Usuki’s grand temples hints at the power it once held and wealth it accumulated in the Edo Period, when the samurai ruled the land. Today, it is a compact and quiet town of stone-paved streets, lined by a number of traditional buildings, that are pleasant to stroll around.
Travel on the railways and highways of Oita is usually through verdant, forested mountains or occasionally cityscapes. However, the scenery changes in dramatic fashion at Tsukumi, where the hillsides have been dug, gouged, and scraped into gaping voids surrounded by towering cliffs of bare, grey rock.
Although Kunisaki, in the north of Oita Prefecture, has by far the greatest number of stone buddhas found anywhere in Japan, Usuki also has its fair share including an image of Dainichi Nyorai, which is considered to be the finest example of its type in Japan.
Fugu blowfish is a peculiarly Japanese delicacy known as much for its delicious taste as its potential deadly side effects if prepared by the unqualified chef. Usuki, with nearly 20 speciality restaurants, ranks as a major destination for lovers of fugu.
A satellite marine-life of Oita’s highly regarded Umitamago Aquarium, Tsukumi Iruka-jima specialises in dolphins, which live in the semi-wild here. Their performances wow the crowds and there are also opportunities to swim with them.
The Tour de Saiki is a annual bicycle event held each October from blue seas via pristine river courses to verdant mountains and back again. Began in 1990, each year 2,000 amateur cycle fans test their mettle on either a 190km, 162km, 102km, 75km, or 40km circuit.
A number of shipyards are found in the south of Oita around Usuki and Saiki. Although the yards are not normally open to the public, a ship launch is a cause to celebrate and access is often given on these occasions.
Hotojima, an island off Tsukumi, is an outlier both geographically and culturally when compared to the rest of Oita, even Japan, making it an intriguing place to visit. Usually, however, there are not many visitors amongst the passengers aboard the ferry to the island from Tsukumi harbour.