Translated by Jasmine Nishino
Discover The History And Nature Of Hita, Oita Prefecture
Written by MATCHA-PR
With hot springs, history and nature, Oita is the perfect spot for international visitors to discover Japan. Let us introduce you to Hita city and its local culture within the region of Oita.
Oita, also known as Japan's number one hot springs prefecture, is a popular tourist spot. This time, we will feature Hita city and its unique charm within Oita.
Hita formerly flourished as a tenryō (an area under the control of the central government) and has become a city with a rich culture. With a lengthy history, you can witness old Japan through many of the historical houses, along with traditional customs and festivities that are still practiced by the citizens today.
The city is located within a valley surrounded by mountains, creating a rich, natural environment. High quality wood found in the surrounding mountains is one of the city's special products. Using these cedar trees as a source, geta (traditional wooden sandals) and other wooden crafts became popular in Hita.
The "Hometown of Water", a City of Clear Streams
Photo courtesy of the Institute of Hita City Tourist Association
Photo courtesy of the Institute of Hita City Tourist Association
Hita is also known as the "hometown of water". The clear waters of the Mikuma River flow through the center of the city and in the small streams between the valleys, you can find rainbow trout, masu salmon and other fresh water fish swimming.
From the clean and abundant water source, the city also grows plenty of delicious agricultural products and rice. That is also probably why there are also many shōchu (Japanese hard liquor), beer and sake breweries here as well.
Photo courtesy of: Institute of Hita City Tourist Association
Mikuma River is well known for its yakatabune or houseboats, which are small boats with an indoor space where you can eat and drink. In Hita city, there is a ryokan (Japanese inn) that has their own yakatabune. If you make reservations for the yakatabune during your stay, you will be able to relax and enjoy dinner on the boat.
After sundown on a summer day, you can certainly feel the charm of the city through the scenic view of the yakatabune boats floating on the Mikuma River.
The Remnants of the Shōgun Era in Mamedamachi
If you would like to take a step back in the time when Hita city was still a tenryō, visiting Mamedamachi is recommended.
In the Edo period, Hita city was under the direct control of the bakufu(*1) and the shōgun. Many people in the city were businessmen who handled the taxes of the various shohan (*2), and were called kakeya. Mamedamachi was an area where many of these merchants' shops and houses were gathered.
(*1) bakufu: The military government lead by the shōgun that ruled Japan during the Edo era.
(*2) shohan: Regional feudal lords that unified the areas that were not part of the bakufu government ruled over provinces called han (藩). Shohan is the commonly used name.
Mamedamachi still retains many of its old buildings and architectural features; a great number of which have been converted into souvenir shops, Japanese confectionery shops and cafes.
Clay bells that have a soothing tone called "dorei" (土鈴).
Cute dolls that are painted with lacquer.
While enjoying the views of the town, why not go search for traditional crafts such as the dorei bells or lacquer dolls for souvenirs?
The geta sandals made of wood are not only traditional Japanese shoes but are also a specialty of Hita. In Mamedamachi, you can learn more about these shoes at the Tenryō Hita Hakimono Shiryōkan or Tenryō Hita Shoe Museum.
In the museum, you are able to purchase geta that are made in Hita city. You can also see various collections of geta that were gathered from all over Japan on display. There are even huge geta that look as if they were made for giants.
A traditional Japanese holiday, Hina Matsuri, is a festival held annually in March as an occasion for people to pray for the good health and future of girls. During the 1970-1980's in Mamedamachi, each family put their Hina dolls that had been passed down for generations on public display. That event became known throughout the nation and due to that, every mid-February until the end of March, the Tenryō Hita Ohina Matsuri festival held yearly. Besides those times, at the Hita shōyu (Hita Soy Sauce Shop), you will be able to witness a marvelous display of Hina dolls all year round.
Here, you will also find many shops and facilities that carry Japanese confectionery, soy sauce and sake varieties, showing you the richness of the local culture.
Overlooking the Open Hot Springs: Amagase Onsen
Also known as the "hot spring prefecture", Oita is practically filled with hot springs, and within Hita city, you can find the Amagase onsen that is as equally popular as the Beppu and Yufuin hot springs are.
Amagase is a hot springs town that lies on both banks of the pure Kusu river. With an abundance of hot water, when you dig into the gravel on the sides of the river, hot water begins to spring out.
One of the best parts of the Amagase hot springs is the refreshing open-air bath.
Along the Kusu River, there are plenty of public open-air baths set up that were simply made by digging up the riverside. Indulge in the wonderful open-air baths of Amagase while gazing at the beautiful views of Kusu River as you relax side-by-side with the locals. Facility usage fee is 100 yen per person.
*Please note that the public open-air baths are mixed baths and only a low fence is set.
Of course, there are other baths aside from public ones. There are plenty of lovely hot spring inns and hotels all over.
For instance, this is a local hot springs inn called Ukiha Bekkan Shinshiyō, which is a refined inn surrounded by beautiful hydrangeas.
Aside from the large indoor bath, there are four open-air baths and you can comfortably bathe while being surrounded by hydrangeas and the vast nature of Amagase.
From the private open-air baths, you may be able to see some fireflies flying around during the early summer season.
Simple Ceramics Made Using Traditional Methods: Onta-yaki Ware
Northern of Hita, near the borders of Fukuoka and Oita prefectures, you will find a small neighborhood called Onta.
In the Onta area, traditional ceramics known as Onta-yaki (Onta ware) are made. They are rather plain in design, but have a warm, earthy feel and can be used for every day purposes.
The manufactures of Onta ware continue to use traditional methods that haven't changed for nearly 300 years. Electric machinery isn't used at all! This method using solely the power of man and nature is rarely found in Japan now. Here, they use the flow of the river, a mortar that polishes the clay, and a pottery wheel that spins by being kicked, to form the ceramics.
The sounds produced by the mortar polishing the clay have been nominated as one of "Japan's Top 100 Scenic Sounds" by the Ministry of the Environment.
Onta ware is limited to 10 pottery studios and at each workshop, traditional methods are passed down to apprentices. Due to this very reason, Onta ware is not suited for mass production. At each pottery, each craftsmen puts their heart into every piece of Onta ware that is made.
Why not visit the home of the Onta ware to understand the "charm of unchanging things"?
Splendid and Dazzling: the Floats of Hita Gion
The festival that tells the glorious history of Hita city is the Hita Gion.
Decorated with glorious dolls, the Hita Gion is a festival where ornamented floats called dashi travel around the town. The pull carts can weigh up to four tons! Aside from the days of the festival, they are put on display at the Hita Gion Yamahoko Kaikan or Hita Gion Festival Float Museum.
The Addicting Texture of the Local Cuisine: Hita Yakisoba Noodles
So far we have introduced the culture, nature and the streets of the historical city of Hita.
In Hita, aside from the city's rich history, there are newer additions to the culture that has been made in the past few decades. One of the featured additions is Hita Yakisoba. We would like to introduce this local dish that can be found at the popular restaurant Miku.
The main feature is the "toasted color" on the surface of the noodles. On the other hand, the vegetables such as the bean sprouts have been cooked so slightly that there is a light crispness to them. The noodles have a toasty sort of crispness, while the vegetables have a fresh crispness; the harmony of textures is what makes Hita yakisoba so wonderful.
Hita city is close to Fukuoka prefecture which is known for its tonkotsu (pork bone broth) rāmen. Hita yakisoba has definitely been influenced by rāmen culture. Here, slightly thicker noodles made of the same ingredients as rāmen noodles are used, and a bowl of tonkotsu soup is served on the side.
This is a recommended dish for the fans of tonkotsu rāmen!
From the Edo era until today, the common people are what made Hita city great, and their lives and livelihood in turn have crafted the current culture of Hita. For the Japanese, this city may feel nostalgic, and for visitors from overseas, they will be able feel "This is Japan!". That was the impression Hita city left us with.
It is easily accessible from Fukuoka airport that is the hub airport of the Kyushu region. If you plan on visiting Oita or the Kyushu area, please come and visit Hita city.