It’s ten-past six on a gorgeous morning in Oita, Japan, and as I watch the sun rise from the Oasis Tower Hotel, I can’t help but reminisce on my three days of incredible experiences in a place that, just weeks before, was nowhere near the top of my travel bucket list. One of my favorite parts about covering Rugby is the locations these events take place in, and while the name “Oita” doesn’t carry the luster of places like Los Angeles or Barbados at first glance, I’ve quickly discovered that just because you’ve never heard of a place doesn’t mean it can’t change your life forever And Oita has done just that.
So let me tell you everything you need to know about OITA, Japan, a 2019 Rugby World Cup Destination….
In Fall 2019, the Rugby World Cup takes center stage in Oita, and I am here to tell you that you need to be here. Oita is what’s called a “prefecture” (which is better known as a “state” for those of us in America), and this beautiful spot on southern Japan’s Kyushu Island is a brilliant host location for the 2019 epicenter of the Rugby universe. From September 20th through November 2nd , all eyes will be turned towards the crucial matches held at various locations throughout Japan, and at least for the prefecture of Oita, there is an absolute treasure trove of destinations and attractions for you to experience that will keep you as entertained as the Rugby itself.
For obvious reasons, I’ll begin by listing what every Rugby fan wants to know: who will be playing, when, and where during the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
I’ll continue after that with Oita’s attractions, dining, scenery, culture, and travel tips guaranteed to peek your interest.
RUGBY WORLD CUP MATCHES IN OR NEAR OITA, JAPAN
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: you aren’t going to find any destination where only your favorite team plays. There are 12 match venues and the teams rotate through the venues. If your primary focus is to see your favorite team, you will most likely want to find a centrally-located lodging option to give you access to the most matches.
There are 3 Pool Play matches and 2 Quarter Final “Knock Out” round matches right in Oita. ESPN has already made some early predictions on who will advance to the Quarter Finals, and if they are right, in QF1 we will see England vs. Wales and in QF3 we will see Australia vs. France. For us Americans, we’re hoping the U.S. finds a way to get to Oita in the QFs. If not, the U.S. will still be close-by during pool play:
USA POOL PLAY MATCHES (travel times from Oita):
September 26th: vs. England – Kobe Misaki Stadium (57 minute plane ride)
October 2nd: vs. France – Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium (2 hour bus or 1 1/2 hour car ride)
October 9th: vs. Argentina – Kumaguya Rugby Stadium (1 1/2 hour plane ride)
October 13th: vs. Tonga – Hanazona Rugby Stadium (55 minute plane ride)
There are also two other venues close to Oita. Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium is the closest and Kumamoto Stadium would be the next. Here are the schedules for the other two venues nearby:
If you’re bound and determined to take in as much rugby as is humanly possible, you’re in luck—only two matches occur simultaneously, so you hardcore fans could potentially watch nine of the ten Rugby World Cup matches in the Oita area. All that said, you can check out this article about the 2019 World Cup as well for more info related to the matches.
Let’s talk quickly about…
Here is my serious stadium entrance 🙂
As one of the three retractable domes available for 2019 Rugby World Cup, Oita Bank Dome is guaranteed to keep you either basking in the sunshine or dry during the rain. Hosting marquee events since it opened in 2001, the “Big Eye” (as it’s nicknamed) can hold up to 40,000 people and is the perfect blend of being up-close to the action while providing the big-game atmosphere. For most, it’s known as the home of the Oita Trinita, a professional soccer team, but in 2019, Rugby will be all over the pitch. Construction is actually going on right now to make sure the pitch is in tip-top shape as we approach the World Cup, and the Big Eye promises to deliver a top-notch viewing experience for Rugby fans.
I also want to mention I visited Beppu Jissouji Multi Purpose Ground, which is a potential Rugby World Cup practice ground in the Oita area. I greatly enjoyed my time on the pitch and was very impressed with the up keep of it.
ATTRACTIONS (Oita City, Beppu City, Yufu City)
Now, if you’re going to be in Japan for seven weeks (or even just one), you’re going to want to know where to go when you’re not watching Rugby. In the Oita prefecture, there are three incredible cities that stand out in particular, and I’ll list them here in the order that I think most of you would enjoy them.
MT. TAKASAKI MONKEY PARK (Oita City)
Speaking personally, this place would be hard to top… and I don’t just mean in Japan. Monkey Park is located in Oita City up on Takasaki Mountain, and on your way there, you walk across a really neat bridge that showcases a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and other nearby mountains and valleys. And lucky for us, this view will definitely be enhanced during the Rugby World Cup, which takes place right in the middle of Oita’s fall season. You could probably stand there and waste half your day just posting to Instagram. (Be prepared to have #anxiety #photoproblems from having way too much to choose from to post.)
Once you get across the bridge, Monkey Paradise is just a short crane ride away.
Japanese Macaques Monkeys will be EVERYWHERE. No, that is not an exaggeration. Monkeys will be on the side of the mountain, running through your legs, near your side, climbing on various little building huts, ropes, and more. Sounds kind of freaky right?
It’s okay, though– you really have nothing to worry about. Our tour guide confirmed there are no horror stories about monkeys attacking humans. The monkeys don’t really care that you’re there, they are there because they choose to be there. The monkeys are free to go whenever they want, but they don’t. They stay close because they know there is food and they also know, once a day, they get a tasty sweet potato treat. Here’s a great video of them running wild after an employee wheeled in some sweet potatoes:
YUFUIN VILLAGE (Yufuin City)
I live in upstate New York where it’s stunningly beautiful during the fall, but my view from the train on the way to Yufuin Village made my hometown look completely sub-par. The mountains, peaks, and valleys are unbelievable. The greenery and colors on all of the trees are eye-popping. The architecture of all of the homes and buildings you pass along the way are flawless. Seriously, the ride alone is an attraction in itself. Make sure you take the JR train from Oita Station to Yufuin Station, and definitely get a window seat.
When you get to Yufuin village, you’ll know. It’s a small little village out in the middle of nowhere with breathtaking views, little places to eat, and SHOPPING. (My wife made sure I capitalized “SHOPPING.”)
I’ve included just a few of my favorite pictures below. There’s a beautiful clean-water hot spring with exotic fish and geese swimming around, and in the background of it all is Mount Yufu… if you see what I saw, there will be gorgeous colors painting the different hills and cliffs of the mountainside. (Our tour guide said it looks even better when the fog clears). And no, this picture is not photoshopped. The only thing that tops this mountain is my wife ;).
Speaking of views, the peaceful view outside our lunch window at Yunotakean was extremely cozy. The food was pretty amazing itself, but we’ll talk more about that in the food section below.
By the way, we met a Sumo Wrestler!!! Say what??!! Yeah, it was awesome.
Last but not least, there is plenty of shopping to go around. Most of the stores are filled with homemade trinkets. The originality in each design is super cool. You can tell each item was crafted by someone with a lot of talent who put in a lot of time making it. This is definitely a place you want to check out.
CITY SPA TENKU – Indoor Hot Spring (Oita City)
UMI-JIGOKU – SEA HELL – Outdoor Hot Spring (Beppu City)
Hot springs (better known as “onsens”) are extremely popular in Japan. No, it’s not like a spa– it’s like an onsen and it’s much better. Onsens have been a part of Japanese culture for thousands of years. The water is rich in minerals, and because of Japan’s volcanic activity, the water is naturally heated, even to the point of some being too hot to go in. Onsens also benefit your skin greatly, helping with inflammation, fatigue, digestive issues, muscle pain (of course), and even healing some diseases.
We went to Umi Jigoki – Sea Hell first which was an outside onsen. This specific onsen is not one you enter– the water is over 200 degrees due to the nearby volcano. In fact, a lot of the Beppu area constantly has smoke coming from the ground from the volcanic region it sits on. It is a fascinating and unique sight to experience. I was blown away by the whole Beppu city landscape, and had a great view of it at the Yukimuri Observatory. You can see Mariya, (our amazing tour guide and translator) and myself next to the onsen here and see a photo from Yukimouri Observatory below:
Later that day, we went to City Spa which is an indoor onsen. Well, it was kind of indoors…
See, we went to one of the tallest buildings in the area and sat in an onsen on the rooftop. The view was breathtaking. There you are, just a few steps from the edge of the building, watching the waterfall-type flow slip gently over the top ledge of the pool. You can wave your hand in the sky as if you were touching all of the buildings out in Oita. If you go at night the whole skyline is lit up, but either way, the view is unbeatable. If you are looking to relax, this is where you go.
Disclaimer: I had to hide my tattoos because they are frowned upon in most of Japan. I ended up buying some icy hot patches and putting them over my tats :).
- If you are into Art, check out the Oita Prefectural Art Museum. I heard they have a giant Rugby ball there 🙂 (Oita City)
- If you like sea animals, check out Umitamago Aquarium (Oita City). This aquarium is actually right across from the Monkey Park if you are looking to double down on your fun for the day in the same location.
- If you like Theater, and want to experience a live show check out Nogakudo (Oita City). The beautiful venue is said to perform some of the oldest performing arts in the world
- If you are interested in Japan History, check out the Funai Castle. The Samurai Castle was built in the 1600s to keep the “enemy” out. The massive structure is a great example of Rugby defense. In Rugby, specifically in 7s, you build a wall, hoping to prevent the opponent from getting a try. Do I look like a Samurai?
FOOD (Oita City, Beppu City, Yufu City)
When I got to Japan I was absolutely craving sushi, but by the time I left there was plenty more on the menu that excited my taste buds. Japan has a wide selection of great food, especially in the seafood department. And as a major bonus for us foodies, the majority of Japan’s food is extremely healthy. Menu items aren’t jammed with preservatives, sugar, and glucose like most of the food in America. If you need evidence, just look around at all the people in Japan. Besides sumo wrestlers of course, everyone is very lean. Right here is where you will taste some of the best food in the world. Check out some of my favorite spots below:
YUNOTAKEAN (Yufu City)
“Perfect spot for lunch”
Like most traditional Japanese restaurants, you will get soup and salad before your meal. The broth is much cleaner than the Japanese soups in America. As for the main courses, they are always dressed to perfection. Japan holds the way the food is presented to a very high standard… it needs to taste good and look good. I had the unaju, which is a freshwater eel grilled fillet-style. Fresh water eel is also commonly known as unagi, which is my favorite type of fish. My wife, on the other hand, had a steak… and boy, did it taste good. (There was no way she was getting steak without me trying some of it.) The spices were mixed together perfectly for a very clean, zesty taste. And for dessert? Some of the best sherbert I’ve ever had. Click here to see the steak sizzle!
YAMADAYA (Oita City)
“We ate poisonous fish for dinner”
It’s not everyday you eat poisonous fish, but in Japan, it can happen. The puffer fish contains tetrodotoxin, which is a deadly poison– 1,200 times stronger than cyanide. Despite how dangerous it is, in Japan, cooks can get a license to cook puffer fish. It truly is a fish “to die for” :). I felt pretty intrigued to try this poisonous fish but had no idea I’d be trying it in many different ways. We started off eating it sashimi style. From there, the sashimi was cooked into a stew with various other vegetables. Lastly, everything was then turned into a porich. Talk about saving the best for last– the porich was the best soup-style food I ever had in my life. If you get puffer fish, make sure you ask for it porich-style.
Desert was pretty amazing as well. The perfect portion of a sweet treat.
KOTSU KOTSU AN (Oita City)
For you Rugby folks, this Japanese pub is perfect. This little side street dive has all the sushi you can eat and is a nice spot to just relax and have a brew. I was very pleased to go to Kotsu Kotsu An as it fell at the perfect time I needed a beer. If you are looking to let loose, eat, and drink, this is your spot. We loaded up on tons of different types of stew, sushi, tempura, and more. And of course, a nice brew.
One thing I really enjoyed was the hip/relaxed vibe the place gave off. Everyone was just hanging out and having a great time.
COME SEE FOR YOURSELF
My three days in Oita went way too fast. I really don’t want to leave this area yet, the city, or even my hotel. I’ve gotten to see, do, and taste so much new stuff that treated me to so many cool experiences that Oita is definitely the new standard against which future trips will be measured. And I’m already counting the days to the 2019 World Cup–both to see rugby at its absolute best and also to return to Oita! The World Cup is definitely going to be in good hands in 2019, from satisfying the most hardcore rugby fans who take in every match to the more leisurely travelers who want to experience the area.
The World Cup itself should be reason enough for you to come here. And after you do, Oita itself will be reason enough to come back.