The Mysterious Stone Buddhas of Usuki in Oita, Japan

Usuki is a small town located near the East coast of Oita Prefecture. It is famous for the enigmatic stone Buddhas located five kilometers outside the town. Usuki also boasts a samurai district, which retains an Edo-period castle town atmosphere. Along the stone-paved, shop-lined streets, some of the former samurai houses are open for tourists to visit.

Significance of the Stone Buddhas in Usuki

In Japan, most statues of Buddha are carved from wood or metal. Ones made from stone are notably more rare. After extensive restoration work, which was completed in 1994, 59 of the carvings were labeled as National Treasures of Japan. Two more statues were added to the list in March 2017. They are the only stone Buddhas to have received this honor.

While the history of as well as reason behind the existence of these statues is unclear, it is believed that they were carved between the 12th to 14th centuries. Some of the stone Buddhas are carved directly into the cliffs above the town; others are crafted from soft, volcanic rock taken from the nearby Mount Aso.

Visiting the Usuki Stone Buddhas

The Mysterious Stone Buddhas of Usuki in Oita, Japan

The Buddhas are grouped in four locations, which are each a short walk from each other. The entire circuit takes around 30 minutes to complete along a paved path.

  • Hoki 1st Cluster : A group of 20 statues. 
  • Hoki 2nd Cluster : A group of 12 statues.
  • SAN-NO-SAN-SEKIBUTSU : 3 statues, consisting of a taller Buddha accompanied by two smaller statues.
  • FURUZONO-SEKIBUTSU : 13 statues. The main statue’s head had fallen off at some point, and was reattached during the restoration period.

Additionally, in another part of the complex, one can see a temple, a selection of stone Buddhas carved from individual rocks, and statues depicting the master priests who carved some of the Buddhas. There is also a Lotus Field as well as a Well of Beauty located nearby.

National Treasure Usuki Stone Buddha Fire Festival 

Every year there is a festival in honor of the stone Buddhas. It is held on the last Saturday of August. Starting at 18:00, torches are lit next to the stone Buddhas. At night, there will be a celebration, consisting of an Obon-style dance, which is free for anyone to join. To find it, just follow the sound of the music! Dancers move around a group of musicians playing traditional Japanese instruments. In case of rain, the festival moves to the following day.

During the festival, the field located beneath the stone Buddhas fills with flaming torches. When seen from the top of the hill upon which the Buddhas are located, the field looks like a sky filled with flickering stars.

How to Get to the Usuki Stone Buddhas

If you visit Usuki stone buddhas, take Nippo Outbound Express Train from JR Beppu station for 40 minutes or from JR Oita Station for 30 minutes, getting off at JR Usuki Station. From JR Usuki Station, there is transit bus which go to Usuki Stone Buddhas bus stop. It is also possible to hire a taxi. 

Spot Information

  • Spot name: Usuki Stone Buddhas
  • Address: 804-1 Oaza Fukata, Usuki City, Oita Prefecture 875-0064
  • Opening Hours: Open year round (April–September: 6:00 –19:00, October–March: 6:00 – 18:00)
  • Admission fee: Adult s(Ages 15 & over): 540 yen, Children (Ages 6-14): 260 yen
  • Access:  JR Beppu station/ JR Oita Station→[Nippo Outbound Express Train] 40 minutes / 30 minutes →JR Usuki Station → [bus]20 minutes → Usuki Stone Buddhas bus stop

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