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Mt. Hibaru and Other Mysterious Backwoods Explorations

It was an exciting day for us heading to the mountains on this pleasant spring Sunday. Today the goal was Mt. Hibaru (Hibaru-san – 檜原山), a small mountain of 734.9 meters located in the Hon-Yabakei region of Nakatsu. It’s one of the smaller and closer mountains to Nakatsu which worked out perfect today allowing us to sleep in a bit and try to do some other fun things in the later afternoon. Our guide book said that it would only take a little over an hour to hike round-trip, but it was a great adventure all on it’s own.

yabakei map
A map of Oita Prefecture, with the sub-region of Nakatsu marked as green, and Yabakei marked red.

From Nakatsu you drive straight towards the mountains from the center of town and head through Yabakei, which is the most famous natural wonder of the Nakatsu area.

yabakei_map
Map of Yabakei area.

Yabakei is basically a series of cliffs with various small caves. The main road that passes through Yabakei is a main highway between popular areas and I’ve been by many times, and yet everytime it pulls my attention like the first time.

Now in Kyushu flowers are blooming everywhere, and there were a lot today in front of Yabakei which called for our first distraction.

Yabakei

Past Yabakei you drive for another 15 minutes and turn down a small road which leads to many other mountains. Then you turn up a very small windy steep road that climbs most of the mountain. (Hence the small hiking time for a 700 meter mountain. One could potentially hike that bit too, but I think you’d just be walking on the road.)

Along the way we saw a tanuki (racoon dog). Not entirely a huge rarity, but certainly not an everyday occurence.

Tanuki

At about 80% of the way up there was a turn off with a great view of the mountains behind Mt. Hibaru and Nakatsu. They’re not the biggest mountains in Japan, but impressive and plenty enough for sure.

Nakatsu Mountains

Instead of solid ranges or giant peaks, it’s more like a maze of strange cone shaped mountains. It’s something I’ve never really seen before Kyushu.

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The spot gave great views of famous mountains like Yufu-dake (faint large conic mountain in the center-back of the picture above) and a reverse view of Hachimenzan (table-top like mountain on the left side of the picture below).

Hachimenzan

Soon we found the parking lot for a temple at the end of the road and the bottom of the mountain trail. More than just a parking lot, the area was super clean and nice. I thought it would make an epic campground.

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The grounds had a large koi-filled pond with benches beside …

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… and lots of beautifully recently bloomed flowers.

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We passed by it all and headed to the gate to the temple. There are Japanese maple trees everywhere. The place must explode with red yellow and orange in the fall. Now it’s all a bright green of which I haven’t quite seen in Japan before.

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Soon we found the main hall of the temple, Shouhei-ji (正平時). It may not look like much from the outisde but it had beautiful grounds around it, elaborate golden Buddhas inside, along with gruesome pictures depicting hells in which people are tormented by large demons. I suppose that’s the run with many temples and maybe I just haven’t seen one in a while, but today it had my full attention.

Shouheiji

Buddhas hiding in trees.

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Some all lined up together en masse (in mass?).

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And a cool statue of Fudou Myou which reminded me a lot of the art in Zelda from “the Windwaker” game.

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Behind the temple began the trail.

Man this place is way diferent than Toyama.

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The forest seems full. Full of leaves, bushes, different types of plants, rocks, and holes for strange creatures that hide in the dark.

It’s really interesting to walk through, another world indeed. But I can’t help but be a little uneasy treading through piles of leaves that look just like the poisonous viper, the mamushi. Didn’t see any today, but after seeing two in one day in Toyama a while ago, I don’t feel like I need to see anymore. Apparently there more affluent here in Kyushu as opposed to the main island of Honshu, and I hear that goes for mukade, a large poisonous centipede, as well.

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The mountain trail wasn’t so long, but it was steep and there were lots of large boulders and caves and trees to crawl through as we headed towards the top.

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At one point we crawled through leaning boulders and climbed through a small hole I wondered if everyone who passed by could fit through.

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The trail led to a few small breaks of the dense green forest walls to reveal views of the surrounding mountains.

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Further climbing up and over the obstacles of this mountain. It’s like a strange warp where the mountains are smaller, but they still feel big. Kyushu seems to be like a whole microcosm of Japan itself. Smaller and more detailed and utterly consuming.

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Then we made it to the top!

Hibarusan

Like many of the smaller-medium sized mountains I’ve climbed around this area, the peaks don’t reveal great views, but they’re always sure to have shrines and such.

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This little stone guy above was placed to let us know there was no path behind him. Though such warnings usually urge me further, today we would turn back and head down.

On the way down were about 10 different small caves with either buddhas statues or bamboo decorations left inside on the ground and bats dangling from the darkness above.

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According to the time indicated in the mountain guide book, the hike took a little over an hour and so we headed on through the maze of mountains and hills into the area of neighboring Usa, to the sub-regions of Innai, and then Ajimu.

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It was another windy drive on a small road through small rice-field farm houses.

The views sometimes led to good views of Mt. Yufu, seen better by the eyes than caught by a camera, I think. (Seen below as the distant mountain on the right side.)

Innai

We found our first goal which was Myouken Onsen (妙見温泉) located in the Innai region. It was small and only had either a public outdoor bath, or private baths for a slightly higher price, but it was new and clean and maybe my favorite in the area I’ve found to date. Any bath I get in and feel scents of Japanese cedar creeping in my nose I immediately approve of. Unlike some of the other baths in the area, this is one I’d happily return too.

Myouken Onsen
One of the small rock gardens around Myouken Onsen.

Next door to the onsen was an amazing tofu restaurant we visited for lunch. I’m usually not one that craves tofu all that much, but this place was awesome and definitely worth the trouble if you’re in the area. Like the onsen, I have a strong feeling we’ll be back.

tofu

After this we headed to our last goal of a winery/park located in Ajimu about 10 minutes drive away.

We went to check out the winery, but unfortunately showed up too late for anything other than a small tasting at the gift shop. I also went to check out the only park golf site I’ve found in the area to date. I got a quick look and was confirmed that yes indeed there is a legit park golf site in the area. I will be back soon and in numbers!

What’s park golf? you ask … well it’s like mini golf, but a little bigger and without goofy distractions. It’s an awesome cheap way to spend the afternoon with friends … made increasingly more fun with beer. The area also had a campground, and go karts.

Definitely definitely going back soon.

Yufudake

And so with this parting picture of Yufu-dake, we headed back to our home by the sea in Nakatsu.

Nakatsu, and the area in general seems to have a bad reputation for being boring, and there being nothing to do. Granted, your options open up one hundred fold with a car, this area DEFINITELY has cool stuff going on. In fact I’d go to call it the greatest treasure box that nobody knows about in Oita.

Without raging off on an uncalled-for rant, I’ll make it quick and say those who limit their image of Oita as just the onsen in Beppu and the mountain of Yufu-dake are really just limiting themselves, and for all of those people satisfied to just see the one or two sites of an area they can find on any poster might as well just sit at home and look at pictures of what they want on the internet, or watch a video. To come here in a day or two and follow the pictures to the sites and buy the stuff “they” want you to, you’re really just missing out. Not everyone has the time to see it all, and that’s totally fair, but I urge you to explore your home, cause I bet there’s a lot of things hiding right in front of your nose.

Life is just what it is, not what you think it is.

Go out an explore dammit!

Thank you for reading.

 

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