Oita edges the Inland Sea and claims the northeast coast of Kyushu, teeming with forested mountains and greenery, invaded by bubbling, boiling hells. This is considered a good thing, however, as Oita is second in the world only to Yellowstone in terms of geothermal power and hot spring output. Although some of Oita’s hot springs have the colorful steaming ponds that Yellowstone does, the locals here really know how to turn the heat into health and cleanliness with their onsen, or hot spring bath resorts.
Oita City is the capital and largest city in this mostly rural prefecture of 1.2 million, but Beppu and Yufuin attract the most visitors with their renown hot spring resorts. You can tour the beautiful jigoku, or “hells,” stroll through the picturesque towns, bathe in the healing waters, and stay in a luxurious ryokan, or Japanese inn. Beppu is the larger of the two cities and lies on the coast. Yufuin is set in the countryside, at the foot of the eponymous mountain. (Climb the peak for a nice hike and beautiful view of the town.)
Just outside of Beppu, on the way to Oita City, is Mt. Tasaki Monkey Park. Wild macaque monkeys are not too hard to find in the mountains of Oita, but you can see them up close here. Zebras and elephants, too, believe it or not, can indeed be found in an African Safari Park in the countryside past the edge of the other side of Beppu. Other large attractions in the prefecture include Umi-tamago (an egg-like aquarium) and Hello Kitty’s home, Sanrio’s Harmonyland theme park.
The countryside here draws people out of the cities and into the clean air and sounds of nature. Nakatsu is in the north, hosting a castle and providing access to lush mountains and scenic Yabakei Gorge with its rugged limestone peaks and the legendary hand-carved tunnel of repentance, Ao no Domon. In the Kunisaki Peninsula, there are more rugged peaks among the parks as well as samural villas and scenic coastline. Aso-Kuju National Park straddles Kumamoto and Oita, extending to Yufuin. You can even take part in the farm life here if you like with a rural homestay.
Other towns include Taketa, with it’s old castle town and notable caves where Christian minorities hid from persecution more than a century ago, and Hita with it’s historic Mameda-cho. Perhaps tops in terms of historical interest, however, is Usuki, with its 1000-year-old carved stone buddhas. Yunohira, near Yufuin, is a smaller, pretty onsen town.
Some of the more famous local products of interest to travelers include kabosu, a small citrus fruit resembling a lime, bamboo crafts, and Onta Pottery.