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Monday, July 15, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 12 Oita to Bungo Ono

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 12, Thursday 21st February Oita to Bungo Ono

The next leg of the pilgrimage is to two temples in Bungo Ono, about 35 kilometers inland from Oita City. 35km is certainly doable, though with a full pack and the short winter day it may be a bit of a stretch, so I decide to leave my pack in my cheap hotel room, walk there and take a train back. Next day I can take the first train back out and walk from there back to the coast at Usuki.

With no pack the first few hours I stride along and try to get through the urban sprawl of Oita City as fast as I can. By 9am I reach the banks of the Ono River which I need to follow up into the high country. As with many rivers in Japan, one bank has a major road and the other a narrower, quieter one and finally I am free of the traffic. Maybe one vehicle every ten minutes passes by.

Ono River, Oita River, Kyushu


I reach Inukai, a one street village bypassed by the main road on the other side of the river it is almost a ghost town. It has a train station, but only about 20% of its commercial establishments appear to be operating. Just past Inukai I reach the main road, and now I have to make a decision. I have three choices of route. The shortest will take me over the high ground to the north of the river.

The simplest would be to take the main road to the south of the river. I elect to follow the middle way, along the river, figuring it will be the prettiest. I realized I had made the right decision when, after a short walk, I came to a small sign pointing up a side road to the Inukai Stone Buddhas, a small set of cliff carvings. It was a steep 500 meters, but well worth it as the main carving was not a Buddha at all, but Fudo Myo, my favorite Buddhist deity!

So I'm feeling pleased with myself as I walk along the quiet road above the river until I reach a sign that explains why not a single vehicle has passed by...... the road is closed!! Usually in situations like this I just ignore the sign and hope that even though cars can't get through I will be able to. Last November while walking around the Kunisaki Peninsula I ignored a road closed sign and then 2 hours later came to a 15 meter high wall of rocks, mud, and trees blocking the road.

Fortunately I was able to scramble over, and I trust to my luck again. Turns out the narrow road is simply blocked by construction equipment doing some repairs. I continue on for a few more kilometers and then its time to climb up from the riverbank and find the first temple. Its temple 96, one of the 20 "extra" temples on top of the 88.

Kenryu-ji is quite a large and pleasant rural temple with well manicured bushes lining the stairway up to it. From here I head directly south to the town of Mie which appears on the map as the administrative center of Bungo Ono City. I get into town as the sun dips behind the mountains and so must find an extra burst of energy to reach the next temple about 3km out of town. It turns out to be a really interesting place.

Yakushi Nyorai, Renjo-ji Temple


Outside the main temple grounds of Renjo-ji is an old, long hall guarded by Nio, and inside more than 1,000 small statues of Yakushi Nyorai, known as the healing Buddha. Even more interesting is the possibility that this may be the first temple in Japan.

Official history says that Buddhism was introduced to the Yamato rulers by the King of Paekche, but this ignores the fact that Kyushu and western Japan has always had interactions with the Asian mainland outside of and separate from those of the rulers in far off central Japan.

According to the local legend a local man, Manano Choja, invited a Buddhist priest over from Paekche. Manano had a beautiful daughter who was chosen to be a concubine of a Yamato prince. Unfortunately she died on the sea journey to Yamato.

The prince later became Emperor Yomei, and the official first temple in Japan, Asuka dera, wasn't built until after Yomei's death, so its perfectly possible for the claim to be the first temple in Japan to be correct.

I personally like it when mainstream history is challenged by the periphery, so I was really pleased to have found this place, but the sun had set and I needed to get back to town to catch a train back to Oita.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 11

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