Kunisaki Peninsula, the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Oita Prefecture is its reputation as a hot spring destination. The prefecture has the most hot spring sources and the largest flow of hot spring water in the country, enough for it to be branded the «onsen prefecture». But today, my focus is not on hot springs, but on an oft-overlooked part of the prefecture, the Kunisaki Peninsula (Kunisaki Hanto).
Kunisaki is located in the north of the prefecture, sticking out into the sea. The peninsula is also where Oita Airport is located, making it the first port of entry for those who arrive by plane and an easy choice for those who want to explore the road less traveled. Mountains make up the interior, and farmland can be found on the low-lying land towards the coast. The two cities of Kunisaki and Bungo-Takada make up most of the peninsula.
Is home to a unique local Buddhist culture, called «Rokugo Manzan», which contains elements of Buddhism, Shinto and mountain worship.
An interesting fact about the Rokugo Manzan temples is that since they combine Buddhism and Shinto beliefs, their lower halls typically feature Buddhist statues, while Shinto gods are often enshrined in their upper halls. 2018 will be the 1300th anniversary of the Rokugo Manzan culture, and the temples and shrines on the peninsula are gearing up to celebrate the religion’s long history.
Intrigued about the Rokugo Manzan culture, I wanted to check out the locations and activities that were central to the religion. Tourist offices are some of the best places to get local information, and I stopped by the ones in Kunisaki and Bungo-Takada cities before setting off to explore.
The Kunisaki Tourist Information office at the Kunisaki Cycling Terminal not far from Oita Airport and the Bungo-Takada Tourist Information office at Showa no Machi near the Bungo-Takada Bus Terminal provide English assistance as well as English maps and brochures.
The flight from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Oita Airport took about 100 minutes, and it wasn’t long before I found myself on the trail of some amazingly old temples and hiking routes.
Ridge Long Trail
The Kunisaki Peninsula Ridge Long Trail is a 137 kilometer long hiking route that more or less follows the Rokugo Manzan mountain worship trail that connects the major temples and shrines on the peninsula. Walking the entire trail would take at least a week, but I only managed to walk some parts of the route because I was a little short on time this trip. I’m already looking forward to the next time when I can go back to attempt a longer hike.
On my first day, I visited the three temples of Futagoji, Iwatoji and Monjusenji. All three temples are connected by the trail and each have Nio guardians at their entrances. Their inner sanctuaries (okunoin) tend to be built into cliffs, as is common in the mountain worship practice.
Futagoji Temple has a history of 1300 years and is located near the peak of Mount Futago. The highest mountain in the middle of the Kunisaki Peninsula. Iwatoji Temple features the oldest Niomon statues on the peninsula, while Monjusenji Temple is one of the region’s oldest temples.
The next day, I bid the Tanakas farewell and hit the road again. Heading first to Ofudo Iwaya, a cave up in a cliff which offers a good view of the valley and forest below.
From there I headed to the Kyu-Sentoji ruins, where you could see the remains of the former temple’s foundations and the still standing Niomon guardians.
The Fudosan Teahouse, a public rest house, is located further up from the Kyu-Sentoji ruins. From where you could walk further up towards the top of the mountain.
With my head full of Buddhist history and my belly full from breakfast, I left for Tashibu no Sho. A village where the rice fields remain as they have been for over a thousand years. Unlike the newer farmland with its rectangular rice fields, the fields here come in many different shapes. I also visited a couple of small cliff temples and a cave temple in the area.