A Walk Around Kyushu Day 13, Friday 22nd February Bungo Ono to Usuki
The sun is not yet up but the sky is light as I catch the first train out of Oita. Instead of going all the way to where I ended my walk yesterday I get off one station before, a small place called Sugao. I've read that nearby are some more examples of stone Buddhas.
I find them about 2km from the station on the other side of a line of hills. Like all the others I've seen they are carved into an overhanging cliff face, but these have much more paint remaining on their surfaces. A very deep, rich red seems to be the main color they were painted, with a golden ochre also in evidence. They must have been quite magnificent when they were first made.
I head back the way I cam from the station and passing an old school there are lots of elderly people out playing gateball. Originally based on croquet I was very surprised to learn how modern it is. It was invented in 1949 but didn't really become popular until the 1960's and 70's.
Gateball was made to be faster and more exciting than croquet and was aimed at young people, but its the old people of the countryside who play it most. Even remote hamlets will have a gateball court.
I cross the road and head over the next hills. Here I pass another obsessive sport of Japan.... a huge golf course and country club. From here its pretty much downhill all the way to the coast at Usuki. I take a little half kilometer detour to see a stone bridge that was marked on the roadside tourist map. Its actually quite impressive, having a single span of more than 30 meters.
It was built in 1824, and Kyushu is home to more than 90% of all the stone bridges in Japan, the influence, I believe, of the Chinese in Nagasaki. Back on the road I stop at a lay-by to get a drink from a vending machine. A delivery truck pulls in and the young driver asks where I am going. I tell him Usuki and he asks if I want a ride. I decline by telling him I'm on a walking pilgrimage. He tells me that when he was younger he hitch-hiked all over Japan. He buys me a drink from the machine. Osettai, gifts given to pilgrims, are commonplace on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, but much rarer on others. The kindness of strangers is always a gift far greater than any actual thing given.
The day is uneventful, the road is not so busy, and there are plenty of shrines to explore. By mid afternoon I am about 5km from Usuki and I reach the Usuki Stone Buddhas, dozens of cliff carvings in four sites close to each other. I believe they are the only stone Buddhas registered as National Treasures.
There is also an interesting temple and a hill top Hiyoshi Shrine which suggest to me that the ascetic Buddhist monks who made these carvings were connected to the Tendai sect. Leaving the Buddhas I soon reach the busy main road into Usuki. The last two kilometers are like a strip mall, lined with car dealerships, chain family restaurants, pachinko parlors, home and garden stores....... up on the mountain to my right is the next temple on the pilgrimage, but I decide to leave it until tomorrow when I am less tired.
When I finally reach the old town I am really weary and perturbed to discover that my hotel is at the opposite end of the town so I trudge along the old shopping street that looks as if it has seen better days. After resting up in my room and getting some energy back I take a sunset walk to the nearby port just as I big car ferry is pulling in. I didn't realize how close Kyushu and Shikoku get at this point.
A Walk Around Kyushu 12
Inside Track Japan For Kindle