By: Rebecca Simpson
If you got lucky and scored tickets to this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan (20 September to 2 November), you’re in for a treat. There are 12 venues across the country that are hosting matches, including Oita prefecture in Kyushu. Oita will be home to five Cup fixtures, including the pool matches of tournament favourites New Zealand, along with two quarter-finals.
But what’s happening in Oita in between games? Or, dare I say it… what’s on offer for those of us who aren’t there purely for the rugby? Gasp! Happily, Oita is full of amazing things to explore. Here are some must-dos.
#1 ONSEN INDULGENCE (HOT SPRING SPAS)
Japan is famous for its onsens, which are bathhouses and spa facilities that use heated water from natural hot springs. These hot spring facilities offer unrivalled levels of relaxation and sometimes health benefits from the minerals in the water. The heat source is also used in some culinary experiences; it’s believed that cooking via natural steam intensifies flavours.
Onsens are a unique and graceful Japanese experience all visitors should try while in Japan – and Oita prefecture just happens to be the onsen capital of the country! The prefecture has the largest number of hot springs in the country, so there’s no excuses. There’s something for everyone, too. Try one of Oita’s outdoor onsens and you’ll be surrounded by nature while you soak in the mineral hot springs – an incredible chance to slow down and connect with the natural world. Oita also offers a variety of private bath experiences that range from affordable and family-friendly, to truly luxurious places where you’ll unwind and forget not only all your own troubles, but those your home country might be having on the rugby pitch!
Discover onsen options here
#2 KITSUKI CASTLE TOWN
Ever wanted to get dolled up in a kimono and experience the glamour of traditional Japanese dress? Oita’s Kitsuki Castle Town is just the place to make your dreams come true. Spend the day feeling elegant while you explore this cute town and all its history in a beautiful kimono.
Not into kimonos? Kitsuki offers more than a day of beautiful fabric and once-in-a-lifetime fashion moments – it has a “tough” side too. This was once a samurai stronghold. The town will give you an interesting peek into the Edo period, a time when samurais flourished. There’s also a pretty beach that offers a variety of fun water sports like stand-up paddle boarding for those who like to get active.
Foodies will need to get their cameras ready for all the edible delights in Kitsuki Castle Town. Try taking yourself back in time by experiencing a traditional tea ceremony, 1875 style, at Tomaya Tea Emporium – matcha powdered tea and delicate sweets never tasted so good.
See a Kitsuki guide here
#3 FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
Oita prefecture has over 700km of coastline, so it’s no surprise that seafood is central to the area’s culinary offerings. This is the place to try Fugu (blow fish), a fine dining favourite that’s cut thick when served as sashimi. You can also try Fugu fried or with rice porridge. Oita is famous across Japan for its mackerel sashimi, look out for Seki-aji and Seki-saba – two well-known sashimi brands the locals devour.
Also keep an eye out for Mushi Ryori options on menus. These are onsen dishes, or steamed cuisines. Some restaurants will allow you to steam your own vegetables, eggs, and meat using a natural steam source – it’s a fun and healthy option to try. For those looking for a post-match carb fix, try some Dango-jiru, thick wheat noodles cooked in miso soup. This old-school local food will hit the spot after the game.
No rugby trip would be complete without a few drinks, right? While in Oita, be sure to try some of the region’s locally-made sake and shochu. Shochu is a Japanese spirit made from either rice, barley or sweet potato. Oita’s shochu is mainly made from barley. It can be drunk straight or served with a mixer. You might also see it served as a cocktail.
Learn a little more about shochu here
#4 HIKE TADEWARA MARSHLAND
Sick of stadiums and in need of some wide, open space? Head to Tadewara Marshland near the Kuju mountain range and take a hike through this important ecological area, which became protected under the Ramsar Convention in 2005.
The walking paths all start at the Chojabaru Visitor Centre, which offers English-language films for visitors to learn about the flora and fauna in the area. There’s also lots to learn about the Kuju mountain range, including how to spot a tanuki, also known as a raccoon dog. Spot one and it will bring you and your team luck!
Starting at the visitor centre, there are a few walking options on offer through Tadewara Marshland. Take a stroll along the cedar boardwalks that protect the delicate ecosystem and choose from a family-friendly 20-minute walk or a longer 60-minute hike. You can also continue on and hike up and around the mountain for stunning view of the marshland and its glorious colouring – worth the effort!
Find out how to get there: Tadewara Marshland
Oita Prefecture Rugby World Cup games
2 October 2019: New Zealand V Canada (Pool B)
5 October 2019: Australia V Uruguay (Pool D)
9 October 2019: Wales V Fiji (Pool D)
19 October 2019: Quarter final match (Winner Pool C V Runner up Pool D)
20 October 2019: Quarter final match (Winner Pool D V Runner up Pool C)
Get the fixture details here
Getting there and getting around
Flights: Fly to Oita prefecture from Hong Kong via a domestic stop in Japan. Check your favourite airline for deals.
Land transport: Book a car online from one of the many hire companies and collect at the airport. Ask for an English GPS and an ETC (electronic toll collection) card when you book.
See more in our Travel section: