November is apparently bamboo lantern festival season in Oita with Usuki the first weekend, Hita the second weekend, and Taketa the third weekend. During my planning for this Kyushu tour, my original route was too long, and one of the places I skipped to make the route shorter was Usuki. However, I added it back in when I realized it was the only convenient place for us to catch one of these bamboo lantern festivals. It was an excellent decision as our time spent in Usuki was certainly one of our Kyushu highlights.
With a bit of extra time we followed the coast around the peninsula NE of Usuki and just like coming into Nakatsu we stumbled upon a bicycle path, the Saganoseki Cycling Road. It’s interesting that South Korea really touts their cycling infrastructure, but you don’t hear much about Japan. Off the designated routes in Korea, the cycling conditions were pretty grim. In Japan, however, we found great riding almost everywhere we went. Japanese drivers are perhaps the best in the world.
We rolled into Usuki with no hotel reservation on the day before the start of their biggest festival of the year. I figured we’d be heading out of the city each night to pitch our tent, but we went straight to the tourist information office and they found a hotel for us just a 15 minute bicycle ride from the festival. Wow, that works.
We still had a day before the festival and our hotel reservation so we rode SW from the city to the famous Usuki Stone Buddhas. Ferda and I had seen some other stone Buddhas in Japan and weren’t expecting much here. However, wow! The 59 Buddhas carved from the 8th to 14th centuries are pretty amazing. The site is really well done. If you’re in the area, make the effort to get out here. And to make it even more appealing, the tourist office where they were so helpful with our hotel reservation has free rental bicycles to ride out to the Buddhas!
The following day we checked into our hotel in the morning and rode to the festival in the afternoon. Of course there was plenty of street food. Here’s some fish wrapped on bamboo then cooked:
and some kind of crazy-looking burrito-type things:
We were excited that there was a small bonzai exhibit since these were the only ones we saw in Kyushu:
and a calligraphy exhibit upstairs:
Also, the entrance fee to Usuki’s restored samurai house (Inaba Family Villa) was waved during the festival.
Bamboo lanterns aren’t so exciting during the day:
But things warm up as it gets darker.
The festival only lasts two evenings, but there’s more to see and do than we had time for.
Tafuku-ji Temple is the photo on the front of the very well done festival brochure:
Day and night:
It just kept going and going.
Oh wow, after all that, the rest of this post is going to be pretty boring. We pedaled west via Harajiri and Taketa intrigued by various rice drying patterns.
The fall colors started to get a little better.
Slowly making our way to Kumamoto.
We are 12 days from our trip to South Korea and Japan (Kyushu and Honshu and we’ll see how far north we go) we do indeed like a mixture of culture and nature but food in particular. We are very nervous about camping places ( wild) you seem to find camping spots all over. Is it really easy to find camp sites in both countries? Re stove we do have a gas canister whisper lite MSR. Guess that it would be easier to find both gas and food to cook along the way. Your blog is indeed very relevant and very informative and next time you are in Spain give us a shout. Thanks a lot for your advice Miguel and Mar
Hi Miguel and Mar,
I am just now seeing your question. Looks like you’re leaving in about four days. Don’t worry about wild camping places in Japan or South Korea. We always found something fairly easily. In South Korea we were three people with two tents which makes things a little harder, but it was still no problem. In Japan we felt more comfortable camping in city parks than in South Korea. That’s something I’ve done a number of times in Japan (both Kyushu and central Honshu) but rarely anywhere else in the world.
Our stove uses petrol which we filled at gas stations. I don’t know anything about the gas canisters, but food is easily to find as there are lots of stores. I hope you have a great trip.
Nos vemos en España 🙂