When Jack Frost is a-nipping at your nose (and toes and fingers), it's time to head south to Kyushu's Oita prefecture to avail yourself of the wonderful hot springs (onsen) there. Onsen are plentiful in Oita, but we are going to focus on two of the most well-known ones: Yufuin and Beppu.
The town of Yufuin lies in a valley benignly watched over by the magnificent dual-peaked Mt. Yufu-dake. The area offers a breathtaking view of seasonal colors: pink cherry blossoms and yellow mustard flowers in spring, verdant rice paddies in summer, and golden ginko and vermilion maple leaves in autumn.
Famous for natural hot spring spas, which all have distinctive charms and unique characters, Yufuin is a tourist town that has managed to maintain a rural, peaceful environment where locals work and live; it is quite an atypical hot spring resort town in that respect. Yufuin lets its visitors escape into its peaceful atmosphere and forget the hectic pace of daily life for a while.
Hiking or walking (or, of course, just sitting in an outdoor hot spring) is a wonderful way to experience the beautiful nature that cradles Yufuin. There are many historic and cultural landmarks within walking distance, and bikes are also available for rent. Visitors can enjoy the Kyushu Yufuin Folk Craft Village and even try their hands at making dyed fabric and pottery for an original souvenir. The main street in Yufuin called Yunotubo Kaido is a trendy shopping street, lined with cafes and all sorts of souvenir shops, museums, etc.
While in Yufuin, Don't Miss These!
In Yufuin is a beautiful, small lake at the end of the town's main walking routes, surrounded by walking paths and a small number of shops. Enveloped in pearly morning mist, particularly in autumn and winter, Kinrin-ko has an air of mystery, aided by the fact that both cold water and hot water well up from a hot spring source at the lake's bottom. Kinrin-ko got its name, which means "gold scale lake," from a scholar who saw a fish whose scales glittered like gold as it swam in the lake at sunset.
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Set amongst a beautiful woodland, this traditional ryokan and hot spring resort, established in 1938, has the feel of a private villa (originally it really was one!). The water is drawn up from a hot spring that has been flowing for over 600 years. Splendid views of Mt. Yufu and the surrounding areas can be seen from the open-air baths which can be enjoyed as part of a day visit or longer stay.
For more information about Musouen, visit here.
Usuki Takeyoi Festival (Usuki City, Early November)
This is a bamboo lantern festival held annually in early November. Locals handcarve beautiful designs on hollow bamboo stalks and place candles inside. This regional festival tells the story of welcoming home the spirit of a folk legend princess via the soft glow of the numerous lanterns.
For more information about Yufuin, visit here.
Not too far from Yufuin is Beppu, also famous for its hot springs. Located on the eastern coast of Kyushu, Beppu is one of the most famous hot spring regions in Japan and by far the largest. It has eight major hot spring locations and eight so-called "hells" which are big tourist draws but only for viewing, not bathing, as they are extremely hot, thus the affectionate term, "hell." The “Tour of Hell” is comprised of eight spectacular hot springs in a variety of colors to dazzle the eye.
The eight major hot spring locations all have hotel or ryokan accommodations. Aside from the usual facilities, Beppu has a slew of foot baths, sand baths, steam baths and mud baths. The city also has beautiful natural vistas, parks, ropeways, museums and craft centers, so there is plenty to do aside from enjoying the baths.
For more information about Beppu, visit here.
After a leisurely day of R&R, you've surely worked up an appetite! Get ready to enjoy Oita's local cuisine.
If you've grown up in Oita prefecture, toriten is what you think of when the words "local cooking" come to mind. Toriten is fried chicken (tori=chicken and ten is short for tempura) coated with tempura batter, and it is so popular that it's recognized as the "soul food" of Oita.
Developed by a restaurant owner who wanted to provide a reasonable, tasty meal for locals at a time when eating in restaurants was seen as a great extravagance, low-cost chicken meat was used and the dish was created based on a Taiwanese recipe. In the 1940s, toriten could be found all over Beppu when the chefs of the original toriten restaurant started their own restaurants. The dish spread to neighboring Oita City in 1960s, and from then on it was considered the local cuisine of Oita prefecture.
Toriten is generally eaten with a soy sauce-vinegar mix sauce, or ponzu sauce accompanied with hot mustard, but there are some restaurants that make their own original sauce.
Saiki city in Oita prefecture sits at the mouth of the Bungo channel, considered one of the best fishing grounds in Japan due to the swift-flowing current from the Pacific Ocean that runs into the channel. There is a large variety of fish caught here, including high-end fish such as snapper, halibut and turban shell, and lower priced ones including horse mackerel and sardines. Due to this wonderful bounty, Saiki has many sushi bars that offer sushi at extremely reasonable prices.
Speaking of fish, the tiger blowfish (fugu) is another local specialty in Oita prefecture. Popular dishes include sashimi and hot pot. The best time to enjoy fugu is September through March.
The siren call of Oita won't be soon forgotten! Once you experience the beauty and relaxation of this special place, most likely it won't be too long before you'll be planning your next visit!
For more information about Oita prefecture, visit here.
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