Bigger is better
Usa Shrine: A stunning view into the past
Tashibu-no-sho: Not your average rice field manor
Fuki-ji Temple: Buddha awaits
So… what did I find?
During the trip, I had the chance to meet several representatives from the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and the Oita Tourism Association actively trying to make things easier for foreign travelers. They helped make that onsen summit happen, bringing together people from 16 countries and 17 regions. At the summit, Yolanda Perdomo, a tourism expert with the World Tourism Organization said in her opening speech: “Change and innovation cannot be led in isolation.”
Change and innovation cannot be led in isolation.
It dawned on me that, that’s really what this trip was about. Travel is a chance to help alleviate the isolation between foreigners and Japanese with the expectation not to fully understand each other, but to gain an understanding of a small segment of each other’s worlds.
The people of Oita were so gracious and willing to share every bit of their culture, and yeah, a lot of it was minutia and not really what I would be typically interested if it were my first time in Japan. But it really made me think: If we are here to experience the culture (which is what 90 percent of tourists say is their goal), what better way than to get to know some part of Japan through the eyes of the people who live there, rather than just seeing as much as you can through your own?