Of the 69 stops along the old Nakasendo highway, Otajuku is the 51st post town, counting from the Itabashi end. Otajuku prospered because of its strategic location right before the Otanowatashi, one of the three most gruelling sections of the highway. It was also sited before the highway forked into the Hida and Gujo highways.
Otajuku spreads 680m east to west along the highway, and preserves much of its historic architecture and scenery, allowing visitors to enjoy the old atmosphere while strolling the streets. After walking past the Matsugata and entering the Former Nakasendo Highway village, the remains of the Honjin Gate are to the left, while on the right is a side building open to the public.
In the vicinity is Yusen-ji Temple, famous for its Waterfall Kannon legend, the grave of Banryu-Shonin, and monuments commemorating the poems of Shoyo Tsubochi, Hakushu Kitahara and Matsuo Basho. In the old days, travellers leaving Otajuku would cross the Kiso River at Otanowatashi, and head for Fushimi and Mitake.
Takamahiko Shrine is located on the hillside of Mt Kongo of Gose in Nara Prefecture. It enshrines the deity Takamisubi no Mikoto (also called Takamahiko no Kami), which is known as the ancient god of the Katsuragi clan.
Mt Shirakumonomine (694m) is worshiped as a sacred mountain. In legend, it is a place where gods descend.
Beside the pathway to the shrine, there are many gigantic cedars that give the atmosphere of old Japan. One of the trees along the pathway is named Oshukubai Tree after a story about a priest. The priest was grieving over the death of a young child, when a falconine flew onto the tree and sang a song for the priest. In spring the tree bursts into beautiful bloom.
Located on the slope of Mt Oshitate (771.8m), Hyakusai Temple is one of the oldest temples in Kotosanzan and used to be known as Kudara Temple.
During the Heian period, Hyakusai Temple changed its principal belief to the Tendai school of Buddhism and began to flourish as a large temple. Back then, it used to have over 300 towers. However, because of wars most of them were burned down and now only the principal images and some main monuments are left.
When walking along the path from the main gate, plains can be seen beside the road. The path has an atmosphere similar to the approach to Ando castle. It is counted as one of Kotosanzan's temples, and many people are attracted to the subtle ambience of the temple.
It is said that the priest Kuya established the Shibahara Zenkoji Temple in 958. It is one of three Zenko temples, which also include Shinshu and Koshu.
Shibahara Zenkoji was originally a Tendai Buddhist temple, but it changed to the Jyodo sect. Its official name is Bontenzan Hosshoin Zenkoji, or Buzen Zenkoji.
Many of the temple's original structures remain. The Hondo was rebuilt in 1250 and is designated as an important cultural asset. Its principal image is the Ikko Sanzon Zenkoji Nyorai Ryuzo. The image is only exhibited from April 25 to 27. Other than that, there are towers dating to the late Kamakura period and a commemoration tower to the priest Kuya.
Shibahara Zenkoji Temple is situated in a tranquil and leafy area. Standing in front of the gate, one can sense the atmosphere of the formal temple town.
Niouza is an historical street of Samurai residences dating to the Azuchi-Momoiro period, and is located in Usuki, Oita Prefecture. It was selected as one of Japan's 100 Best Cityscapes in 1993.
Niouza was originally a road on the ashy slopes of the volcano Mt Aso. It is said that the name 'Niouza' derives from the two deva king guardian statues glaring out from the deva gate to the Gion Shrine (present-day Yasaka Shrine) in this vicinity.
Along the road are many temples, remains of stone paving, samurai residences and old ramparts, which together create a tranquil ambience. Places on the way, such as the Old Shinkou Temple and the Inaba-Hidemichi-Yashiki Ruins, are well worth visiting. You can also see the ruins of the battlefield Kiri-toushi and numerous other points of interest.
Near the old castle in Saiki town, Oita Prefecture, there still exists a group of samurai residences dating back to the time when the area belonged to the Saiki Domain.
The Saiki Domain was founded in 1601 (Keicho 6), when the first domain lord, Takamasa Mori, moved here from his former territory of Hita, Bungo-nokuni. As the new site in the Togamurejo area was relatively inconvenient, they moved again to Hachiman-yama in Bungo-nokuni, where they built Tsuruya Castle at the mouth of the Bansho River. When this castle burned down in 1617 (Ganwa 3), the domain used the Sannomaru, at the foot of the mountain, as their castle. Samurai residences for the domain retainers were built at this time.
Today, the samurai residences around the Shiroyama area suggest the old atmosphere of the Edo period. In 1893 (Meiji 26), Doppo Kunikida, who came here to teach at the Tsuruya Gakkan, stayed with his brother at a samurai residence called Sakamoto-Tei. Now the Sakamoto-Tei is opened to the public as the Kunikida Doppo House of Saiki Castle Town.
In Chitose, Bungo-ono, Oita Prefecture, there is an impressive sculpture of the Dainichi-Nyorai Buddha (Vairocana: the embodiment of Dharmakaya) carved from rock. It is said to have been made by Nichira in 1533.
The rock sculpture is about 3.2m high and was made using a technique called 'sekishin-sozo' in which the body is carved from stone; the face, arms and legs are made of clay; and the robe is made of plaster.
More than half of the face of the sculpture, which has an intimidating and forceful expression, is covered with dirt and clay which, along with its monstrous torso, creates a distinct and extraordinary atmosphere. The sculpture draws visitors into a compelling and profound world.
Since ancient times, locals profess that the sculpture is an 'ushigami', whose reputed power to work wonders and answer prayers attracts visitors and worshippers.
Festivals take place here twice a year on 28 January and 27 August. In 1976, the sculpture was designated as an Important Cultural Property of Oita.
Misuji Waterfall drops from the Tashiro River, which flows between mountains in Tashiro, near Shigaraki in Kouga district, Shiga Prefecture.
It is called Misuji Waterfall because the water drops in three parts. Besides the fall, there is a resting place to view the scenery. The waterfall is about 15m high and carries a large volume of water. At the bottom, is a broad water pool. The combination of the 'movement' of the falling water and the 'silence' of this spot can be felt in one's bones. In the tranquil atmosphere of the mountains, the water splashing creates a brisk sound. Such an atmosphere could never be felt in big cities.
Besides the waterfall, one can enjoy hiking amongst nature. Misuji Waterfall is an excellent summer retreat due to its coolness.