Usuki – A Hidden Gem In Japan

Sometimes in life, it does us wonders to go on the unbeaten path and far away from the maddening crowd. The place where William Adams, the character in James Clavell’s Shogun stepped first foot in Japan.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference”

It was famed poet Robert Frost who was behind these poignant yet insightful words. Hence, those who are planning to travel to Japan, should not just be restricted to the bustling metropolises and explore the little towns and villages that are rife with history and give you a real taste of the exotic Far East.

The castle town of Usuki may not be famous as Tokyo among international travelers, but that does not mean it doesn’t deserve a visit. Located in the southeastern part of Oita, on the coast, one can catch a flight to the Oita Airport and then make their journey by road, which lasts approximately one hour. Those who want to see the Japanese countryside can also catch a train from Oita to Usuki Station – a Limited Express on the JR Main Nippo Line. Because accommodation choices are limited and  since you will not find five star hotels here, you can stay at the Goshima Ryokan Bed & Breakfast. Comfortable, clean and spacious, the owners will extend the famous Asian hospitality to all their guests and the location is also conveniently situated.

Usuki is most famous for its Buddha statues, which are believed to be carved during the 12th century, and consist of four groups of stone Buddhas. Being carved into rock faces of the hillsides or from freestanding rocks, not only are these the biggest Buddha statues in Japan, but have also made their way to the list of National Treasures of Japan. Once you take in the grandeur of the statues, head over to Nioza, which is located to the southwest of the Usuki Castle. Walk along the trendy street, which is flanked with white walls and stonewalls and make sure to take home a picture of the fine stone pavement of the “Nioza Historical Street”, the place where a Dutch ship called Liefde drifted ashore some 400 years ago.

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Usuki is best explored on foot or cycle and one can also grab free cycles at the Usuki train station. Every nook and corner is oozing with history, so we recommend you make a stopover at a local fugu restaurant and enjoy the fish that is known to be almost dangerous to cook. Well, not the case in Usuki. This is the spot where fugu is grown by farmers using the advances made in aquaculture which allow isolation from the dangerous bacteria that causes the “river pig” and is the reason why the fish is known to be so poisonous. For a truly yummy epicurean adventure dine at the “Eight” – ふぐ八丁 (on Google maps here) and don’t be afraid to experiment. This little restaurant gem scores higher on the local japanese dining guide, than the top restaurant listed in Tripadvisor, called Yamadaya.

Those seeking to escape from the maddening din and getting in touch with their spiritual side should visit Usuki. The quaint stoned roads, the striking Buddhist statues, the fascinating history is something no traveler can resist and which everyone should experience.