Oita Prefecture is one of the most visited on the island of Kyushu in Japan and is primarily famous because of its amazing onsens. These are traditional Japanese hot springs and this means that Oita is the perfect spot if you fancy a dip and want to relax in some of the most well known baths in the country.
But onsen are not the only reason to come to this part of Kyushu and you can also enjoy a number of scenic towns and cities in this prefecture including Oita itself, which is the capital of Oita Prefecture, as well as other unique spots known for their Buddhist art and architecture.
On the whole Kyushu is less hurried and crowded than other islands like Honshu, so a trip to Oita Prefecture allows you to get out of the central areas of Japan and explore a part of the country that is far less traveled.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Oita Prefecture…
1. Start your trip in Oita
Oita city is the capital of the wider Oita Prefecture and it is makes a great place to base yourself when you are visiting the region.
Oita is linked to a number of cities around Japan, so this is one of the best starting points in the country if you are planning a visit, and this relaxed city is also known for its great nightlife scene which is centered around the famous Miyakomachi district.
Here you will find a huge concentration of bars and clubs, and this is also a great spot to visit if you want to try the local tipple for which Kyushu is famous called mugi shochu.
This is a kind of spirit which is made from local barley, and there is no better place to hang out for a few days and try it than in Oita.
2. Visit Harajiri no Taki
Harajiri no Taki is basically a large waterfall in Oita Prefecture which really has to be seen to be believed.
The waterfall is surrounded by lush rice fields and soars to a height of some 20 meters.
It is regularly voted one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Japan, so it is well worth traveling here if you are in this part of the country.
You can trek out to the waterfall via a bridge which allows you to see it in all its glory or you can also walk over the top on the falls and watch the water plunging over the edge.
If possible try and visit in the spring as this is when the surrounding countryside explodes into a riot of color.
3. Travel to Taketa
If you really want to get off the grid in Kyushu then you may want to consider a trip to gorgeous Taketa which is nothing more than a small village which is nestled close to the city of Oita.
You can take a picturesque train journey to get to the village which, like many small Japanese towns, is known for its onsens as well as the ruins of its former castle which are now gracefully crumbling.
If you happen to be in Kyushu in November then make sure not to leave Taketa off your itinerary as this is the location of the famous light festival where bamboo poles are erected all over the town and are topped with candles.
This leads to a fairytale like atmosphere which you will not find all over Japan and the sight of Taketa illuminated by hundreds of candles is the highlight of a trip here for many.
4. Visit Usuki
Usuki is a famous town on the coast in Oita which is known for its pretty castle.
You can stroll around the castle grounds on a trip here as well as walk along to the famous ancient stone Buddha statues which have been carved out of the cliff sides here and are one of the most famous natural attractions in the area.
This is also a town that is famous for its delicious miso paste and this part of Japan has been making this paste for over 400 years.
To that end, you can even get miso paste flavored ice cream in Usuki.
5. Go spelunking at the Inazumi Underwater Limestone Caves
Inazumi Underwater Limestone Caves are also known as Inazumi Shonyudo in Japanese and have the claim to fame of being the largest stalactite cave in Japan.
As if that wasn’t enough the caves are said to be over 3 million years old and were formed as part of a volcanic eruption.
Nowadays, after another burst of volcanic activity, the caves have filled with water, but you can still access the upper sections of some of the chambers and this lets you take in the patterns of the light playing on the water which is reflected on the roof of the caves.
6. Soak in the onsen in Beppu
Japan is known for its onsen which are traditional hot springs and bath houses, but it is fair to say that the city of Beppu is in a class of its own when it comes to its baths.
For many domestic travelers, the main reason to come to Kyushu is to visit the hot springs in Beppu and you can soak away the days in a huge number of different baths which are called hells and are located over a variety of different ‘circuits’ that extend into the countryside around the city.
As well as the actual hot springs, which are clearly the main attraction, you can also visit Beppu to check out other highlights such as the famed Sex Museum and a large aquarium.
7. Enjoy the city of Yufuin
If you want to get out and about in Oita Prefecture then consider taking a trip to the town of Yufuin.
Here you will find the peerless Mount Yufuin, but this is not the only reason to come here.
As with many towns in Japan, you will also find a number of onsen here including several onsen villages on the outskirts of Yufuin.
You will also be able to enjoy the shopping here at places like Yunokaido which is known for its local crafts and you can even have a go at making your own chopsticks here or seeing how glass is blown by hand to make decorative ornaments.
8. Explore Takasakiyama Nature Zoo
Takasakiyama Nature Zoo is known as the place to come in Oita if you want to get outside and enjoy some of the pretty scenery in this part of Japan.
The name is actually rather misleading as this is not really a zoo, but rather a large nature reserve that the animals can wander around freely.
When you visit the reserve you can sign up for a tour with one of the park rangers who will explain the history of the area as well as the significance of the wildlife on show here and the preservation of their habitat.
The resident animals for which the park is famous are the monkeys and you can see these primates up close at feeding times.
9. Soak in the Yunohira Onsen
Yunohira Onsen is located close to the city of Yufuin and is part of a small village in the countryside.
The reason to come here however is that this is one of the most famous hot springs in Kyushu and the village itself is also an amazing place to explore in its own right.
As you walk around you can take in the twisting and turning alleyways all over the village and then find the ideal bath house for you as there are a number to choose from to suit all tastes and budgets depending on the kind of experience you want.
10. Hike Mount Yufu
Just outside the city of Yufuin is Mount Yufu which is also known as Yufudake in Japanese.
This is one of the most important mountains in this part of Japan and it is also a great place to visit if you want to go hiking in the Oita area.
To get to the summit of the mountain you will need to leave about 2 hours, and the entire trip can take up to 5 hours depending on your fitness levels.
It is more than worth the effort to trek to the top however as you will get gorgeous views back over Yufuin as well as across to the Bay of Beppu.
11. Check out the displays at Kuju Flower Park
Kuju Flower Park is an amazing facility in Oita Prefecture which is located in a wider national park.
Still, if you want to check out the most amazing blooms in the business then this is the place to come.
The park covers and impressive 220,000 square meters and it is said that you will find over 300,000 different blooms here which are made up of some 500 unique species.
Just some of the flowers on display include lavender, roses, tulips, cherry blossoms and sunflowers, so no matter what time of year you visit, there will always be something in bloom to spark your imagination.
12. Check out Usa Shrine
If you want to know more about the history of Oita Prefecture then you need to head to the gorgeous Usa Shrine.
Here you will find a large complex which is said to date back over 1,000 years and this is a Shinto shrine which is made up of a main hall which is the ideal spot to check out some of the history and artwork of this fascinating religion.
As well as admiring the reliefs here, you can also experience an annual festival which sees birds and fish being released from the temple.
13. Tour the Taio Gold Mine
Anyone looking to do something a little different in Oita Prefecture should head out to the Taio Gold Mine which will fill you in on all the history of the mining industry in this part of Japan.
Bear in mind on a trip here that the mine is rather narrow so you need to squeeze inside, but it is more than worth it to learn more about this unique attraction.
As well as visiting the mine you can also take part in activities such as panning for your own gold.
14. Visit Nakatsu
Nakatsu is famous for being a pretty town which is located between Oita and Fukuoka.
Some of the highlights of a trip to this historical part of Japan include the ornate Nakatsu Castle as well as the stunning Yabekai Gorge which is a top spot if you want to enjoy a range of water sports such as water skiing, or you can even go ice skating here in the winter season.
You can also go spelunking in the caves in the gorge or hike in the wider area.
15. Step back in time at Bungo Takada
Bungo Takada is famous for being a historical town in Oita Prefecture and is known for its old wooden buildings that date from the 1950s.
It also has a famous shopping street which is also styled to look like something from the 1950s and you can cruise through here on a bus to learn about the historical and cultural significance of the area.
This is also the location of Fuki ji which is said to be one of the oldest wooden buildings in all of Kyushu.