Japan Atlas: Historic Sites

Usuki Stone Buddhas


Location: Usuki City, Oita Pref.

A Group of 60-plus Stone Buddhas Carved from the Rock

The stone Buddhas of Usuki City in Oita Prefecture were carved during the 12th to 14th centuries. There are two types of stone Buddhas here: some are carved into the side of rock faces on the hillsides, others are sculpted from freestanding rocks. There are six groups in the Nakao/Fukada district, including the Hoki, Dogasako, Sannozan and Furuzono subgroups, a little more than 60 individual carvings in all. Additionally, a short distance away in the Maeda district, there is a cluster of seven stone Buddhas.

Since the Usuki stone Buddhas have been carved from soft stone that is easily weathered, they have been badly ravaged by time. Work to restore and conserve them was conducted from 1980 to 1994, and after this restoration, 59 of the Buddhas were designated in 1995 as National Treasures, the first stone Buddhas to be receive this status in Japan.

Wood carvers who usually specialized in carving wooden Buddha statues are believed to have been responsible for most of the work because, unlike usual stone Buddhas, the finest works, especially the Dai-nichi Nyorai image in Furuzono, resemble the wood carvings of the late Heian period (797-1192). The head of the Dai-nichi Nyorai image fell off the body long ago and had been laid on the ground for a long time as a symbol of Usuki City. During the restoration project, four years of controversy ensued before it was decided to put the head back on the body for the sake of posterity, so the head of the Dai-nichi Nyorai image once again crowns the body. Archaeological excavations during the periods 1976 to 1982, and 1991 to 1992 also confirmed that there used to be a Buddhist temple near the carvings.

Photo: The stone sculpture of Dainichi-Nyorai in Usuki City (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

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