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. Of particular note is the traditional Inaba Family samurai house, which has a delightful Japanese garden, and the pagoda at Ryugen-ji temple. An old store house, which has been refurbished with a frieze of Portuguese tiles, alludes to the local samurai warlord Otomo Sorin and his welcoming of the Jesuits to his domain in the 16th Century. In 1578, under their influence Otomo Sorin was christened in Usuki taking the name Dom Francisco.

One of Japan’s most famed female novelist, Nogami Yaeko, was born and raised in Usuki. A museum to her memory is housed in the old buildings of a sake brewery her family once owned. Nearby, is the elegant and traditional buildings and gardens of the Inaba Shimo-yashiki mansion. The mansion was the local residence of the Inaba family after the end of feudal rule in 1868. The Inaba’s ruled their domain from Usuki Castle, which had been built in 1556 by Otomo Sorin on a low hill dominating the town. No original structures now exist but the old castle grounds are now a park offering pleasant surroundings and views across the harbour, which was once an important trading point for the Portuguese in the 16th Century, and out to sea.

Located aside the Inaba mansion is the Conce Shimo-yashiki, which sells local artisanal goods. Close by, on the main street in the middle of town, is the Noumin Farmer’s Café, which serves delicious vegetarian meals made from locally-grown, organic produce. In the same area are a number of speciality restaurants, which serve Fugu blowfish.

Aside the main street is a small quarter that seems to be in repose during the day with little in the way of life or passersby. However, come evening all changes as, like flowers blossoming at night, lights come on in the many restaurants and bars found here and customers, locals and visitors alike, descend on the area strolling from establishment to establishment lining the area’s narrow streets.

Usuki is known for miso fermented bean paste and shoyu soy sauce. The products are common in Japanese cuisine but not usually found in ice cream, which is available in a number of shops in the town centre.

The city’s festivals include Cherry Blossom in the Castle Park in early April, the Gion Festival in mid-July, and Takeyoi, when 20,000 bamboo lanterns adorn the city’s historic centre on the first weekend in November.

Usuki, Oita, Japan

At a glance

An historic castle town with connections to the Portuguese, Dutch and British that stretch back over 400 hundred years.

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