Mysterious Kunisaki Peninsula, Oita Prefecture, Kyushu
The Kunisaki Peninsula in Oita is one of those rare regions in Japan that is untouched. It is a place of misty mountains and valleys, old forests, rivers and, excuse my French, a crap load of temples.
For a visitor to the region, its remoteness is a blessing but also a burden. On one side it is fantastic to travel around without the worry of encountering a thousand other tourists. You can enjoy the serene and peaceful beauty of Kunisaki for what it is. The downside is that if you don’t have your own transportation it is a little difficult to get around. Not difficult in terms of being a physical hard slog, but the infrequent transport services may add time to your schedule.
The Kunisaki Peninsula is basically a huge pilgrimage. It is also known as Rokugo Manzan (six districts). These six districts are divided into three groups with each having a theme; to learn, to train and to mission. The temples quickly became a place for monks to learn and study.
Kunisaki’s temples and shrines are unique as it is a mix of Tendai Buddhism and Shinto. A Buddhist monk named Ninmon founded the first of 28 temples back in the 8th century. During the Heian Period Usa Jingu is thought to be have built between 708 to 715, worshipping the powerful Hachiman deity god, who is said to be the 12th Emperor, Ojin. Usa jingu’s influence spread throughout the peninsula quickly. In the 12th century a further 37 temples were built. This now totalled 65 temples within the Kunisaki Peninsula. The Kunisaki pilgrimage, for those of you who want to expand your spirituality, numbers 33 temples.
The most popular temple is by far is Futago-ji located right in the middle of the Kunisaki region. The famous twin Nio statues welcome visitors, Ungyo on the left and Angyo on the right. Futago in English means twin, so the twin theme is most prevalent throughout the temple complex. Walking around the temple is amazing. The smell of the mountain air, mysterious walking tracks that lead to small shrines and just how green the trees and plants are is incredible. Makes you really wonder how people could make a place like this so long ago.
My wife and I stayed the night at Baien no Sato ryokan which was fantastic. Located on a hillside with a great view of the countryside we enjoyed out Kaiseki dinner with seasonal vegetables and of course a lovely onsen bath. The next day was going to be long heading south to Kitsuki and Hiji then back to Fukuoka. I hope to return and explore Kunisaki even more.
Photos and text by Stuart