Japan’s go-to region for natural healing

Oita serves as a reminder that Japan, famous for its cutting-edge cities, is also home to some stunning natural landscapes. Drive just a few hours from the airport in any direction and you’ll find serene hot springs, misty lakes, eerie forests, epic waterfalls and some of Japan’s most spectacularly placed shrines and temples.

The city itself is rather small and unassuming, although it’s still home to plenty of interesting historic sites and a respectable nightlife scene centred on the Miyako-machi neighbourhood. But it’s in the surrounding area that Oita really comes to life as a destination. Beppu, just a short way along the coast, is one of Japan’s most beloved hot springs resort towns, where natural steam rises visibly between the streets and buildings. Artsy Yufuin is similarly steam-powered, while Bungo Ono, the Kunisaki Peninsula and the Kuju Mountains offer varying arrays of natural beauty.

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Things to do: Oita

  • Steam clouds hide a brilliantly blue pool with green trees and a torii gate in the background, Oita, Japan.

    Soak up the atmosphere in Beppu’s onsen

    Oita is surrounded by geothermal gems. The nearby resort town of Beppu is hugely popular for its prodigious output of spring water and for its wide variety of baths – be them hot water, steaming hot mud or even naturally warm sand. But this geothermal activity isn’t all soaking in a tub – watch mother nature’s fury bubble out of the ground at the spectacular Hells of Beppu, or enjoy a meal that’s been naturally steamed.

  • Rustic stairs flanked by stone statues lead through a forest up to the covered entryway of Futago-ji Temple, Oita, Japan.

    Hike to the shrines and temples on Kunisaki Peninsula

    Head north from Oita toward the Kunisaki Peninsula and it won’t be long before you’re zig-zagging through atmospheric forests, passing misty rivers and charming rural towns. It’s here that you’ll find some of Japan’s most picturesque shrines and temples – like Futago-ji Temple, which you’ll find at the end of a densely forested path flanked with stone statues.

  • Baby macaques hold hands at Takasakiyama Monkey Park, Oita, Japan.

    Hang out with some wild monkeys at Takasakiyama

    For a uniquely Japanese wildlife hit, head along to Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden. Don’t let the name fool you – it’s less a zoo and more the natural habitat of some 1200 wild macaques, who have the run of Mt Takasaki, the mountain that the park is built around. Take a wander around the dusty slopes and watch some of Oita’s cutest residents going about their daily lives.

  • A building sits on the other side of a misty lake in front of a tree-covered hillside, Oita, Japan.

    Capture the mist at Lake Kinrin

    This lake in the charming resort town of Yufuin, an hour or so from Oita, is one of the area’s most photographed sights. Hot springs flow into the cold lake, which results in a mist that covers the lake in the early mornings, particularly in winter. The town of Yufuin itself is charmingly bucolic, so after you’ve taken in the morning mist, take a wander around the local arts and crafts stores or find an idyllic onsen for a soak.

  • Kokonoe Yume Bridge stretches across a river gorge filled with trees, Oita, Japan.

    Don’t look down on Kokonoe Yume Bridge

    A dizzying 173m stands between you and the river below on Kokonoe Yume Bridge, one of the highest and longest pedestrian suspension bridges in the world. The views over the valley below make the vertigo worth it, however – the Shindo Falls, made up of three gorgeous waterfalls, can be seen from the bridge. Kokonoe Yume Bridge is incredible at any time of year, but particularly in autumn, when the leaves are a million shades of red and yellow.

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Airport information

Oita Airport (OIT)

Distance to city centre 50km

Taxi A taxi to central Oita will take around an hour and cost JPY ¥13,000-17,000.

Bus The AirLiner airport express bus takes around an hour to central Oita and costs about JPY ¥1,550 per person, with some services stopping at Beppu. Buses travel from the airport to other parts of Kyushu as well, and meet up with JR trains for destinations further afield.

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When to go

Like the rest of Kyushu, Oita has a warm, subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and mild winters, although the temperature varies across the region. Summer temperatures typically reach the high 20s, while winters rarely get below freezing, with daytime temperatures around 5°C. The greenery is lush and vibrant in spring and summer, while autumn brings incredible colour to the surrounding forests. Winter can sometimes bring snowfall, but this is rarely heavy.

In January, you can attend the Suigyo-e event, where priests pray for the safety of mariners by dousing themselves with buckets of freezing water. Or time a visit with your significant other in July for the Nanase Homura fire festival, whose lanterns are said to represent the flames of passion.

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Getting around

The city of Oita itself is small and easily walkable. The prefecture on the whole is well-served by public transport, with trains and buses connecting the various onsen towns and tourism hotspots. But Oita’s scenic and well-connected roads make for epic road-tripping, so you can get to some of the area’s more out-of-the-way spots.

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