Exploring The Hidden Treasures Of Kunisaki Peninsula | CoolJapan

The trails of Kunisaki Peninsula

The trails of Kunisaki Peninsula. (Photo from: Visit Oita)

Nestled in the remote and picturesque northeastern part of Oita Prefecture and a few kilometres away from the renowned Beppu onsen town, the Kunisaki Peninsula boasts extensive mountain trails and temples erected by yamabushi (mountain priests) that extend all the way to the peninsula’s coastal areas. Home to the majestic Mount Futago, the peninsula is also revered as the birthplace of the syncretic religious culture known as shinbutsu shugo, a fusion of both the Shinto and Buddhist religions. This article explores a few of the historic sights and majestic views that you can explore in and around the peninsula.

Usa Shrine: A Sacred Abode of Hachiman

Usa Shrine Kunisaki Peninsula Guide

Usa Shrine. (Photo from: Visit Oita)

At the very base of Kunisaki Peninsula is Usa Shrine, the main shrine out of over 40,000 in Japan that is dedicated to Hachiman, the Shinto god of archery and war. The shrine was one of the earliest sites of the formation of shinbutsu shugo, a syncretic form of Shinto and Buddhist worship. The shrine also heavily influenced the culture of the Kunisaki Peninsula and shaped the local mountain’s religious practices. The tradition of carrying a mikoshi, or a portable shrine, during festivals in Japan stemmed from a practice that first began at Usa Shrine in the year 749, where a mikoshi carrying Hachiman-jin, an ancient Shinto deity, was transported to Nara to oversee the construction of the Great Buddha at Todaiji Temple. Much of Usa Shrine’s grounds are now surrounded by lush forest greenery that contrasts with the gleaming vermilion sanctuaries, torii gates, and bridges — today, Usa Shrine is one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan.

Trekking through the peninsula: rokugo manzan, temples and unique monuments

Fukiji Temple Kunisaki Peninsula Guide

Fukiji Temple amidst crimson foliage. (Photo from: Visit Oita)

The spiritual legacy of the Kunisaki Peninsula is found in rokugo manzan, the peninsula’s distinct pilgrimage culture that encompasses a fusion of Shinto, Buddhist, folk and Taoist rituals. Legend has it that the monk Ninmon founded 28 temples on the peninsula in the early 8th century, which was followed by his disciples carving out trails connecting each temple site, with each trail demanding but also imbued with spiritual meaning. Among the temples, there are the Futagoji Temple, located near the peak of Mount Futago which has a rich history of more than 1300 years, and the Fukiji Temple, the oldest wooden structure existing in the Kyushu region that dates back to the late Heian period (794–1185).

Making these treks, one is also able to find peculiar stone carvings and markers that are found on cliffsides and roadsides. One prominent example is the two mammoth Kumano Magaibutsu Stone Buddhas, which span over six metres in height and were built to watch over the area since their creation in the late Heian Period.

Matama Coast: Blazing sunsets across tidal flats

Matama Coast Kunisaki Peninsula Guide

Sunset at Matama Coast. (Photo from: Visit Oita)

Lying on the western edge of Kunisaki Peninsula is Matama Coast, where the peninsula's volcanic origin created fascinating coastal formations. Matama Coast is one of the results of those formations, standing out as an unspoiled gem when its tidal flats appear during low tides to reflect the many facets of the setting sun, which has made it earn it a place in Japan’s 100 best sunset destinations. The summer season beckons visitors to enjoy swimming in its waters here too.

Around the peninsula: Tashibu-no-sho and Showa no Machi

Tashibu-no-sho and Showa no Machi

Tashibu-no-sho, with its lush rice paddy fields. (Photo from: Visit Oita)

Outside of trekking around the peninsula, there are a few other spots worth visiting. Step into Showa no Machi, a charming recreation of a 1950s Japanese town that’s popular among both tourists and locals and features quaint shops adorned with vintage signage. One can explore and purchase electrical goods, snacks, toys, and other items reminiscent of that era.

Another option to consider is Tashibu-no-sho, a picturesque district in Japan with stunning countryside. Once under the control of Usa Shrine, this area retains its ancient charm and captivates travellers with its unevenly shaped paddy fields, clusters of farmhouses and small temples that dot the landscape and are embraced by Kunisaki's rugged cliffs. Follow trails through bamboo groves to find statues of Asahi and Yuhi, Kannon Bodhisattvas, gazing protectively across the scenery.

Getting to Kunisaki Peninsula - A Journey Worth Exploring

The Kunisaki Peninsula is accessible by flights to Oita Airport from Tokyo's Haneda Airport or Osaka's Itami Airport, followed by a limousine bus to Hiji Station and a transfer to the Nippo Line to reach Usa or Kitsuki Station. While the main stations on the peninsula, Usa and Kitsuki, are accessible by bus and train and covered by the Japan Rail Pass, it's recommended to rent a car for convenient exploration of the remote and scenic region.

The Kunisaki Peninsula invites you to embark on a remarkable journey steeped in spirituality and ancient traditions. Uncover the mysteries of revered temples and immerse yourself in the stunning natural beauty that characterises this hidden treasure of northern Oita. A visit to this enchanting peninsula promises an authentic experience of premodern Japan, leaving you with unforgettable memories of a spiritual expedition like no other.