During my visit to Oita Prefecture, I stayed in a beautiful AirBnB with a kind-hearted Japanese man from Taketa who seemed to dislike tourists. Especially Chinese and Koreans. Sorry my friends … !
However it made for the most interesting sightseeing day of his hometown, as we were to go for a truly local “Japanese-only” experience.
It was raining a lot today, so I was taken to the famous Kurokawa Onsen Town for a steamy soak in fresh water.
The town has tried hard to keep a traditional, natural appearance free from concrete hotels and neon signs. It has a beautiful river flowing through the centre of the valley beside traditional wooden houses with earthen walls.
This particular onsen we visited is further out from the main tourist area of the town, called Sanga Onsen and is probably my favourite onsen. It was 500¥ to enter and the baths are separated into male and female.
After following a short trail through lush green Momoji (Japanese maple trees), I came to a dark wooden hut which was the changing area to the bath. Once inside, this wooden hut just opens straight out onto the outdoor bath. There is a natural stone basin to rinse yourself with before sinking into the rock pool under the trees.
It was still and peaceful. A chance to gather thoughts, release negativity, and breathe. This would be a great place to visit in the autumn when the Momoji leaves turn red.
Hirotaka-san told me that he won’t visit Kurokawaso, one of Kurokawa’s most famous onsens because of the amount of foreign tourists that visit and don’t respect the rules.
If you go to the onsen please take a minute to read through their rules as breaking them unknowingly can upset the locals.
Driving through Kyushu countryside makes you appreciate just how different the south island is to Honshu. The mountains are uneven and jagged unlike the pretty neat peaks in Fukushima, and the hills are thickly forested with perfectly shaped pine trees.
Hirotaka-san’s father was a forester, and he said that these pines were in fact planted artificially about 100 years ago.
If you drive on the mountain road at the right time, you might be able to drive alongside the old train that still runs through the valley.
A brief visit along the way to Kuju Winery nearby Taketa is Kyushu’s best winery. They grown their own produce here, and a bottle of Kuju wine will set you back about 2,300¥.
There is also a fine pizza restaurant next door that serve the local wine so if you fancy a break from Japanese food then I recommend a lunch stop here.
We decided to head into Taketa and have the local speciality which is crispy fried chicken with tartare sauce, otherwise known as Chicken Nanban!
This restaurant is called Marufuku which means “round happiness” and it is delightfully cheap. The dishes are around 720¥ for a Teishoku (meal with rice and miso soup). They actually have an chicken farm next door so the karaage and chicken katsu is locally produced.
Following the food tour, next on the list was a cute dairy farm called Guernsey Farm, or “Dude Ranch” on google maps…….
Their name was inspired by the brown cows from Guernsey, and I felt a little bit close to home here, as it reminded me of the UK farm shops selling local produce.
This area is also famous for its natural waterfalls. Harajiri Falls or “The Oriental Niagra”, protected by Fudomiiou, the god of anger and can be viewed from a beautiful wooden bridge.
Chinda Falls near the guesthouse in Bungoono is also a beautiful waterfall. The main waterfall is both man-made (the top section) and natural (the longer falls over the rocks), and is known as a male waterfall. Nearby you can see a burst of water cascading down under the trees, known as Chinda’s female waterfall.
There is a very well-hidden hydroelectric plant here between the two falls, but has been since shut down due to other sources of power generation preferred.
Spending time with the locals in their hometown was a lot of fun. I booked Hirotaka’s guesthouse through AirBnB and found I was the only guest there. I spent the 2 evenings drinking natural spring water, playing guitar and listening to Hirotaka-san’s extensive collection of British rock CDs. He made me feel super welcome in this tiny village in Bungoono.
It gets busy at the weekends as this house is extremely pretty. It is a traditional old Japanese style house with tatami sleeping rooms, a tea room that looks out onto a beautiful rock garden and a bathroom with an old style bath. Hirotaka-san also has plans to build a cafe on one end of the guesthouse.
I highly recommend staying here.
I stayed in a traditional old Japanese house through AirBnB. 2500¥ per night.