Oita Prefecture, located on the island of Kyushu, is a beautiful and calm area of Japan replete with natural splendor and fascinating cities rich with culture and history, like the riverside town Hita and the famed onsen area Yufu. It deserves much exploration, and one of the best ways to appreciate its charms is by train.
The culture that surrounds train travel is special in Japan. Not only does it play a profound role in the daily Japanese experience, but the people of Japan have embraced this mode of transportation as a method in which to observe the country — from the majestic rural countryside to large urban cities. Throughout the country, kanko ressha, or sightseeing trains, take travelers through beautiful scenery in style. Far more than just a mode of transportation, this special category of train exists so that passengers can enjoy the journey itself, appreciating varied landscapes and absorbing local culture as they ride. Mountainous, bucolic Oita presents travelers with vast expanses of unspoiled nature and myriad opportunities to immerse oneself in the idyllic surroundings, making it an ideal place for this type of voyage.
The Beautiful Cities of Oita
Oita is renowned for its hot springs, its lush natural scenery and its many historic sites. Hita, located on the western edge of the prefecture, is referred to as “little Kyoto” due to its atmospheric streets, unspoiled by time. With abundant hot springs and the River Mikuma running through its center, the city is intrinsically connected with water; it’s also known as “Suikyo Hita,” or “beautiful riverside Hita.” It’s known for u-kai, or cormorant fishing, and for ontayaki pottery, which is characterized by unique geometric patterns that are created by hand, without the use of machines. The acclaimed techniques used to create these wares have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. Ontayaki Pottery Village, a must-visit village located about 30 minutes from Hita Station by car. The village attracted worldwide attention when the esteemed British potter Bernard Leach stayed there in the 1950s to study their craft; in 2008, it was deemed an important cultural landscape.
Onsen-rich Yufu, a verdant oasis in the heart of Oita, has become a destination town for visitors and locals looking for the more tranquil aspects of living. Famed for its scenic beauty and many hot springs — like Yunohira, a resort with an 800-year history — it’s also replete with acclaimed hotels and other accommodations, museums, attractions and sightseeing spots. Though it’s best known as the home of Mount Yufu, a majestic, twin-peaked stratovolcano that offers hikers unmatched views of the region, it also boasts natural sites like Garandake crater, where visitors can view volcanic activity up-close; Oike Springs, named one of the Top 100 Scenic Waters of Japan; and the breathtaking Yufugawa Gorge. Stretching for approximately 12 kilometers, with towering, moss-covered walls and numerous waterfalls, this natural wonder draws visitors from all over the world with its profound beauty; in fall, with the advent of koyo, or autumn leaves, this area transforms into a sight which can be considered otherworldly. Visitors can also opt to take the “Packraft Tour,” taking in the beautiful sights of the valley and surrounding areas in an inflatable boat which allows one to access spots that are difficult or impossible to traverse by other means.
An Unforgettable Train Voyage
Kyushu’s sightseeing trains are distinctive, bearing a special name: D&S (design and story) trains, each of which is built with painstaking care. Especially beloved among these is the iconic Yufuin no Mori (or Yufuin Forest) train, which runs through Oita, taking visitors on a stunning journey through many of its most remarkable sites, with stops at both Hita and Yufuin Station. The Yufuin no Mori train has a higher floor than regular trains, allowing for unparalleled views. (You can preview the ride here.) The interior of the train is designed with rustic, warm forest aesthetics; in its luxurious salon car, guests can enjoy huge windows that make one feel completely immersed in the surrounding environment. It’s a beautiful and indelible way to see and appreciate the country.
A Lasting Memory
In addition to the aforementioned towns, villages and natural attractions, other highlights along the route include the spectacular Mino Mountain range, Jion Falls and Mount Yufu. Passengers can gaze out at the lush green countryside and dream of a Japan which, in some ways, hasn’t changed much for centuries, where food, crafts and a love of nature have remained central to its people, culture and national experience.
You can find more information about Yufuin no Mori here. For travel information about Oita, check here. From April to June 2024, the Fukuoka-Oita Destination Campaign will take place, encouraging travel and welcoming visitors to the prefectures with special events and experiences. For more information, click here.