24 Aug 2018 in Discover Japan
Discover the historical treasures of this surprising coastal town in Kyushu.
It’s one of Kyushu’s best-kept secrets – and its samurai past and magnificent stone Buddhas make it well worth the hour-and-a-half drive from Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso.
Back in the 16th century, Usuki was a samurai stronghold, dominated by a hilltop castle and ruled over by the powerful Inaba family.
Visit today and you can climb up to the ruined castle walls, complete with moat and reconstructed gate and guard tower. Admiring the dramatic views over the bay, it’s not hard to imagine how the castle was perfectly positioned to defend against enemy attack.
From the castle, wander down into the old town to admire former samurai residences (bushiki). The most impressive is the grandiose vacation home of the Inaba family, built in cypress wood and set in a pristine garden.
From here, it’s a short walk to the Nioza Historical Road, a narrow stone-paved alley that takes you straight back to the Edo Period, with grand houses, temples and pagodas aplenty.
The real highlight of Usuki is a couple of miles out of town.
It’s here that around 60 Buddha statues have been carved into the cliff face from the soft volcanic rock of Mt. Aso.
Spread over 4 areas, the sculptures are thought to be around 1,000 years old. They’re also Japan’s biggest collection of sekibutsu (Stone Buddhas). And, unsurprisingly, they have been designated a National Treasure.