The Miyasako Magaibutsu of Bungo Ono

Japanese History in Stone Relief

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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.)

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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.

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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.

 

For the Japanese Hot Spring Enthusiast

Jalan.net (www.jalan.net) a Japanese publication promoting domestic travel to the Japanese traveler, has published its members’ “Top Hot Springs of Japan” selections for 2018.  I’m always complaining about the silly and inaccurate travel writing on Japan by English-language writers, so if you’re a traveler or newcomer to Japan, and interested in soaking in the country’s amazing hot springs, this might be helpful information.

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Nyuto Onsen Village, December 2017. Photo by Tetsuro Akagi

The survey covered 327 hot springs, meaning the top picks are just a drop in the proverbial bucket.   A few of my own (rather biased) opinions follow the lists (after the photo!)

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A beautiful (and free) public onsen in Nozawa, Japan.

Most-visited (by those voting) in the past year:

Hakone – (Kanagawa) 1466

Beppu – (Oita) 963

Kusatsu Onsen – (Gumma) 923

Atami – (Shizuoka) 921

Kinugawa – (Ibaragi) 722

Most Anticipated (for a future, first-time visit)

Yufuin Onsen – (Oita) 2696

Nyuto Onsen Village – (Akita) 1933

Kusatsu Onsen – (Gumma) 1767

Beppu – (Oita) 1708

Ibusuki Onsen – (Kagoshima) 1574

Highest Satisfaction rating:

Takayu Onsen – (Fukushima) 97.1%

Nyuto Onsen Village – (Akita) 95.6%

Shirahone Onsen – (Nagano) 95.5%

Utoro Onsen – (Hokkaido) 94.8%

Manza Onsen – (Gumma) & Kinosaki Onsen (Hyogo) 94.2% (tied)

The Jalanet article notes that Beppu’s position climbed the most in this year’s rankings, apparently due to a strong positive response from twenty-something voters to its “Hot Spring Gardens” campaign of last year.

Beppu is both the largest conglomeration of hot springs in Japan, and an old coastal resort city (in some ways like Atami) in Kyushu, so it is a place to explore for all types of bathing opportunities, from guerilla (rock baths up in the hills) to plush inn-style (search out Myoban Onsen) to public mixed-bathing (Beppu Hoyo Land) to old-fashioned bath houses (Takegawara Onsen.)

If you make it all the way down to Beppu (a one-hour flight from Tokyo, or seven hour train ride), you should visit nearby Yufuin Onsen, at the top of the Anticipation list.  Set in a spectacular basin beneath a ruggedly beautiful volcano (Mt. Yufu), it offers a number of lovely (and pricey) inns with beautiful baths. There are also plenty of cultural amenities for those interested in Japanese arts and crafts.

Also worth noting, at second-place on the satisfaction rating, is Nyuto Village Onsen. (This is on my hot spring bucket list, for sure.) Tucked away in the mountains of northern Japan, it boasts a seriously deep winter. Just imagine the outdoor baths, the snow, and the quiet. I’ve included a photo taken by a friend who visited there just this December.

Wow. Where else in the world, right?

A few of the above winners offer English websites:

http://www.kinosaki-spa.gr.jp/global/

http://www.shirahone.net/english.html

http://www.nyuto-onsenkyo.com/

http://www.yufuin.gr.jp/

http://www.ibusuki.or.jp.e.xy.hp.transer.com/

http://nikko-travel.jp/english/

I’m sorry I couldn’t write about all 327 hot springs covered in the Jalan.net survey.  Someday, right?

 

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Maria B. demonstrating proper mixed bathing etiquette at Goto Onsen, Beppu, Japan