Japanese History in Stone Relief
Not far from lovely Harajiri Falls, in the Bungo Ono district of Oita, Japan, are the infrequently visited Miyasako Magaibutsu (Miyasako Stone reliefs), which are more often referred to by the people nearby as the Ogata sekibutsu (the latter being the common word for ‘stone buddha,’ while ‘Ogata’ is the historical place name.) There are actually two sites, the West and East reliefs, both with carvings in hollowed-out volcanic rock outcroppings. The East relief is in somewhat better condition. (And is the only site shown in these photos.)
From the parking turnout (where there are men’s and women’s restrooms) a paved walk of several hundred meters leads past terraced rice paddies up to the East reliefs. (In fact, there are two paths, with no sign indicating which to take. Use the one on the right as you face the hillside; it goes directly to the site. The left will also get you there, so long as you follow the faded “Miyasako East Sekibutsu” sign pointing right a few hundred meters up the trail.)
There is no temple or shrine at these reliefs, and no indication there ever was any. The carvings are estimated to be over 800 years old, and were purportedly commissioned by Ogata Koreyoshi, a local samurai who won fame in the Gempei War, the final conflict of the Heian Period (794-1185.) The central statue of the East relief is of the seated Dainichi Nyorai. Though the overall condition is quite deteriorated, the expression of this figure is very distinctive, not at all typical of the style of the period, but clearly one of wonderment and human-like imperfection.
The Nyorai is guarded on his left by the sword-carrying Immovable One (Fudou Myou-oo), and on his right by the God of Wealth and Warriors (Bishamonten), as well as a Nio-oo warrior (depicted, as always, with hand on hip) on the far right. With this entirely martial retinue, it seems possible that the face of the central Nyorai might actually have been modeled on the heroic samurai himself, Lord Oogata.
I should add that these reliefs are a five minute drive from the ruins of Oka-jou Castle. Work on the castle started in 1185, at about the same time as the Miyasako carvings. Nothing remains of the castle’s keep, or any other buildings, but it was a very large fortress with extensive battlements. It offers commanding views of the lush hills and valleys of Bungo Ono.