Summer in Northern Kyushu Part 5: Usuki Samurai District

Sunday, September 25, 2016

It’s been 2 months since I stepped off the plane that took me back home from the fascinating land that is famous for high-speed bullet trains, futuristic architecture, towering skyscrapers and quirky pop culture. It could be any country in Asia or Europe but the one that I’ve been to is one that I can’t stop obsessing over: Japan! :)
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the stone buddha outside Usuki Station
On the 4th day of my summer adventure in Northern Kyushu, I decided to do a spontaneous trip to Usuki, a former castle town located on the east coast of Ōita Prefecture, Japan. Sarah, my Japanese dorm mate I met the previous night, highly recommended a day visit in Usuki. I can still remember how excited she was when she was telling me about the former Nioza Historical Road, the famous Stone Buddhas (Usuki Sekibutsu) and the Lotus Flower festival. She said it would be a great opportunity for me to see the lotus flowers, which are in bloom from mid-July to mid-August.
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the historic city of Usuki is one of those rare magical places on earth where you can still see how the Japanese feudal community looked like hundreds of years ago
I did not know anything about Usuki prior to my arrival in Japan, so I was hesitant to go for a brief moment. It only took an hour of research before I went to sleep when I finally decided to go. Woohoo! I love solo travel! :) One of the advantages of solo travelling is you are definitely more flexible with time. You are free to change your plans whenever you want to, without explanations or disappointing anyone. I cannot imagine I would fall in love with solo travel haha.
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It was amazing to see old Japanese houses still being used by current locals
And so, I woke up very early that day, went to Beppu Station and grabbed two onigiris for breakfast at Family Mart before I boarded the train going to Oita Station. From there, I took a train going to Usuki. It was only an hour by local train (or around 30 minutes by Limited express trains), which goes into the Oita mountains, until I reached my destination. I almost freaked out when I woke up from a nap and found myself alone in the train! We passed by some unmanned trains stations, it was scary! Haha. Good thing, I downloaded an English train map and saw that we are almost at Usuki Station. 

Travel tip: Local trains to Usuki are not covered by JR Northern Kyushu Rail Pass but covered by JR Pass or JR Kyushu Rail Pass (All Kyushu Area Pass). If you are a Northern Kyushu Rail Pass holder, take a train to Oita Station which the pass covers. Then buy a train ticket to Usuki which costs 740 yen one way.
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I was unsure if this was a private property or not. I decided to climb up the stairs and check out the Japanese cemetery.
I arrived at Usuki Station at 10:00 AM and I went to Usuki Tourist Centre located just beside the station. They do not have any English speaking representatives but I managed to get a map and to ask about the bus schedule for Stone Buddhas (Usuki Sekibutsu). My Japanese dorm mate also told me that Usuki City provides free bikes for tourists. I did some sign language so that the Ojisan would understand what I am requesting. Haha. He gave me a bike and an Usuki pamphlet. He also told me, in Japanese,  to come back at 12 noon to catch the bus going to the Stone Buddhas. Thank God I did learn some Japanese phrases before this trip!
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This Obasan was at the cemetery before I arrived. "Konnichiwa!" she greeted me, grinning. Such a friendly Obasan :) She might be wondering what a stranger's doing in a cemetery lol!
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I am always fascinated with Japanese graves and cemeteries. They are different from what we are used to in the Philippines. A typical Japanese grave usually have a stone monument with a place for flowers, a place for incense, a chamber or crypt underneath for the ashes, and a bunch of other strange things that I never really understood.  
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this looked like a tradtional Japanese watchtower - I am quite unsure haha
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the empty Hacho Oji Shopping street
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stone tablet outside the former Shinkoji Temple
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traditional Japanese houses at Nioza Historical Road
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the lovely Nioza Historical Road - reminds me of those Taiga Dramas I've seen online :) Japanese Historical dramas FTW!
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Even though there's a museum and a few old temples and shrines in Usuki, for me the main attraction here was the town itself and the descendants of the townspeople who had been continually inhabiting these traditional houses for centuries
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look how lovely it was!
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According to the Uskuki Pamphlet I got that day, roughly 40 hectares of Central Usuki have been set aside for historical preservation, and about 70 building are designated landmarks. 
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the imposing Usuki Castle Ruins
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 the wooden torii gate outside the castle ruins - I wasn't sure if there was a Shinto Shrine inside because I did not enter the castle grounds.
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entrance to Usuki Castle
I went back to Usuki Station just in time for the bus going to the Stone Buddhas. So, that’s all for now. I will create another blog post for the Stone Buddhas, so please do stay tuned for that! The post will be up in a few days :) Have a beautiful week ahead my dear readers!


Check out my other Northern Kyushu posts right here:

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