Exploring Japan: Enjoy great views, onsen, traditional arts in Oita

Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi ()

Japan’s Oita Prefecture, on the westernmost main island of Kyushu, is a scenic marvel and home to hot springs, rich history and traditional arts and culture. Beyond the surface, Oita is also the center of sustainable geothermal energy.

Visiting Oita is relatively easy. It takes about a 3-to-4 hour drive from Sasebo Naval Base or MCAS Iwakuni. If you’re visiting from other cities in Japan, there are plenty of budget airline options to get you there within two hours.

Capital of onsen You’ve probably heard of Oita as it is home to some of the most famous hot spring sites in the country. As of 2021, the prefecture has a whopping 5,102 onsen hot springs brimming with hot mineral waters. These healing waters attract foreign and domestic travelers every year. Prior to the pandemic, 7.9 million people visited the prefecture to soak in the hot springs every year, according to an Oita Prefecture official.

In addition to the many foreign tourists Oita Prefecture gets, it hosts a large population of foreign students every year. These students make the prefecture more diverse and foreigner-friendly, Oita Governor Katsusada Hirose said.

Below are some of the many activities and must-see attractions in historical and beautiful Oita Prefecture. Whether you’re into relaxing hot springs, interested in rich history or want to experience some amazing food and practice some ecotourism, Oita has all of it and more. Your visit will definitely be one you’ll never forget!

Let’s travel virtually through the video!


Getting to Kyushu a breeze from Haneda (video)

Haneda Airport is only a 30-minute train ride from Hardy Barracks and easily accessible from other military bases in the Kanto Plain. Traveling through this airport is a quick and easy way to get you to any of the domestic destinations you’ve been wanting to see while stationed in Japan.

Within about a two-hour flight from Haneda, you can find yourself freezing in Hokkaido, sailing off the coast of Kyushu or even sun-bathing in Okinawa.

A recent flight to Kyushu-area airports took about 105 minutes to Oita (803 kilometer) and 110 minutes to Miyazaki (1,023 kilometer). Even getting to Osaka is about a 1-hour flight from Haneda.

Entering vacation mode via plane is worthwhile when you compare it to a 5-plus-hour drive or 3-hour Shinkansen bullet train ride.

To get to Haneda, it’s a straight shot on the Keikyu Express Train departing from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, Yokohama Station in Kanagawa (if you’re departing from Camp Zama or NAF Atsugi) or Yokosuka Chuo Station (if you’re departing from Yokosuka Naval Base). The direct express train will take you to Haneda in 15 minutes from Shinagawa Station, 25 minutes from Yokohama Station and 50 minutes from Yokosuka Chuo station.

The train stops at both the international terminal and the domestic terminals, so check ahead to know which is your stop!

Next time you’re planning your trip, check to see if Haneda Airport offers flights to your domestic destination. It will save you some time and maybe even some money!

Haneda Airport website


Myoban Onsen, Beppu City (video) Traditional thatch huts producing therapeutic sinter for 300 years

Myoban Yunosato is a unique hot spring resort in the center of Beppu, Oita Prefecture. Beppu itself is known as a hot spring capital and is a popular destination for soaking in the steaming mineral waters.The resort is home to myoban alum hot springs and thatch-roofed huts known as “yunohanagoya,” or sinter huts.

Myoban Yunosato has been producing its own yunohana, onsen mineral powder essence, since 1725. The therapeutic yunohana is made from alum steam and blue clay crystalized under the huts with straw, cogon grass, bamboo and timber. According to Satomi Iikura, president of Myoban Onsen Yunosato, the sinter helps keeping your body warm after bathing and relieving shoulder stiffness, back pain and skin disorders.

In the resort, you can soak in the outdoor pool with milky white onsen water while enjoying a nice view of the Oita mountains. The restaurant and souvenir shop offer local delicacies and yunohana products and cosmetics. Though I didn’t get to try the hot springs, I did enjoy a yunohama pack back in my hotel bathtub. The 10-minute soak was enough to warm me up and make my skin soft.

If you visit, don’t forget to try the steamed eggs, pudding and dumplings cooked with onsen steam.

Myoban Onsen is an unforgettable experience and only a 3.5-hour drive from Sasebo Naval Base!

Check it out Myoban Onsen Yunosato Location: 6-kumi, Myoban-onsen, Beppu City, Oita Pref. Tel: 0977-66-8166

Must-go onsens in Beppu Hell-hopping “Jigoku Meguri,” or hell-hopping, is a famous tourist attraction made up of seven “hells” or multicolored volcanic springs. You can enjoy impressive views of springs of different colors, shapes, and smells while hopping from pond to pond while taking short rests at foot spa spots in the area.


Kannawa District (video) Cooking in ‘steam of hell’

The onsen is a great place to soak and relax, but another treat is great food made with hot spring water.

In Beppu City, there is a district specializing in a century’s-old traditional cooking method called Jigokumushi, or steam of hell. Head to Kannawa District to enjoy various dishes cooked with the natural hot steam rising from below ground.

Hyotan Onsen, Beppu City Hyotan Onsen is a three-star Michelin-rated bathing and restaurant facility in Kannawa District serving up Jigokumushi dishes for you to enjoy.

To cook ingredients with Jigokumushi, meat, seafood and vegetables are placed in a bamboo basket. Then, the basket is placed inside of a large stone contraption that looks like a barbecue grill or oven. When the glass lid is closed with the ingredients inside, hot steam gushes through the stone enclosure flash-cooking the meal. This quick process allows the ingredients to retain their fresh flavors and vibrant colors. One taste and you’ll think the flavors are too heavenly to be steamed by hell!

Hyotan Onsen in Beppu City website

Another unique onsen in Oita! Nagayu Onsen, Taketa City After a soak and a steamy meal, Taketa City, an hour away, offers another unique onsen experience you’ll enjoy. Nagayu Onsen offers a rare carbonated hot spring experience you’ve got to try.

The city is also home to Kur Park Nagayu, a health promotion complex designed by Shigeru Ban, a famous Japanese architect. The facility was constructed in 2019 and has cottages for overnight stays, onsen for bathing and exercise and various restaurants.

At a restaurant, I sampled a homemade lunch set made from only seasonal local ingredients. It was a delicious, healthy meal that was only tastier thanks to the carbonated spring water used to cook it.

You may have tried soaking in the hot springs in Japan and possibly had a onsen egg, but elevate your experience with a soak and devilishly delicious, steamed food in Oita!

Kur Park Nagayu in Taketa City website

Other popular attractions in the area

Yufuin and Lake Kinrin, Yufuin City Yufuin is a popular hot spring resort where you’ll find various museums, shops, restaurants and inns. The lush landscape around the area includes impressive mountains, pristine rice paddies and traditional farmhouses. Lake Kinrin is a misty wonder which provides Yufuin a mystical ambiance.

Usa Jingu and Matama Beach, Usa City Usa Jingu is a Shinto shrine built in the 8th century as the head of thousands of shrines across Japan dedicated to the “god of archery and war.” Check out the main hall as it is a designated national treasure for the prototype of unique shrine architecture. Matama Beach, one of the 100 most beautiful locations to catch Japan’s sunset, is near the shrine. Here you’ll experience breathtaking views of the golden horizon.


Drum Tao, Kuju Kogen heights, Taketa City (video) Otherworldly beats in celestial heights

High on a hill inside Oita Prefecture’s Aso Kuju National Park, the rumbling of wadaiko drums draws in visitors seeking a unique and lively Japanese experience. Tao no Oka is the home of Drum Tao, a group of world-renowned taiko drummers known for their stunning performances, amazing costumes, and pitch-perfect percussion.

Drum Tao was created in 1993 with the aim to bring Japan’s wadaiko drumming to the world. Since then, the group has grown to 40 members split into three sub-groups, which perform at 150 concerts globally each year. According to Maki Morifuji, a spokesperson for Drum Tao, the group has performed for over 9 million people in 26 countries since 1993. What makes Drum Tao popular is the performers melding traditional wadaiko drums with modern elements and sounds. It’s this old-meets-new fusion that has led to the international success of the group, Morifujii added.

Tao no Oka, an 80-minute drive from Oita City, a performance complex complete with an outdoor theater, café, shop and museum, opened in 2020. Inside the museum space, I was able to appreciate the elaborate costumes Drum Tao wears, which are designed by Junko Koshino, a famous Japanese designer. I was also able to enjoy a performance by the group at the Nature Theater, an open-air theater overlooking the Oita Mountains.

The drummers’ rumbling and the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape created an almost sacred experience. It was an enjoyable performance, and I could see why Drum Tao has garnered so many fans worldwide. A visit to Oita truly isn’t complete without Drum Tao’s impeccable beats.

“Tao no Oka” Drum Tao Nature Theater Location: 7571-2 Shiratanji Itaki, Kujumachi, Taketa City, Oita Pref. Live stage schedule: Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon and holidays, 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Admission (Tao House): Age 13 and older, 500 yen ($3.50), ages 4-12, 300 yen Tickets (Nature Theater): Age 13 and older, 4,500 yen, ages 4 – 12, 2,500 yen Website Tel: 0974-76-0950 ———-

Usuki Castle town, Utsuki City (video) Traditional center with unique gastronomy

Though Usuki in Oita Prefecture may seem like a tiny city with a modest population of 35,000, its grandeur lies in its rich history, beautiful streets and unique foods.

From the majestic Usuki Castle facing the Bungo Channel, transport to the olden times with a view of Nioza District’s narrow cobblestone-paved roads. The district is home to many Buddhist temples and traditional wooden houses, creating a quaint ambiance worthy of recognition as one of the 100 most scenic Japanese towns by the Japanese government in 1993.

The former international port town still has symbols of this history in its Portuguese-style architecture and blue “Azulejo Mural” wall paintings nestled among traditional Japanese buildings.

In the 17th Century, the fermentation industry arrived in Usuki and thus started a unique food culture here. Here you’ll find plenty of fermented dishes, organic farm products, and sake. The quality of the fermenting and brewing skills in Usuki have even garnered international recognition with a UNESCO designation as Creative City of Gastronomy in 2021.

Drop by Kani Shoyu, a miso and soy sauce brewery established in 1600, and the Kotegawa Shuzo sake and shochu brewery founded in 1855 to sample their quality fermented products unchanged for hundreds of years.

Another vintage craft from Usaki is Usukiyaki pottery from the former Usuki Domain dating back 200 years. The simple, understated white pottery makes the local foods shine when served on it. Visit Usukiyaki Lab pottery workshop off the old district to learn how the workshop revived the “lost pottery style” and has transformed it for today’s use.

Nioza District, Usuki City (a 3-hour drive from Sasebo Naval Base) Nioza District

Kani Shoyu Brewery

Kotegawa Shuzo Brewery

Usukiyaki Lab


Geothermal energy plants, Kokonoe Town (video) A promise for clean energy

Oita Prefecture in Kyushu is home to 5,102 hot springs and is known as the onsen capital of Japan. Here you can enjoy this geographic feature with therapeutic baths and even sample some delectable dishes steamed using the heat from below ground. But did you know Oita’s hot waters also contribute to clean energy?

In Oita, geothermal energy is being harnessed for power and hydrogen. Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Hatchobaru Geothermal Power Plant in Kokonoe Town generates 110,000 kilowatts of electricity per hour, which is enough to power around 37,000 homes for one year.

The plant’s use of geothermal does not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and saves Japan from consuming 200,000 kiloliters of oil for power generation every year, according to Kyushu Electric Power Company.

The Hatchobaru plant also offers guided tours and lectures at its museum so you can learn more about its operations and renewable energy.

Another plant using geothermal energy is Obayashi Corporation’s hydrogen plant in Kokonoe Town. This plant produces “green hydrogen,” which is hydrogen created without emitting carbon dioxide in the production process.

Hydrogen is considered a next-generation portable energy because it can be stored in canisters and transferred to local hydrogen fuel stations. According to the company, the plant can produce one kilogram of hydrogen per hour, which is enough for a fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) to drive 130 kilometers.

Oita’s spring waters are not only a source of relaxation, but also a source of clean, sustainable energy. So, next time you’re in the area, enjoy the hot springs and check out the impressive ways these waters are being used to save the environment and preserve natural resources.

Kyushu Electric Power Company Hatchobaru Geothermal Power Plant Location: 601 Hatchobaru, Yutsubo, Kokonoe Town, Kusu-gun, Oita Pref.


Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission: Free Website Tel: 0973-79-2853

Obayashi Corporation green hydrogen production plant Website Location: Kokonoe Town, Kusu-gun ———-

Bungo Sakaba, Oita City Local foods, tasty sake

On my trip to Oita City, I worked up an appetite while checking out the sights near Oita Station. I headed into Bungo Sakaba, which was recommended by the manager at my hotel for a sampling of the local fish and fare.

Bungo Sakaba is an izakaya-style restaurant inside the Amu Plaza Oita shopping complex inside Oita Station. The menu has many Oita specialty dishes, sushi, sashimi and other delicious local fish dishes.

I ordered Bungo Ichioshi Mori, a sushi set using locally caught fish for 1,000 yen (about $7.50), along with ryukyu for 100 yen. Ryukyu is Oita’s soul food and consists of horse mackerel or yellow tail sashimi that is well-marinated in a soy sauce-based broth with sesame and ginger.

Since this is an izakaya-style eatery, not checking out their premium sake and alcohol list would be a shame. I chose a glass of locally brewed sake Nishinoseki for 540 yen.

The sake paired well with the flavorful horse mackerel ryukyu soaked in mirin and ginger.

The sushi set was extensive and included a sampling of all the Oita fish that was in season at the time. In the set were hand-shaped sushi with both fatty and lean tuna, squid, octopus, conger, shrimp, mackerel, sea bream, gizzard shad and egg, and more. I was pleased with my choices and couldn’t help but have another refill of the premium Nishinoseki sake to finish off the meal.

In case you are not a fan of raw fish, the restaurant also serves various yakitori (grilled chicken on a skewer) and kushikatsu (deep-fried cutlets on a skewer) available for around 100 to 200 yen.

Bungo Sakaba is a great spot to try some of the amazing food Oita has to offer. The prices are excellent for the high quality and central location, so make sure to stop in for a delicious meal during your stay.

Check it out Location: 1-1 Kanamemachi, Oita City, Oita Pref. Hours: 11 a.m. – midnight Website Tel: 097-513-1180

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