Oita Airport, sited on the east coast of the Kunisaki Peninsula, is an ideal example of its kind; compact and pleasantly designed for quick and easy passenger use. ANA, JAL, Solarseed, Jetstar and ABEX provide services from here to Tokyo’s Haneda and Narita Airports, Osaka’s Itami Airport and Nagoya’s Chubu International Airport. Regular and charter international flights are also available to Seoul and Taichung. Express buses link to most of the prefecture’s major cities and towns in the region including Oita City, Beppu, Yufuin, Nakatsu and Saiki. A variety of car rental companies line the perimeter of the airport, and provide an ideal way to explore the width and breadth of Oita.
In recent years the Oita Airport has won a new starring role as Japan’s first Space Port. Virgin Orbit, the California-based small satellite launch company, will use it as Asia’s first horizontal launch site for commercial and government-built satellites. Modified 747 Jumbo Jets will make full use of airport’s 3,000 metre-long runway to carry Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rockets, slung under the fuselage with payloads of up to 500kg, to high altitude for air-launch into space. The inaugural launch is expected during 2022 and will bringing with it an exciting addition to Oita’s many attractions.
The airport facilities include a gift shop providing a large and comprehensive range of Oita-made products from foods and drinks, including some otherwise hard to find brands of local shochu, through to bags and crafts, including the intriguingly designed D’torso cardboard characters. Space-themed goods are now, not surprisingly, a prominent feature Five restaurants, which include a sushi counter and a ramen noodle shop, provide a wide choice of local delicacies, including toriten fried chicken and yaseuma dessert, for those awaiting departure. At arrivals, time waiting to meet someone can be away relaxing at an onsen hot spring footbath, enjoying a massage, or watching TV over a cup of coffee. The roof top viewing platform provides close up views across the airport apron, runway, aeroplanes being serviced, taxiing, taking off and landing, and Shikoku over the Seto Inland Sea.
Japan’s public transport system is the envy of most countries around the world. And rightly so as any journey is a pleasure – except perhaps during a crowded rush hour in one of Japan’s major cities. Its trains, buses and trams run almost like clockwork, are spotlessly clean and efficient. On local train or bus services in the provinces it is not unusual to end up chatting with fellow Japanese passengers. Anyone, a transport aficionado or not, will enjoy the experience.
JR Kyushu has taken the experience to a higher level in recent years by adding an additional emphasis on design, which has been led by Eji Mitooka one of Japan’s top designers. The railway company has introduced some of the most sleek and luxurious trains from humble commuter trains through to the Tsubame Shinkansen bullet train, which is decorated with traditional Japanese arts and crafts, to the Nantsu-boshi Seven Star Express, a beautifully detailed, sumptuous train in the tradition of the London to Venice-Simplon Express, Pretoria to Cape Town Blue Train, Adelaide to Darwin Ghan, Delhi to Mumbai Maharaja’s Express, and Banff to Vancouver Rocky Mountaineer.
JR Kyushu has won awards for its trains, including the high-speed, pendolino Limited Express Sonic, a white or blue train, that forms the backbone of transport to Oita Prefecture from Hakata Station in Fukuoka, Kyushu’s principal city. The classy Limited Express Yufuin-no-Mori train provides a much more leisurely and scenic journey from Fukuoka to Oita through the lush, green mountains of central Kyushu, terminating at the onsen hot spring resort of Yufuin. The Kyushu Odan Tokkyu train also takes another scenic journey from Beppu, the biggest hot spring town anywhere on the planet, to one of the largest calderas in the world at Aso in neighbouring Kumamoto Prefecture.
For a pampered, luxury journey both the Nantsu-boshi Seven Stars and Aru Ressha day-trip gourmet train make charter and excursion journeys around Kyushu including Oita.
If you plan to rent a vehicle during your stay, please refer to the Japan Automobile Association website for information on driving licence requirements and road safety rules in Japan.
Japan’s roads are generally well maintained, and outside of major conurbations, relatively easy to negotiate. Japanese drivers are mostly politely, considerate drivers and easy companions on the road. However, there are inevitably differences to the driving environments in other countries.
Important practicalities include the requirement for a valid International Driver’s Licence, which has to be obtained in your home country in advance, and the minimum age to drive is 18 years.
Drink-driving is absolutely prohibited and the penalties severe - no alcohol whatsoever, even a thimble full, can be drunk by a driver.
Vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road. Road signs and rules follow international standards. Destination signs on major and many minor roads are written in both Japanese characters and alphabetically.
Seat belts must always be worn by front seat passengers, and by those in the rear seats on the toll highways. Wearing them at all times is the preferred choice. Babies and younger children should be strapped into a child seat, which is appropriate for their size, or a booster seat for older children.
Generally, speed limits either 80 or 100 km/h on toll highways, 40 km/h in urban areas, 20 or 30 km/h on side streets, and 50 or 60 km/h elsewhere. You may find, however, that most drivers are driving slightly above these limits.
Penalties are levied for using mobile phones while driving and for driving too close to the vehicle in front.
Drivers found guilty of drunken, speeding or blatantly careless driving that results in death are subject to up to 15 years in prison.
Vehicles must be brought to a complete stop at any stop sign and before passing over a railway crossing. Turns at red lights are forbidden unless specifically indicated by an ancillary light.
Roads in Japan are free to use with the exception of highways and a small number of toll roads. Although road are generally well-maintained, some rural mountain roads may not be suitable for regular passenger vehicles. Side streets in the cities can be narrow and often made more difficult to pass along because of telegraph poles intruding into the road.
Japanese drivers are overwhelmingly well-mannered and civilized and the use of horns is very uncommon. Signs of thanks include a nodding of the head, wave of the hand, and the brief use of hazard lights.
Some problems worth being aware of especially in more common in rural areas include drivers pulling over suddenly to answer their mobile phone and parking on blind corners while on the phone; braking for no apparent reason only to then suddenly turn with or without the last minute use of indicator; and sometimes the lack of use of head and tail lights in tunnels.
Many rural roads do not have a pavement and may be poorly lit at night rendering pedestrians less visible than is ideal. Cyclists are uncommon in rural areas but in urban areas they will sometimes cycle into the flow of traffic.
In general, the time of year has little effect on road conditions. However, extra care needs to be taken when driving in the depths of winter in inland mountainous regions and on days of heavy mid-summer rains.
Unsurprisingly, fuel stations are found all across Japan. Most will close overnight but any urban area will have at least one 24-hour service station.
Filling up at a manned station requires a few words to help the process.
While the tank is being filled the attendant may provide you with a damp cloth to wipe down your dash and also ask to take away any rubbish you may have.
Credit cards are widely accepted at most service stations. When paying by cash at self-service stations change is sometimes returned at a separate machine. However, an attendant should be on hand to assist if needed.
Although public transport, both trains and buses, is an effective way of travelling to Oita, driving is the best way of exploring beyond Oita’s major cities and larger towns. Note that an International Driving Permit is required by overseas visitors to drive in Japan and will be needed to rent a car.
Car rental is available in the vicinity of major railway stations and at Oita Airport, where a plethora of companies compete for custom. These include:
For travellers arriving at Oita Airport with their own cycle, immediately across the road from the arrivals hall, is the Oita Cycle Hub, which provides cubicles to change and a sheltered area to assemble bikes. Pumps and other tools are available for loan at the information centre within the terminal building if needed, as is a takkyubin baggage service. The latter is one of Japan’s great services allowing luggage to be sent on, usually overnight, to the destination of your choice anywhere in Japan. An excellent way to lighten the load and take maximum enjoyment from the journey.
Besides the onbe at the airport, Oita Cycle Hubs are also found in great number across the prefecture.
If you have not brought your own bicycle with you, rental cycles are available on short-term hire at many sites throughout Oita, including Yabakei, Tsukahara near Yufuin, Nagayu Onsen, Himeshima and Innai. Oita Cycle Share is a public bicycle hire scheme, similar to those found in many cities around the world, and available in Oita City and Beppu.
Japan is a largely mountainous country. As a general rule, the backroads are more hilly but mostly more scenic. Also, and not surprisingly, tunnels are very common, especially on modern main roads. These can be long, noisy with heavy traffic and not the pleasantest environment to navigate on a bicycle. The older, original roads usually remain passable and are recommended for passage.
Given the hilly nature of Japan, bicycles fitted with low gear ratios and disc brakes are recommended.
When travelling on trains bicycles must be disassembled into a compact size and completely covered within a bike bag.
Most cycling by the locals in Japan is short trips around town and riders usually use, if there is one, the pavement/sidewalk. Cyclists are much less common on Japan’s roads than is the case in many other countries around the world. Consequently, car drivers are usually less familiar with them and, while drivers are careful, due care should be taken.
The choice of rental cycles varies from place to place but can include mamchari sit-up-and-beg cycles, tandems and cross-bikes. Electric-assist are increasingly available. Not all rental sites provide bikes for children under the age of 12.