A local writer shares their favorite Oita hot spring destinations. Check them out when you come for 2019 Rugby World Cup™ in Japan!

There are twelve venues set to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup™ in Japan, and five of the matches (from pool stage to quarter-finals) are scheduled to take place at Oita Stadium. Oita is located in the northeastern part of Kyushu, about 90-minute plane ride from Tokyo. Oita Prefecture is known as one of the premier hot spring destinations in Japan, a country already world-famous for its onsen. The Beppu and Yufuin areas, just outside Oita City where the rugby matches will be held, are dotted with popular hot spring areas. If you’re going to make the trip to Oita, you might as well get your fill of Japanese culture while you’re here, especially the area’s hot springs and local Japanese cuisine. We asked a local writer who is an expert in the area to give us their tips for visiting Oita and favorite travel spots.

Convenient access from Tokyo by plane and from Kyoto/Osaka by plane or bullet train

Other than one daily service from Seoul, Oita Airport is only accessible via domestic flights within Japan. If you’re heading to Oita from Tokyo, you can take a flight from either Haneda (Tokyo International) Airport or Narita International Airport. From Oita Airport to Oita City (Oita Station), where the rugby venue is located, takes an hour and five minutes via airport limousine.

Free footbaths await travelers near the arrival gates at Oita Airport! Perfect for the leg swelling that frequently comes with air travel.

If you’re traveling from Kyoto or Osaka, there are no direct flights from Kansai International Airport. There are flights from Itami (Osaka International) Airport that take about an hour. An even better option is to use your Japan Rail Pass to take the bullet train from JR Kyoto Station or Shin-Osaka Station. You’ll have to change to a JR Nippo Main Line Limited Express train at Kokura Station, but you can still get from Shin-Osaka Station to Oita Station in around five hours. You can cut that down to around four hours if you take the Nozomi or Mizuho bullet trains, but there is an extra charge for that if you are traveling on a Japan Rail Pass.

View of Oita City along the Bungo Channel

A prefecture packed with great food, great art, and great hot springs

People love Oita for its abundant variety of locally-sourced food and art, but it is most famous for being the number-one hot spring destination in Japan—so much so that it is sometimes called Onsen Prefecture. In addition to large hot spring facilities, Oita is also home to many smaller locations that only the locals know about. These are marked with the symbol shown below, and you can usually get in for around 300 yen.

The hot spring symbol
Just a one or two minutes’ walk from Oita Station is Atami Onsen, a favorite among locals for over sixty years

The city has also become increasingly known for its modern art in recent years. International art festivals that use the entire area as a venue are held every few years, so there are public art pieces installed around town that you can have fun admiring as you walk around.

This piece by Ryoji Arai (Taiyo wo Suikomu-mon) is installed in front of the Umitamago Oita Marine Palace Aquarium

If you really want to immerse yourself in art, head to the Oita Prefectural Art Museum (OPAM), which is a fifteen-minute walk from Oita Station. The museum is housed in a stunningly-designed building by world-renowned architect and winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize (equivalent to a Nobel Prize in the world of architecture), Shigeru Ban. It has a look that echoes traditional bamboo craft techniques. The concept behind the museum is to create a space full of rich sensory experiences, and there are many touchable artworks on display.

Oita Prefectural Art Museum ©Hiroyuki Hirai
The Eurasian Garden Spirits by Marcel Wanders (2015)

Oita also offers abundant dining options. Some of its most well-known offerings are delicious seafood caught in the Bungo Channel or its expansive coastal waters, mouthwatering Bungo wagyu beef (best served as a steak), miso flavored dango soup made with vegetables and flat flour noodles, and chicken tempura.

Seki-saba and Seki-aji mackerel are among Oita’s premium seafood selections, and are traditionally served as sashimi
Melt-in-your-mouth Bungo wagyu beef
Dango soup with all the fixings
All kinds of restaurants serve chicken tempura, from Western and Chinese eateries to cafés.

There are great places to stay and eat around Oita Station and Beppu Station

Oita Stadium, where the matches for the 2019 Ruby World Cup™ in Japan will be held, is located just outside the city—about seven kilometers from JR Oita Station.

In addition to the domed playing field, this huge parklike site has tennis courts, an archery range, an open lawn, and more

To get there, your best bet is to take advantage of the free shuttles that will be running between the venue and JR Oita Station/JR Beppu station on game days. There are plans to create a special transportation website featuring stops, timetables, and other shuttle bus information. Visit the 2019 Rugby World Cup™ in Japan website for details.

JR Oita Station is a multipurpose facility with a shopping center, hotel, and more

Oita Stadium is located in the suburbs of Oita City amidst green hills—so there aren’t any hotels or restaurants nearby. Make sure to bring what you need with you when you go there. All the hotels are clustered around the Oita Station area. There are a lot of restaurants and bars as well, so you’ll have access to everything you need. My recommendation, though, is that you take a fifteen-minute train ride from Oita Station to Beppu Station. There are plenty of accommodation styles to choose from there, from simple room-only hotel arrangements to hot spring inns that include breakfast and dinner. As mentioned above, free shuttle buses will be running between JR Beppu Station and the stadium.

Some rooms even come with a private hot spring bath

Get to be an onsen pro in Beppu, Japan’s number-one hot spring destination

If you really want to dig deep into the best Oita has to offer, you’ll want to take a tour of its hot springs. Beppu Onsen is small enough that you could get around the entire thing in about an hour by car—even though it ranks number-one in Japan both in terms of the number of hot springs (2,288) and the amount of water they produce (87,550 liters per minute). There are some 370 hot spring facilities and inns in the area, allowing you to enjoy their different effects—everything from relieving tiredness to beautifying the skin. And you definitely don’t want to miss the gorgeous sight of the steam rising up all over the city.

Steam rising throughout Beppu

As you travel around to the different hot springs of Beppu, be sure to take advantage of the Beppu Hatto Onsendo program. It’s unique to the area, and will put you well on your way to becoming an onsen pro. From public baths to hotels and inns, the Onsendo program features about 140 hot spring locations to choose from, and allows you to collect stamps in your “Spaport” passport as you travel around to the ones that interest you. Visiting 88 of the hot springs grants you the title of Meijin, or Master.

Grab your Spaport and get soaking with the Beppu Hatto Onsendo program!

Of course, you won’t be able to make it around to 88 hot springs in one trip. An even better way to see the area is to use a program designed especially for foreign travelers to Japan. If you purchase the official Beppu guidebook (BE@beppu) (¥500 / Only foreign tourists can purchase for 300 yen at the information center at Beppu Station), it includes eight locations that you can collect stamps for as well. Once you collect all eight stamps, head to the Beppu Station Information Center to get a card recognizing you as a Beppu Onsen Specialist along with an original washcloth. For details, visit the Beppu Hatto Onsendo website.

Takegawara Onsen is one of the participating facilities in the Beppu Hatto Onsendo program. It is a public bath that costs ¥100 to enter.

Below are some things to keep in mind when you’re enjoying the hot springs of Beppu. Best to memorize them, as they represent basic etiquette and rules for visiting any hot spring in Japan. – Wash off before entering the bath – Do not let your towel touch the bathwater – Do not sit around the edges of the bath(Some communal baths) – Do not put cold water in the bath to lower the temperature(If the hot water is hot, ask people around you before pouring in water) – Dry off before entering the changing room – Tattoos are forbidden in many hot springs, so ask in advance or visit this website for a list of tattoo-friendly facilities Worried that it’s too much to remember? Relax! Everyone you’ll meet in the baths just loves soaking in the hot springs. If you’re unsure of something, just ask. Nearly everyone is willing to help, and gestures should be plenty to communicate if there is a language barrier.

The locals enjoy the area’s public baths on a regular basis

Handy English websites for your trip to Oita

Oita Rugby Information|Rugby world cup oita

This is an official website run by Oita Prefecture with information on the 2019 Rugby World Cup™ in Japan. See how the preparations are going, find out about the official team camping areas, visit the fan zone, and get shuttle bus schedules. It also covers information on sightseeing and accommodations in Oita Prefecture.

DISCOVER JAPAN WELCOME TO RUGBY WORLD CUP 2019™ HOST COUNTRY

This is a special website on the 2019 Rugby World Cup™ in Japan run by Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). Learn about the highlights of the twelve cities hosting matches during this year’s World Cup event.

100 Tattoo-allowed Hot Springs in Beppu, Japan – Enjoy Onsen

Tattoos are frequently forbidden in Japanese hot spring facilities due to cultural reasons, but this website features one hundred onsen locations in Beppu that will still allow you to enter if you have tattoos.