Nestled into the western end of the Seto Inland Sea on the North-East coast of Kyushu Island in Japan is the extraordinary Oita Prefecture.
Here you’ll discover a varied and lush countryside that ranges from intricately eroded coastlines dotted with islands, peninsulas and inlets and, famously, the sweeping Beppu Bay. Enjoy coastal plains and elegant valleys which lead to high plateaus and onto soaring mountain ranges and active volcanoes.
Kyushu is just south of Japan’s main island of Honshu and is quite easy to reach. Oita is a very popular tourist destination for Japanese travellers because of its hot water springs and spas. Many people travel there because the waters are considered to be very beneficial for one’s health.
The town of Beppu is Japan’s top onsen hot spring destination. What is an onsen? Well, it literally means “hot spring”, and Beppu has an abundance of them, as well as many bathing facilities and accommodation to cater for the many visitors who seek the therapeutic effects of the thermal springs.
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There are both tourists onsens and local onsens in Beppu. The local onsens have very strict rules, whereas the tourist onsens are a lot more flexible. When visiting a local onsen one rule is to never put your towel in the water, but you can put it on your head.
One group of onsen that you won’t want to bathe in is the Jigoku Hell Onsen. This is a series of seven very hot and colourful springs that are near boiling point, so far too hot in which to bathe. The hells display steaming ponds of various colours and bubbling mud pools and are a fascinating sight.
If bathing in water isn’t your thing, then try bathing in sand. Your whole body is buried in these hot, volcanic sands, with just your face left uncovered. You do have to get naked for this, but your modesty is preserved as everyone is given a robe, called a yukata, to wear as the sand is shovelled over you.
With so much thermal activity in Oita, one popular method of cooking is to steam food using the steam from the onsens. This is called Hell Steaming, and very few herbs or spices are used for flavouring and the natural minerals in the steam add their own unique flavour.
Oita Prefecture gives visitors a unique, yet traditional, Japanese experience.
Easily reached by train from Kyoto and Osaka, Oita Prefecture is a most beautiful, yet exciting, destination.