More Than Just Onsen! 3 Days of Fabulous Food and Scenery in Kyushu's Oita Prefecture
- Published: Sep 25 2020
- Last updated:
Renowned for being the hot spring capital of Japan, Oita Prefecture, located in the northeastern part of Kyushu, boasts an abundance of famous hot springs, and visitors from all over the world flock to stay in popular hot spring towns such as Beppu and Yufuin. Oita is also blessed with mountains and a coastline, which offer incredible sights and delicious bounties from the land and sea. The prefecture is also home to many picturesque old towns. For three days and two nights, we’ll take you through this delightful corner of Kyushu! We’ll travel back in time in the “Little Kyoto of Kyushu” Mameda in Hita, ride a bicycle along the Yabakei River in Nakatsu, take long, hot baths in Beppu's hot springs, and experience the old charms of Kitsuki Castle Town.
[ DAY 3: Beppu, Kitsuki ]
Beppu, surrounded by the sea and the mountains, is one of, if not the most representative hot spring areas in Oita. With an astonishing 2,500 hot springs in the area bubbling away all year round, it accounts for about 1/10th of the total number of hot springs in Japan, making it the place with the most hot springs as well as the highest yield of hot spring water in Japan.
However, while Beppu is renowned for being Japan’s no. 1 hot spring capital, there are in fact a lot of other attractions and delicacies worth exploring beyond the walls of your hot spring hotel.
Try Delicious Pudding Made with Hot Spring Steam at Okamotoya
Okamotoya is a long-standing onsen ryokan in the Myoban Onsen area. In recent years, they have become more widely known for their unique food items. At the Okamotoya Shop, you can partake in these food items as well as purchase souvenirs.
Okamotoya’s bestseller is undoubtedly their Original Beppu Special Jigoku-mushi Pudding. The recipe to make this special pudding has been passed down since 1988, and although a lot of it is not revealed to the public, it does use steam from natural hot springs to cook the pudding. Savor the rich eggy flavor as the creamy pudding melts in your mouth. The caramel brings a restrained sweetness and a hint of bitterness. This delectable dessert will be sure to leave you craving more!
Travelers who need a caffeine fix first thing in the morning should order the Jigoku-mushi Steamed Egg Sandwich and Coffee. Refreshing egg salad and thick cuts of delightfully crunchy cucumber are sandwiched in between thick toast for a simple, light, yet delicious breakfast. What can be more pleasant than spending a morning taking in the panoramic views of the Beppu Bay and Myoban Bridge while enjoying a scrumptious breakfast?
Traditional Japanese Bath Salts: Myoban Yunosato
At Myoban Yunosato, ancient-looking straw huts line the main road, carrying with them a faint scent of sulfur. These huts are in fact “yunohana-goya,” where yunohana (bath salts) are produced using centuries-old techniques and wisdom.
In the Edo period, people built thatched roof huts using straw, bamboo, and timber over places where hot spring steam vented from the ground. They then spread blue clay over these vents. The steam reacted with the blue clay, forming crystals that once collected and dried produced 100% natural bath salts.
The bath salts, which take 40 to 60 days to refine, is a unique product of the Myoban area. It fortifies the bathwater, imparting healing effects on lower back pain, rashes, and various other skin problems. They're an extremely handy and practical souvenir for others as well as yourself!
Feel the Fire of Hell at Umi Jigoku
The word “jigoku,” meaning “hell” in Japanese, is everywhere in Beppu. Back in ancient times when Japanese people first saw the white hot spring steam gushing out from what used to be a desolate and barren land, it was how they imagined hell looked like, which was why they decided to refer to the hot springs there as "hell."
Umi Jigoku, formed when Tsurumi Volcano erupted 1,200 years ago, is the largest hot spring among the “Eight Great Hells of Beppu” (Beppu Hatto), and was designated as a national scenic spot in 2009. The cobalt blue waters might seem nice and cool, but they are actually at a seething 98°C (208.4°F). The blue color of the water is from the naturally high levels of iron sulfate. Visit this park to see the beautiful blue hot spring, try the famous eggs and pudding made using the hot spring water, and enjoy free foot baths.
This hot spring is actually housed within a garden! The garden uses the hot spring's geothermal heat to grow giant lotuses and tropical water lilies. Viewing them from the flowering period between early May and late November will reveal a sight to behold! These giant lotuses are so big, you can sit on them and float on the pond!
An Alternative to Onsen: Beppu Beach Sand Bath
An alternative way to experience Beppu Onsen is to go for a sand bath. This fun and quirky experience is not one to miss. Next to the Beppu International Tourism Port, the Beppu Beach Sand Bath started in 1911 and has been running for over 100 years.
After purchasing a ticket and changing into one of their special yukata (bathing robes), staff will bury your entire body - except for your head - in fine, warm sand sitting at around 40°C (104°F), naturally heated by geothermal energy. As your body temperature rises, you will start to sweat; coupled with the weight of the warm sand on your body and the view of the sea and sky, this is a fantastic way to relax.
Staff can help you take photos with your phone or camera during the process. The sand bath is about 15 minutes, after which staff will notify you to get up. You can then wash off the sand and proceed to take a dip in the indoor hot spring.
*Due to privacy issues, photos are not allowed on the sand bath site.
Enjoy Beppu's Specialty Cold Noodles at Rokusei
When it comes to cold noodles, most people tend to think of Korean naengmyeon or Morioka cold noodles in Japan. Fun fact: cold noodles are also one of the representative delicacies of Beppu.
Beppu cold noodles originated in about 1950. They were introduced by cooks from Manchuria in northeastern China, with influence from Korean naengmyeon and Japanese cold noodle dishes. Today, there are about 60 to 70 shops across the city specializing in Beppu cold noodles; among them, Rokusei is particularly popular with the locals. They insist on making the noodles, the soup base, and ingredients all by hand, so it is no wonder why queues form in front of the shop even before it opens for the day.
Rokusei’s Kitahama branch is a 5-minute walk from JR Beppu Station. The thin hand-made noodles are made from mixing wheat flour with buckwheat flour, giving it a smooth, springy, and chewy texture. The fish broth is boiled with both seafood and beef bones, and is not taken out of the freezer until right before it is served. The salty and icy broth is refreshing with a subtle tartness. Toppings such as kimchi, beef, barbecue pork, spring onions, boiled egg, and white sesame seeds create a complex and dynamic flavor profile, enriching the bowl of noodles exponentially.
Spend an Afternoon in Kitsuki City
Our last stop on this 3-day trip is Kitsuki, a simple and peaceful town in the northeast of Oita.
Surrounded by mountains and the sea, this historical town is known to have Japan's smallest castle - Kitsuki Castle. Kitsuki is steeped in nostalgic charm thanks to these well-preserved Edo-era samurai residences, to the point where it is known as the "Little Kyoto" of Kyushu and was the first town in the country to be certified as a "historic townscape where kimono look right at home."
Kimono Rental at Warakuan
Why not take a trip back in time, put on a kimono, and stroll the streets of this charming Edo town to immerse yourself in a bygone era? What’s even better is that Kitsuki City has a tourist campaign where tourists who don a kimono get free admission into seven cultural facilities* as well as discounts on food and shopping at partner stores.
*Kitsuki Castle, Ohara Residence, Isoya Residence, Ichimatsu Residence, Kitsuki Joukamachi Museum, Sano Residence, Shigemitsu Residence.
Located opposite of the Kitsuki City Hall, kimono rental shop Warakuan not only provides around 300 different sets of kimono for customers to choose from, but there are also professionals to help customers find the right fit and dress them. Everything that they offer is stress-free!
Stroll Through the Retro Kitsuki Castle Town
Kitsuki Castle Town is undoubtedly one of the highlights of visiting Kitsuki. In 2017, it was designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings.
If you were to stand at the top of the Shioya-no-Saka slope, gazing down the slope over the roofs of the samurai residences to the alley, then back up the Suya-no-Saka slope, you would understand how this town got its nickname "sandwich castle town," as the merchant town in the valley is sandwiched by slopes on either side.
Kitsuki’s iconic scenery - the beautifully aligned samurai residences, thatched roofs, stone-paved paths, stone walls, bamboo groves, and so on - not only is the pride of the locals, but also often appears in Japanese period dramas, movies, and advertisements.
A popular photo spot is from the Suya-no-Saka slope, looking down towards the valley and the Shioya-no-Saka slope on the opposite side.
Among the many stone-paved paths in the castle town, Kanjoba-no-Saka, which connects Kitsuki Castle and the Kitadai Samurai Residences, is particularly special. The gentle slope and wide steps were designed specifically for carriages and rickshaw bearers. Counting the 24th step from the top, you might find a fan-shaped stone that resembles Mt. Fuji!
Beautifully Preserved: Ohara Residence
With its distinctive straw-thatched roof, the Ohara Residence is the former residence of the Ohara family, who were chief retainers of the local feudal lords. It is now designated as a Tangible Cultural Property of Oita Prefecture.
A major feature in these types of houses is that there are separate spaces for receiving guests and for daily life. The head of the household and guests generally used the wide, stepped entrance - a symbol of status, as it also faces east, making it optimal for receiving sunlight. The smaller, simpler inner entrance on the west side was exclusively for family members.
In addition to the mansion itself, the residence is also appreciated for its elegant circuit-style Japanese garden, with over 40 kinds of ornamental plants and a huge sago palm adorning the entrance. A visit to this authentic, beautifully-preserved samurai dwelling in Kitsuki shouldn’t be missed.
This in-depth three-day guide takes you through the best that Oita Prefecture has to offer: the finest hot spring inns, healing hot springs to cleanse your body and soul, bicycle rides through incredibly scenic views of mountains and oceans, authentic historical experiences, and the sweet and savory delicacies of the land and sea. Why not plan a visit yourself to enjoy the charms of Oita?
Explore the Kyushu Area!
Oita Prefecture is just one out of the seven different prefectures that make up Kyushu, arguably Japan's most scenic and historic region. If any of these spots are right up your alley, we think you'll love what the rest of Kyushu has to offer. Check out the official Kyushu tourism website for more information on what's out there in the region.
Visit Kyushu Official Website: https://www.visit-kyushu.com/en/
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.