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Southeast Oita Drive: Usuki & Saiki

eastoita

Time to drive! Holidays and sunny skies, time to put the driver’s license to use and see the prefecture of Oita which is my current home. On this day the wife and I headed to the opposite side of the prefecture to the southeast. We took the highway to the eastern part of Oita City where we continued along the jagged coast through Saganoseki, Usuki, and Saiki. (Basically we drove along the coast of the blue section in the map from left to right). Living in the northwest section of the prefecture in Nakatsu City made this a long journey for only being inside the prefecture, but it was well worth the day.

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First we found ancient burial tombs dating back about 1600 years ago. They are left from the Kofun Period, and this particular one located at the Amabe Kofun Historical Museum (海女部古墳資料館) is the biggest one in Oita Prefecture.

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This style of burial can be found at various spots around Japan (I think the largest group of them can be found around Nara and Osaka?). The graves can take various shapes, but perhaps the most well-known image is of their key-shaped mounds …

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Like a circle with a rectangle sticking out from the bottom …

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Does the panorama function of my new camera allow you to see that at all? I hope so.

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At the top of the third and highest tier was this opened grave. After four years of being in Japan, I think this is actually the first time I’ve been to one of these graves, which seems strange to me, but very cool.

The site also had a great little museum about the graves and lifestyle of the Kofun Period. I’m a huge history nerd and love these types of sites, but I have to admit, when seeing stuff from the Kofun or Yayoi or Jomon Periods, I feel like the interest wears off relatively quick. I see the old pots and arrowheads, imagine the scene as best I can from the clay recreations, and then my attention is gone. Anyone else get this?

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So onwards to the coast. We went to Saganoseki which had a big light house and a space observatory.

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From here we had sweeping views of the ocean, some islands off the coast of Oita, and maybe even Shikoku Island off in the haze. This is the first time in a while that we felt like we’ve really seen the ocean, which is strange since we live in Nakatsu which is right on the shore. Without bashing my own current home, I have to say Nakatsu might be the least ocean-side ocean-side town I’ve ever been to. It’s amazing how unimpressive the sea can be at a glance sometimes.

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And beaches! It’s a bit far from Nakatsu, but perhaps a trip or two will be made later in the summer.

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Cool overgrown grass park next to the lighthouse.

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We drove along the coast and found some small fishing towns that boasted delicious sashimi, so we stopped for what was in fact really good sashimi and a stroll through the sleepy streets.

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We made the trip in the peak of Golden Week, one of the longest holidays in Japan. During this time most people go traveling if they have the time off, which can be hell if you’re going to the really popular places and don’t like suffering huge tourist crowds. But here in this sleepy fishing town in Saganoseki, it was just the two of us.

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Japanese fishing towns have a wonderful way of packing so much into such small slivers spared by surrounding hills. Mazes of tiny streets and mosaic roofs make for a great atmosphere, enhanced by sunny blue skies. Southeast Oita definitely revealed some of it’s charm to us this day.

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Onward southeast along the jagged coast which continued to show us a completely different Oita than what we’re used to up in Nakatsu. The edges of the Oita seem to blend remarkably well into the edges of the neighboring prefectures. Up in the northwest of Nakatsu and Usa, it feels like it transitions seamlessly with the towns of neighboring Fukuoka Prefecture, and if anything feels more connected to the major city of Kitakyushu than Oita City. But down here you really get a more southern feel like you could almost be in Miyazaki with the ocean, fishing towns, and tropical trees, because I guess you almost are.

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We drove and drove and drove, and didn’t stop much. Giving we didn’t spend that much time delving into the secrets of the area, there weren’t many main sites to pull us from the car. It feels like a very sleepy area with small towns tucked into the fingers of the spreading hills reachings into the ocean. I know enough about strange unknown inaka to not underestimate the treasures to be found, but here they might be especially hidden.

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The sun fell behind the mountains and we got on the highway to make the long return as quickly as possible.

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Oita has many different faces, and I liked the ones we saw today. Many many more adventures to come in this mysterious land to the south.

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