Hita, set in deep countryside in the west of Oita, is at the centre of northern Kyushu. Serving as the shogun’s most important stronghold on the island, roads fanned out in all directions allowing the rapid transmission of information and dispatch of military forces to suppress any dissent. Today, Mameda-machi, the old town centre, with its ranks of period buildings retains a strong resemblance to the days when the samurai held sway. Today, the streets are frequented by visitors who come to soak up the atmosphere and relax, enjoying the many restaurants, cafes, boutique shops selling traditional and modern crafts, and the Kuncho sakagura brewery, which produces one of Oita’s top-class sakes.

A short distance away lies the site of the Kangien school founded in 1805 by Hirose Tanso, a neo-Confucian scholar. Admission was based on academic merit rather than family status; a radical concept directly contrary to the prevailing samurai morals of the day. Nearly 5,000 students studied here over the 80 years of its existence and many went on to pay important roles in Japan’s society and body politic. Today, Enshiro, a small traditional Japanese building dating from 1817, remains. In this delightful space was housed a library and study. A museum close by relates the story of Kangien and Hirose Tanso.

Today, Hita is a pleasant regional city serving Oita’s rural forested heartland, which produces some of Japan’s highest quality cedar wood. Not surprisingly, this features in many local crafts including furniture, geta clogs, masu square sake cups, and as a construction material, which is used abundantly in the interestingly designed Patria Cultural Center.

Lined up aside Hita’s main river, the Mikuma-gawa, are modern ryokan inns, all with grand views over the river and onsen hot spring baths. Every evening throughout most of the year, the inns’ traditional yakatabune boats carry guests out onto the Mikuma-gawa for the views, to watch the ukai cormorant fishing, and enjoy dinner onboard.

Hita is known for its yakisoba fired noodle dishes, and, unusually a whisky museum, which houses a private collection of related paraphernalia and a bar dedicated to the spirit.

Hita, Oita, Japan

At a glance

An elegant and historic town surrounded by verdant countryside.

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