In Oita Pre­fec­ture, life seems to hap­pen at a dif­fer­ent pace to the rest of Ja­pan, mak­ing it the per­fect place to clear your head and broaden your hori­zons

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Many first-time v isi­tors to Ja­pan g rav itate to­wards the pu lsat­ing neon buzz of its ma­jor cities, but if it’s mindf u lness you seek , or sim­ply a new per­spec­tive, there are few more suit­able des­ti­na­tions in the en­tire ar­chi­pel­ago than Oita Pre­fec­ture. Sit­u­ated on the south­west­erly is­land of Ky ushu, Oita feels li ke a d isti l la­tion of a l l that is tran­qui l and un­blem­ished in Ja­panese cu lture. It’s famed for its many on­sen ( hot spr ings), as wel l as its his­tor y as a reg ion of im­mense re­lig ious sig nif­i­cance, so you won’t find it d if ficu lt to lose your­self in amongst its many en­tic­ing sites.

Step back in time

For a true un­der­stand­ing of what un­der pins Ja­pan’ s reli­gious his­tory, head to the bliss fully un dis­turbed Ku n is aki Penin­sula. Hir­ing a car will cer­tainly make your visit here much eas­ier, but the jour­ney is well worth it for an ex­ten­sive and strik­ing range of spir­i­tual sites. It is thought that Shin­to­ism and Bud­dhism first be­gan to in­ter­twine here, shown by the 9th-cen­tury Fuki-ji tem­ple on the out skirts of Bung o-Tak ad a. It is one of the old­est wooden tem­ple son Kyushu Is­land, and its ar­chi­tec­ture is beau­ti­fully com­ple­mented by the wild veg­e­ta­tion sur­round­ing it. Even more ar­rest­ing is the large Shin to shrine of Us a-jingu, an or­nately carved vi­sion of bright red beams with golden ac­cents. It is the main shrine of some 40,000 in Ja­pan ded­i­cated to war­rior god Hachi­man. Near the sum­mit of Fu­tago-san (721 m)int he cen­tre of the penin­sula, not only will you find the Fu­tago-ji tem­ple, dat­ing from 718, but lush for­est sand idyl­lic streams that make per­fect hik­ing scenery. No visit to the Ku n is aki Penin­sula is com­plete with­out see­ing Ku­mano Ma­gaibutsu – two Heian-pe­riod Budd ha car v ings in a cliff face by a for­est river, and some of the largest Bud­dhist images of this type in Ja­pan.

Un­wind in the present

Many of Oita’s cen­tur ies-old trad itions are a live and wel l to­day, not least the cu lture of on­sen. T he pre­fec­ture is recog nised through­out the countr y as the best on­sen spot, and for the most a l l-en­com­pass­ing ex per ience, it has to be the hi l ly cit y of Beppu. Here, steam r ises con­stantly from vents in the ground through­out the year, to the ex­tent that in the w in­ter, v isi­tors can en­joy the sight of the en­tire cit y shrouded in a warm cloud. Each of the cit y’s hot spr ings has its ow n charm, so it's worth sam­pling as many of them as you can. For a tru ly loca l on­sen ex per ience, head for the main Beppu On­sen, or for the most im­pres­sive natura l sur­round ings, choose K ank aiji. Ar­guably the most pas­tora l and rela x ing of them all is Shibasek i, sit­u­ated a long a moun­tain stream. Ta kegawara On­sen in centra l Beppu is housed in a quaint wooden struc­ture and is one of the cit y's most fa­mous at­trac­tions. If you’re feel­ing ad­ven­tur­ous, you can even tr y the sand bath here, which in­volves be­ing bur ied up to your neck in heated sand, be­fore a d ip in the on­sen. A v isit to the gi­ant, bub­bling , clay-li ke mud baths of On­sen Hoyo Land will also leave you feel­ing suit­ably pam­pered and in­vig­o­rated.

Steam en­gulfs the city of Beppu. FAR LEFT Bud­dha car vings on the cliffs of Ku­mano. LEFT The sun rises over Oita

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP Tran­quil Lake Kin­rin in Yu­fuin; mist rises in the Yu­fuin basin; one of Beppu's many gar­den pools

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