Hot spring spas, or onsen, are the main attraction, but this area also features natural beauty and some of Japan’s earliest Buddhist sites.
It’s common to see steam spilling from towns and roadsides in Oita, one of Japan’s most geothermally active areas. Crowned by a ring of volcanoes separated by mineral-water-filled marshland, it is largely untouched except for lively communities around its famous springs. Alternate between Oita’s onsen and hikes, each revealing a completely new aspect of Japanese life.
Go from the train to Takasaki Mountain, whose Takasaki Monkey Park is famous for its community of Japanese macaques especially renowned for their human-like love of hot steam baths. Hike to the top of Mt. Yufu for panoramic views or ride the ropeway to the top of Mt. Aso to look into the steamy expanse of the Aso caldera, one of the world’s largest volcanic craters. Find more ethereal nature at the Yabakei Gorge and the Hells of Beppu, where hot springs are as beautiful as they are dangerous.
Oita was one of the first places Buddhism flourished in Japan, so drive to the Kunisaki Peninsula, where there are many early Buddhist temples and stone statues carved into hillsides. Clamber up the stone steps leading to Rakan-ji Temple, with its 3,700 stone Buddhas. Marvel at the intricate carvings that adorn Fuki-ji Temple, the island’s oldest wooden building.
Oita sprawls across the northeastern corner of Kyushu. Due to its rural character, much of the prefecture is best accessed by car, though a fairly robust train service connects major towns. Ride the train from Fukuoka, Kyushu’s capital and largest city, to Oita City in about 2.5 hours, to Beppu in 40 minutes and Yufuin in an hour. Trains to other major Japanese cities are available from Fukuoka. Oita Airport offers a variety of Japanese destinations. Take a ferry to Osaka or Kobe from Oita City in about 12 hours. Car rentals are available from Oita Airport and in most city centers.
Before leaving Oita, relax at the Meiji-era Takegawara Onsen, which includes the region’s famous hot sand bath.