Visiting Kunisaki peninsula on the northeastern coast of Oita Prefecture is like stepping back in time. It’s the home of Rokugo Manzan, a distinctive form of mountain asceticism that seamlessly blends Buddhism and Shinto. Kunisaki’s dynamic landscape of craggy rocks, deep forests and scattered stone-carved Buddhist statues are just a fraction of what this timeless region has to offer.
Get in Touch with Your Spirituality at Futago-ji
On the way to the top of Kunisaki’s highest peak, Mount Futago, lies Futago-ji Temple, the head temple of the Rokugo Manzan belief. Ninmon, who was believed to be an incarnation of Shinto deity Usa Hachiman, established the temple 1,300 years ago. The giant cedars lining the uneven steps at the entrance offer shade and shelter from the outside world, while the scowling stone Nio statues guard the entrance. The grounds are vast and can take hours to fully explore – those with a sense of adventure can hike to the peak of Mount Futago for a stunning view all the way out to the Seto Inland Sea. Temples offering zen meditation experiences include Futago-ji, Sempuku-ji and Monjusen-ji. Reservations required.
Hike the Kunisaki Peninsula Minemichi Long Trail
The Kunisaki Peninsula Minemichi Long Trail is a 137km-long mountain trail that takes you through the dense forests and craggy mountains of the peninsula. The route is based on a traditional Rokugo Manzan pilgrimage that was a part of ascetic monk training in the area and was started by Ninmon. Temple priests in the region still make decennial pilgrimages along the trail, but it is most frequented by adventurous hikers. Shorter paths along the Minemichi Trail, like the one to the natural cave Ofudo Iwaya, are perfect for a brisk walk in unspoiled natural surroundings.
Stroll Down Gallery Street in Kunimi
A center of arts, craftsmanship and design, Kunimi’s Gallery Street offers an impressive array of pottery, paintings, textiles and other goods, all made by a small community of local and relocated artists in the area. For a one-stop overview of the art made in the area, head to Touinryou, a shop housed in a three-story traditional home and boasting a traditional craft of its own: fusuma (sliding door) mounting. Lucky visitors will be able to see the mother and son creative team, Konomi and Keisuke Wada, at work inside. For ¥200, guests can roam the house to view works on display or take a seat at the café and try the famous takomeshi, an octopus-adorned rice dish.
Take a Sip of Award-winning Sake at Kayashima Sake Brewing Co., Ltd
Founded in 1873, Kayashima Sake Brewing Co., Ltd has dedicated almost 150 years to creating consistently great sake. Its flagship brand, Nishi no Seki (meaning Western sumo champion), has won numerous awards throughout its long history. The fifth generation company president, Susumu Kayashima, holds on to the tradition of brewing sake made to suit the food it’s served with – not the other way around. Visitors are welcome to book a tour of the brewery and its nostalgic buildings, and can drop by the onsite sake shop to have a closer look at the wares.
More info at www.nishinoseki.com/en
Stay the Night Surrounded by History and Tradition
Traditional inn Kaikisou’s origins hark back to the late Taisho period and its main building remains well preserved with unique architectural features that represent the romantic nature of the era. For a taste of rural life, stay with locals at one of Kunisaki’s numerous farm lodgings. Enhance your experience and connect with your hosts by accompanying them in their daily routine.
More info at www.visit-kunisaki.com
Photographs by David Jaskiewicz