Significance of the Buddhas
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 Buddhas
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 1 - A group of 20 statues.
● Hoki 2 - A group of 12 statues.
● Sannouzan - 3 statues, consisting of a taller Buddha accompanied by two smaller statues.
● Fuku-Zono - 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.
Annual 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 6pm, 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.
Getting to the Buddhas
From Beppu: Take a JR Nippo Line local train from Beppu City to Usuki Station. The ride takes an hour and costs 940 yen.
From Oita City: Board either a local or limited express train from Oita Station, getting off at Usuki Station. The limited express takes 45 minutes and costs 1800 yen.
From Usuki Station, there are occasional buses which go to Usuki Sekibutsu bus stop, from where one can see the Buddhas. It is also possible to hire a taxi. While the festival is going on, there will be a shuttle bus available which runs between the station and the Buddhas.