Kitsuki is a compact, quiet and genteel town that still retains the atmosphere it once had as samurai stronghold. The kitadai samurai quarter is reached via a flight of old flagstone, steps starting from aside a traditional shop selling miso, fermented bean paste. At the top of the steps is Ohara-tei, a marvellously well-preserved, thatched building with a traditional garden that was once home to the family of a senior retainer of the local daimyo warlord. A peak inside provides a wonderful opportunity to appreciate life in the Edo Period (1603-1868) when the samurai were at their apogee.

From here a path, lined with traditional mud walls, leads past other period buildings towards the castle. Set on a cliff overlooking the mouth of a river flowing into the Inland Sea it was reputedly the smallest in Japan but must have been one of the prettiest. Although this is a concrete reconstruction, like so many castle in Japan, it does not detract from its location.

Kimono are available for rental and many a visitor to the town can be seen strolling the lanes and paths. At many cafes and shops discounts are available for anyone clad in traditional garb and Retro-kan, near the castle, is a lovely place to relax over a coffee surrounded by the owner’s fabulous collection of 20th Century Japanese bric-a-brac. Also, dressed in a kimono is the stylish way to enjoy a performance of Japanese theatre at Shuraku-kan in the centre of town. Across the road, the Tomaya tea emporium, is little changed from the days when it was built in 1875. Loose leaf and macha powdered tea along with accoutrements for the tea ceremony line the interior of this picturesque shop. Shopkeeper seems a most inappropriate term for the mistress of Tomoya who, often dressed in kimono, brings an elegance and refinement that would not be out of place in the most traditional Kyoto establishment.

Kitsuki is a haven for oyster lovers, which are served up in huts overlooking the sea. Other local delicacies include Ureshino, a dish of sea bream over rice with green tea, and the hearty and filling Chicken Nanban Sandwich.

Fans of beach life and sea enjoy the facilities at Sumiyoshi-hama, a large, forested sand spar that has been turned into an attractive centre for surfboarding and stand up paddling (SUP). It also encompasses the usual attractions of beaches including swimming and beach volleyball.

Japan, Oita, 杵築市

At a glance

Once the strong hold of a samurai clan closely associated with the ruling shogun, this old seaside castle town retains a pleasant air of its past.

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