Bicycle touring Oita Prefecture, the north: Hita, Nakatsu, Usa, Beppu

A continuous surprise during our tour in Japan was just how good the riding is.  I went to South Korea expecting great riding and found great food.  I went to Japan expecting great food and found great riding.

IMG_20191023_093938 by bryandkeith on flickr

The start of our convoluted route through Oita Prefecture was downhill through rice paddies to the pottery village of Onta.

IMG_20191023_123341 by bryandkeith on flickr

We spent that night at a park in Hita, happy to have shelter from the rain.  Hita is one of many towns in Japan known as a “Little Kyoto”.  Indeed the downtown Mameda-machi Historic District has some well-preserved buildings and picturesque store fronts.

IMG_20191024_110720 by bryandkeith on flickr

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We used the rain as an excuse to spend our second night in Hita at a ryokan, certainly one of the highlights of our five weeks in Kyushu.  The woman in the center of this photo was our personal guide for our time at Satsuki Inn.

IMG_20191025_111713 by bryandkeith on flickr

She showed us around, explained how everything worked, and served us dinner and breakfast.

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Dinner was a multi-course feast, the highlight of the highlight.

IMG_20191024_184223_1 by bryandkeith on flickr

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Breakfast wasn’t bad either.

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Just as we lucked out with the fantastic riding between Soeda and Hita, we stumbled upon the Maple Yaba Cycling Road for our descent into Nakatsu via Yabakei.  It’s an old railroad grade.

IMG_20191025_155307 by bryandkeith on flickr

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In Nakatsu we made a beeline for the castle and ended up spending the day with Takazaki.

IMG_20191026_113751 by bryandkeith on flickr

Takazaki gave us a great tour of Nakatsu by bryandkeith on flickr

Takazaki is a volunteer (?) tour guide, giving English-speaking tourists free tours of Nakatsu.  The first thing he did for two hungry cyclists was treat us to our first sushi in Japan, a kaiten sushi lunch.  That’s where the sushi comes around on a conveyor belt, and you take the plates you want.

Not only did Takazaki give us a tour of Nakatsu, he also took us out for the first sushi of our trip. by bryandkeith on flickr

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In addition to its castle and temple district:

IMG_20191026_142143 by bryandkeith on flickr

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Nakatsu is famous for being the birthplace of Yukichi Fukuzawa, a prominent figure who helped usher in the Meiji Restoration, essentially the start of modern Japan.  Of course everyone knows what Yukichi Fukuzawa looks like because he’s on the 10,000 yen note.

IMG_20191101_142501 by bryandkeith on flickr

At a nearby cafe we tasted cookies made in the shape of Yukichi Fukuzawa’s childhood home.

A cookie in the shape of Yukichi Fukuzawa's former residence by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191026_144501 by bryandkeith on flickr

Thank you, Takazaki (aka Monkey) for a great day in Nakatsu.

We hadn’t even been riding five minutes from Takazaki and Nakatsu’s castle when we came across this street parade/performance:

IMG_20191026_163021 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191026_163155 by bryandkeith on flickr

It certainly helped to be flexible in Japan so we could enjoy unexpected fun experiences like our day in Nakatsu.

The following day on our way to Usa we came across these three old women who were excited to see foreign cyclists in their village.  We couldn’t leave before they gave us the gourd that Ferda’s holding in this photo.

IMG_20191027_104055 by bryandkeith on flickr

What a strange gift, we thought, but then we came across the same gourds at the Usa Jingu Shrine, the main reason tourists come to Usa.

IMG_20191027_120900 by bryandkeith on flickr

Like a week earlier in Dazaifu it was Sunday when we visited Usa Jingu.  We enjoyed seeing the Japanese out making wishes and celebrating their children.

IMG_20191027_120611 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191027_121211 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191027_120407 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191027_123811 by bryandkeith on flickr

Of course one shouldn’t visit Usa without seeing the Statue of Liberty.

The statue of liberty in usa by bryandkeith on flickr

Ferda’s favorite temple in all of Japan was peaceful Fujiki Temple on the Kunisaki Peninsula.

IMG_20191028_093416 by bryandkeith on flickr

Nearby is some good scenery (Tashibunoshou Osaki Important Cultural Landscape) and ~1000 year old carved stone Buddhas (Kumano Magaibutsu).

IMG_20191028_120516 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191028_140520 by bryandkeith on flickr

At the temple adjacent to the stone Buddhas a happy, young, chicken-kebab-loving nun used some prayer books to help Ferda wish for good luck.

This monk is helpng Ferda pray. by bryandkeith on flickr

At first it didn’t seem to work as the campground we were aiming for that evening turned out to be closed.  However, quite nearby we found this great park, a comfortable place to spend the night.

IMG_20191029_071302 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next day we were very excited to get to Beppu, Oita’s biggest tourist draw.  It’s an onsen (hot springs) resort city.  We climbed about 850m (over 18km) through pretty scenery to get to our first hot springs, Tsukahara, only to learn that you can’t use soap or shampoo there because they don’t want to contaminate the water.  We bailed, and thankfully it was almost all downhill to Yunosato Onsen, one of Beppu’s more famous hot springs.

IMG_20191029_095545 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191029_151722 by bryandkeith on flickr

They use the steam from the hot springs to cook eggs and corn.

Eggs cooking on the steam that comes out from the hot springs. by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191029_150656 by bryandkeith on flickr

We ate quite a few eggs after our soak since the onsite restaurant closed at 3:30, not opened at 3:30 as we originally understood.  Communication difficulties were definitely common in Japan.

Tourists come to Beppu to soak and see the steam rising up through the old part of the city.  It’s about as exciting as this:

IMG_20191029_170409 by bryandkeith on flickr

The most exciting thing we did in Beppu was soak in a foot bath with these very enthusiastic young women.  They played some music, and we did some exercises together with our feet in the hot water.

IMG_20191030_121828 by bryandkeith on flickr

We worked up an appetite cycling to Oita’s eponymous prefectural capital city, hoping to find a kaiten sushi place.  What luck!  With the help of a Japanese woman who lives in the UK we found Sushi Meijin where all-you-can-eat lunch cost 1100 yen/person, the best food bargain during our five weeks in Kyushu.  In 70 minutes (that’s the time limit) we ate bowls of noodles with vegetables, two orders of shabu shabu pork, one order of thicker pork, 6 plates of sushi with 4 orders on each plate (2 pieces per order), an order of fried chicken (three pieces), and ice cream.  Yikes, we rolled ourselves out of Oita.

IMG_20191030_135659 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191028_131710 by bryandkeith on flickr

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4 Responses to Bicycle touring Oita Prefecture, the north: Hita, Nakatsu, Usa, Beppu

  1. have just found your very informative journal/blog.
    We’ll be doing our first tour to South Korea and japan this year.
    Into Seoul and out of Sapporro. 4 months.

    Have been debating taking a cooker along, but see you’ve taken one. Was it easy to get fuel for it? Petrol , white gas, or kerosene?

    Wish you were on crazyguyonabike


    • Bryan Keith says:

      Hi Fred,

      The stove I used takes petrol. Gas stations are, of course, easy to find, but they were sometimes reluctant to fill a one-liter bottle (Japan was easier than Korea). We always managed, however. I liked being able to cook at camp and eat lunch out.

      Four months sounds kind of fast. Honshu is really big, and there’s a lot to see. I took one month to cycle from Tokyo to Nara via Matsumoto, Takayama (Shirikawago), Kanazawa, and Kyoto. All those places are great. After cycling on both Honshu and Kyushu, I’d recommend concentrating on Honshu. Aomori is supposed to be very nice. That will probably be my next trip to Japan. I’ve only skied, not cycled, in Hokkaido (also on this blog). I don’t think the cycling there would so interesting.


  2. Yeh 4 months may be too short but we usually do 6-7000km in that time.
    We’re considering taking a ferry if we run short of time.
    Also if the weather gets too hot we’d go north sooner.

    We tend to just enjoy the countryside/ride and the food. Much of the cultural stuff escapes us as we don’t understand much of it.

    Will take a good look at the areas you mention. I thought Hokkaido was the mecca for cycling.
    We’ll also be doing mostly camping

    Thanks for getting back

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Ah, well, you move faster than I do — seems like everyone does. 🙂

      I like the cultural stuff, but, like I said, Japan has nice landscapes, good rural riding, and easy camping. You’ll definitely want a stove if you plan on camping (well I would). Hokkaido has far less Japanese culture and tradition than the rest of the Japan because the Japanese haven’t been there so long. It seems like it might be mostly coastal riding with volcano views, but I don’t really know. We only traveled by rental car in the winter there.

      The Noto Peninsula could be interesting for you (I haven’t been there). It should nice rural coastal scenery. Gifu and Nagano prefectures are both full of beautiful mountains (I have ridden in both prefectures). We had pleasant riding weather there in April though some passes, especially closer to the Sea of Japan, were still closed because of snow.

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