A small port town overlooking Beppu Bay, Hiji is renowned for its kote-e plasterwork and hilltop castle ruins. It’s home to a temple garden designed by the Japanese painter Sesshu, as well as a theme park dedicated to all things “Hello Kitty”.
Things to do
Explore the stone base and crumbling turret of Yokoku Castle, constructed in 1601 on the edge of Beppu Bay. It was built for Kinoshita Nobutoshi after being transferred from Himeji, but was later dismantled when his control was abolished in the early Meiji Period.
Hiji is renowned for the kote-e plaster reliefs that adorn many of its traditional buildings, with most attributed to Aoyagi Koichi and his son. This artistic form flourished in the Edo Period, with trowels used to create symbolic designs to ward off evil or bring good fortune and wealth to the occupants and shop owners.
One of the most famous attractions in Hiji is the Sanrio Harmonyland, a theme park based on the characters created by Sanrio. Enjoy the roller coasters and Ferris wheel, have your photo taken with Hello Kitty and watch one of the live shows featuring Cinamoroll and My Melody.
Visit the Sho'oku-ji Temple, which features a garden created by one of Japan’s most-loved painters, Sesshu Toyo. Wander through its Manyu Garden and marvel at the 650-year-old cycad, then admire the paintings and artefacts once belonging to Sesshu.
Oita Airport is a 30-minute drive from Hiji and Beppu lies 15 minutes’ drive away. Fukuoka can be reached in around 2.5 hours by train, while Hiji is small enough to explore on foot.