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Experience Preserved Japanese History in Usuki City
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Located on the East Coast of Oita Prefecture on Japan’s Kyushu Island, Usuki is a city with a rich history of both religious and cultural importance, the evidence of which, can still be seen to this very day.
First-time visitors will feel like they have stepped back in time as they navigate the former castle town’s narrow winding streets and traditional buildings. The area is most famous for its Sekibutsu, a collection stone Buddhas which date back over 1,000 years, however, there’s lots to explore in Usuki, including an ancient craft that has seen a resurgence in recent years.
The Usuki Sekibutsu
The Usuki Sekibutsu are a set of carved Buddhist statues that date back to the late Heian Period and are the only stone Buddhas in Japan to be designated as National Treasures.
There are around 60 ancient statues here, which can be found in four clusters, all close to each other and easily accessible on foot via a pathway. Along the route, a number of conveniently placed signboards with QR codes can be found, which visitors can scan to learn more about the Sekibutsu.
The route takes around 30 minutes to complete, however, the beauty of the surrounding forest and the tranquil stillness of the area might make you want to stay longer!
You would be forgiven for thinking the Usuki Sekibutsu lie deep in the mountains, however, they are only around a 15-minute drive from the city center.
804-1 Fukata, Usuki, Oita 875-0064
Usuki’s Pottery Industry
Although the Sekibutsu are Usuki’s most famous sight, there is another type of stoneware that has particular relevance to the area, its pottery industry. ‘Usuki-yaki’ is an indigenous style of pottery production that became popular during the Edo period over 200 years ago.
Unfortunately, the ‘Usuki-yaki’ pottery faded into obscurity over the years, however a company is now once again developing both ceramic and earthenware Usuki-yaki based on the scarce historical records that still remain regarding the original art form.
Many of the staff at Usukiyaki’s Sarayama workshop are local to the area where the industry would have thrived during the days of their ancestors.
A popular design is a floral shaped, white porcelain series known as ‘Rinca’. The clay used for the earthenware at Usukiyaki is obtained from a tiling workshop that sits on the original site of the Edo-era pottery production, located in Usuki’s Suehiro district.
Usukiyaki’s fine works can be purchased online via their website. If you are in the area, the company also owns a cafe close by the workshop where delicious sweets and teas can be enjoyed on locally made utensils and cutlery.
9-3 Kakidaki, Usuki, Oita 875-0073
The Samurai District
Another side to Usuki’s history is its feudal past, which is very apparent within the city’s Samurai district and in particular the Nioza Historic Road, a 200-meter winding lane which includes a number of temples and Edo-period, samurai residences. The area has managed to avoid modern redevelopment and looks nearly identical as it would have during the Edo period. Running parallel to Nioza Road, you will find ‘Haccho Oji Market’, a street which is lined with quaint stores selling local snacks, crafts and kimonos.
Highlights in and around the Samurai District include the Inaba and Marumo residences, actual Samurai houses that are open for the public to explore, the former of which belonged to the Inaba clan, the feudal lords of Usuki during the Edo period.
192-6 Usuki, Oita 875-0041
To complete the experience of stepping back into the area’s past, a trip to Usuki City would not be complete without a visit to remains of its former castle, built by the Christian feudal lord Otomo Sorin in 1562 and then rebuilt in the 17th century by local artisans.
If you’re planning to visit Usuki to experience its unique, antiquated aspects of Japanese culture, we highly recommend doing so during one of its major festivals to make your trip extra special.
Their schedules are as follows:
Early April: The Cherry Blossom Festival in the Castle Park.
Mid-July: The Gion Festival which features parades and giant floats.
End of August: The Fire Festival which features 1,000 burning torches at the Usuki Sekibutsu.
Early November: The Takeyoi Festival which features 20,000 bamboo lanterns.
Accessing Usuki takes around 50 minutes from Beppu and 40 minutes from Oita City by car. If you are taking public transport, a direct train from Oita Station to Usuki Station takes around 45 minutes.
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