My first trip to somewhere other than Beppu when I got to my placement was a city called Usuki, located about an hour to the east of Beppu. Usuki is an old castle town, and has some lovely traditional stone-paved streets still, near the old castle. It is also home to some amazing stone Buddhas, statues carved directly into the stone face of cliffs many many years ago. To celebrate these stone Buddhas, every year around the end of August, the city holds a festival in which they light thousands of torches, lanterns and bonfires around the rice fields and near the stone buddhas themselves. It was for this that a group of us JET Programme participants in Oita prefecture gathered.
We started off with a barbecue in the beautiful grounds of Usuki Castle, which are on top of a hill, giving great views of the surrounding city. Because of being higher up, it was a little windy, but it was a wonderful spot to spend an afternoon. We even toasted marshmallows over the grill~
After the barbecue, I went to explore the streets of Usuki with a few other people. Despite the wind while we were having the barbecue, it was actually a pretty hot day, so our group had at least two ice creams while we wandered around! We walked down the old streets and even managed to find a hidden away temple, tended by a friendly monk and some nice elderly ladies. This temple, called Houenji, also has its own lantern festival in early-mid November. It also has some awesome ema (wooden tablets you write wishes on and hang up on the premises, pictured below).
After writing our wishes and hanging up our ema it was time to head over to where the festival would be starting. It felt a little out in the middle of nowhere (fortunately I got driven there, I wouldn’t’ve known how to get there by public transport), and was mostly rice fields, but the stone buddha statues were amazing, and the rice fields made for some nice scenery. Unfortunately my phone camera is no good at taking photos in dark light, so I don’t have any good photos of when all the lanterns were lit, but I got some of the general area. There were lots of lanterns donated by various businesses or places in different towns and cities nearby (I even found one from Beppu).
I’d definitely recommend paying a visit to Usuki, it’s got some nature, it’s got some really cool landmarks and it feels quieter than a big city so you can relax and spend a chill day wandering around~
Hopefully I’ll be able to go back sometime soon~