Nanchara Kaido

Japan's onsen, Touring and Tokyo life


Oita Prefecture

Yabakei and Rakanji in Oita

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After more than one and a half day trip by ship, we arrived at Shin-moji Harbor.
First, we headed to Beppu Hot Spring in Oita Prefecture.
It doesn't take much time if we use turnpike from Shin-moji to Beppu, but we decided to use public highway instead.

There was no need to hurry, because restaurants or shops are still closed as it was 6:30 in the morning.

Buy Digital Camera in Oita

By the way, on the ferry, I noticed that my beloved digital camera RICOHcx1 was suddenly broken.

This is how it looked when we try to take a photo - a black shadow appeared on the corner of the monitor screen.


The problem seems to be mechanical, not because of lens cover.
I tried changing the setup of my camera to fix it, but it resulted in causing new error - picture on the monitor screen looked blurred compared to original picture data.

Therefore, we decided to buy a new digital camera on our way.

It seems that there are several electronics retail stores on the way from Shin-moji to Beppu.
Can we handle a digital camera bought without previous research?
Anyway, we had no choice.

A Scenic Spot, Yabakei and Blue Domon(Tunnel)

As we drive Buzen bypass toward Beppu, a signboard of a shopping mall showed up.Among several big shops in a vast site, there was Yamada Denki, an electronics retail store.
It was almost 10:00, an opening time of the store, and we decided to buy our new digital camera there.

As expected, Yamada Denki did not offer much choice of stock.
Somehow, we bought a compact camera of SONY, as cheap as one night drinking.

Because battery of the new digital camera was empty, we had to use RICOHcx1 for the day. Anyhow, we were relieved that we could get a new camera.

Longest Stone Bridge in Japan, Yabakei Bridge

On our way to shopping mall, we saw a sign saying "Blue Domon", meaning a blue tunnel. As it was such a warm day, like an early summer, we were both attracted by its cool sound "blue".

Now, leaving Yamada Denki, we inputted our destination into our car navigation system, heading to Blue Tomon. After driving for a while, a signboard saying "Yabakei Bridge" came into our sight.


As we look toward the liver, there was a HUGE, magnificent stone bridge, largest bridge we ever saw. No wonder, the full length of the bridge is 116 meters, the longest one in Japan. Furthermore, this is the only bridge that has 8 arches in a row, and Yabakei is called king of the stone bridge.

When seen closely, we found out that some parts of the bridge, like parapets, were damaged and crumbling.


It was prohibited to cross over the bridge, as it was under repair then (as of May 2013)


Blue Domon, a Hand-Dug Tunnel in Edo Era

Heading to Blue Domon, we drove along the liver form Yabakei Bridge.


Presently, after catching sight of many excavation, we suddenly came to an open space, where several drive-in opens.


Beside the parking of the drive-in, there stood a bronze statue of Zenkai, a Buddhist priest who is said to have made Blue Domon.


By reading the monument stone, we can see how Zenkai came to make a tunnel.

Zenkai, who was born in Echigo, traveled around countries as training and came to Oita in Kyoho era.

There he happened to witness an accident - a person falling from a plank path on a rock cliff by Yamakuni Liver.

Zenkai thought it is his job to get rid of the danger, and started digging the rock cliff by chisel.

After 30 years, his hard will finally penetrated the tunnel of 32 meters long.
We hereby inscribe his great achievement on this monument.

15 May 1990 / Hon'yabakeimachi

Blue Domon dug by Zenkai is still traversable, only on foot. We decided to take a walk through Domon.

Zenkai was born in a Samurai family of Echizen Takada fief. When he was 10 years old, his father passed away and he moved to Edo prefecture with his mother. Without father, his life there was miserable. He started to hang out with gangsters, became a robber, and finally committed manslaughter on the spur of the moment.

His mother was worried about him to death.

After loss of his mother, he came to his senses and became a priest to atone for his sin. While wondering among countries, he is said to have reached to Yabakei.


Some tracks of the chisel were left in the tunnel, but most of the wall was covered by concrete.


Blue Tunnel Was the Oldest Toll Road

To atone his sin, Zenkai devoted half his life digging the tunnel for people. This admirable story has a sequel: After the tunnel was completed, Zenkai collected toll from people using the tunnel. With that toll, he spent a luxury life.

It is said that this Blue Domon was the oldest toll road.

Congestion charging system was popular among bandits. Even though he became a priest, it may be natural for Zenkai, former rascal, to come up with the idea. I guess he had a sharp mind to make the system an official business.

Also, it is said that Zenkai built a small house with two rooms beside Domon, where he lived together with a housekeeper. Just housekeeping? I doubt that.

Domon go across under a roadway, leading to liver side.


A roadway tunnel used to be a small hand-dug tunnel. However, after a massive repair in 1906, the tunnel was widened so that vehicles can pass through to a maneuvering ground.


Rakanji temple, a Temple Famous for Unique Stone Statues and Shamojis

Now that we visited blue Domon and Yabakei Bridge, we were heading to Beppu. At that time, I saw a sign "Rakanji temple" on the side of the road.

According to the sign, Rakanji temple is placed at the direction toward mountain area. Rakanji temple... I have heard of the name...

I am a kind of familiar with Buddha Statues and old artworks, so I may have read about Rakanji temple in one of the relevant articles. Oh, I do wish to visit I was not sure if I have next chance to visit Kyushu, distant from my hometown.

My buddy, who preferred to go directly to hot spring in Beppu, seemed reluctant, but I begged and persuaded him to stop by at Rakanji temple.


As we drove along the liver, we came across a rocky mountain rising steeply. On a mountainside, wo could see lots of rugged holes.


Is Rakanji temple at the top of the mountain? Well, it seems hard to go up there.

We looked around the rocky mountain, but could not find any sign indicating "Rakanji temple this way".

As we passed by the mountain, there was a parking of Rakanji temple. However, we could not see any temples around.

We were nervous not knowing how much we have to walk to visit the temple.
At that time, a passer-by at the parking told us that we can go further by a car.

There Is a Lift to Rakanji temple, Discreet at the Entrance

When we drove several hundreds meters from the parking, we came to see stairs for the approach to the temple.

By the stairs, there was a teahouse and another parking for visitors.


As I look up at stairs leading to temple, I was overwhelmed. Wow, how long will it last..?

"Now what?" my buddy said. It looked so hard to go up all the stairs, even for me with motivation.

Then, a proprietress came out of the tea house and chatted us up. "You know, there is a lift to mountaintop over there."

Yay, thank her for the good news!

We couldn't see it from entrance, but if you go up 5 steps, there was a passage to go left which leads to a lift terminal.


Hmm.. Where is it?

The old building at the front is called "Zenkaido" museum, and goods used by Zenkai were displayed there - goods such as chisels and hammers used to dig the Domon. However, when I visited there, the entrance door was closed. It seemed that the building has not been maintained for a long time. I wished I could look inside, if the museum was still under operation.

There was a narrow path beside Zenkaido, leading to a lift terminal at the back of Zenkaido.

Lift takes visitors to Rakanji temple and to the terminus mountaintop.
This time, we bought tickets to the mountaintop.


First, we headed to Rakanji temple.


When we got off the lift, a small stone statue of Rakans welcomed us.


Rakan means a pupil of Shaka, and there are 3770 statues of Rakans at Rakanji temple. This temple has a long history, and it is said that Hoto Sennin from India built this temple in 645, about 1300 years ago.

As we kept on walking, there was an old hokora (small shrine) at the side of the approach.


In front of hokora, many shamojis (rice scoop spoon) were hung. What are these for?


They reminded me of a big shamoji signboard, one meters long, in front of a police station at mountain foot. That big shamoji originate in these enshrined shamojis, I guess.

Sukuu (scoop) Means to Save/Help People

Here is a reason why shamojis were dedicated as votive tablet: people believed that Rakans relieve (scoop up) people from troubles or sorrows.

We noticed that peoples' wish were written on shamojis. For some reasons, most of the wishes were related to fulfillment in love.


"Please I want a good-looking boyfriend."

I wondered why.. Do Rakans have a power of matchmaking?

In hokora, many stone statues were enshrined. I was not sure if they are Rakans, as there were no explanation board regarding them.


People say that everybody can find a statue that look alike for themselves. Among more than 3000 stone statues, there may be one or two Rakans concerned with love matters.

We moved on to next spot. At the side of the approach, we could see many humorous Rakan statues, some are relaxing and some are training. Now, we came upon a gate.


It seems that side road leads us to a big building ahead. Above our head, there was a wooden building bigger than hokora at the lift terminal.


We saw many hanged shamojis here also. When we read the explanation panel there, I found out that this hokora was built as a memorial service for mizukos (miscarried fetuses).

Serious stories written on the board made me sorrowful.


In this hokora, thousand zizous (stone statues) were enshrined to appease spirits of mizukos.

They have larger number of statues in this hokora than they do in hokora at the lift terminal. Also, each statues are meticulously made compared to rougher statues in hokora at the lift terminal.


According to a biography of this temple, a high priest named Fukaku Zenji made and enshrined these thousand zizous and Ju-oh-sons (statues of 10 honored kings) in Muromachi era.


Murokutsu, a Grotto Where 500 Rakan Statues Are Enshrined

Now we arrived at the temple gate.


When we enter the gate, there was a temple in a cave called Murokutsu. Many shamojis were displayed here also.


In Murokutsu, Gohyaku Rakan statues are set out in a law along the wall.


According to record, two monks, Gyakuryu Kenzyun and Syokaku Zenji, engraved these Gohyaku Rakan statues in only one year. Gohyaku Rakan means 500 Rakan statues, but actually, there are more than 700 statues enshrined here.


Rakanji temple Main Temple

Leaving behind Murokutsu, we passed small stone steps leading to Rakanji temple main temple caved in rocks.


Compared to gate and Murokutsu, main temple seemed to be in a good condition. No wonder, original main temple was burned down by fire in 1943, and present temple was re-constructed in 1969.


At the side of the main temple, there was a pond in which varicolored carps were swimming.


This pond used to be a basin of a waterfall. If we see from aside, we can notice water traces on rocks over the pond.


The reason why the waterfall was dried up was unknown. There was a well of holy water, elixir of life, in Murokutsu, but it was also dried up.


Above is a picture of a well. Water vein has changed, I guess.


Admission fee to enter inside the main temple was 300 yen. After passing the entrance, we were guided to a cavern by the temple.


The cavern leads to second floor of the main temple. Inside the tunnel, an outlook on the world of dead were displayed.
It looked like a bonze tour, and this kind of bonze tour displays are common among Japanese big temples.

By the entrance, there was a statue of Datsueba, a guardian of Acheron, river of death. As we walk through darkish tunnel, we suddenly encountered a framed monochrome photo on a wall.


Mummy of Ogre Child

As we walk through darkish tunnel, we suddenly encountered a framed monochrome photo on a wall.


Unfortunately, original mummy was burned by fire in 1943. We could not find a board to explain details like why this mummy of ogre was left in this temple.

Finally, we came to second floor of the main building. What a beautiful scenery!


It was best time to see wisteria in Kyushu, and we could see countless elegant wisteria flowers blooming on the dreary approach to Rakanji temple.


Stairs to go down continues.


We passed a bridge thrown across the cave close to the roof.


On the rock wall, there were holes like a whatnot, where small bisque Rakan statues were displayed in line.


This statue at the edge is called Gokuraku-no-Nadeinu, pat dog of heaven. We had no idea what kind of blessing we would have if we pat the dog, but anyway, we gave it a try.


The Site of Shigetsuan

Again, we came to a place like a garden.


As we go on, we came to an open space where a signboard saying " the Site of Shigetsuan" stands.


Shigetsuan was Sukiya-style tearoom with a thatch roof, made by Nagakatsu Ogasawara, a Nakatsu domain head. This building was also burned in 1943 fire, and there was nothing to remind what it was like then.


This was the end of the admitted area. Now, let's go back to lift terminal.


Statue of a Dragon Fighting against Christians by Emitting Eye Beam

As I come back, I found a statue of a Rakan shouldering a big bell at side of the stairs.


I remembered seeing that bell above a big rock on my way from lift terminal.


Approach to the bell was closed because of a landslide, but we were able to read an explanation board overhead of Rakan.


tatue of a Dragon Who Saved Temple from Fire Attack

Sorin Otomo, a Daimyo (feudal load) who governed Bungo area from 1530 to 1587, believed in Christianity. He burned down many temples in his territory to eliminate Buddhism. According to folk story, when Otomo parties came to attack Rakanji temple, this dragon emitted a beam of light from its eyes. Because of this beam, Otomo parties lost their vigor and the shrine was saved from fire attack.

t is known that in Kyushu, many loads such as Ukon Takayama and Nagamasa Kuroda converted to Christianity. We can see that Buddhism had an era of hardship, until the time has come for Christianity to be prohibited in Edo era.

This is the statue of beam-emitting dragon. In this picture, color of the statue is blended into rock's tone, but it looks more clearly if you see it directly.


Mountaintop Station

We came back to lift terminal. When I was looking down from the lift, I saw people coming up the mountain on foot. Wow, I admire their toughness!


Now, we arrived at mountaintop station. We were expecting an amazing view from this altitude.


Mountaintop is formed like a botanical gardens, and we could not see any landscape because clump of trees were surrounding the path.


As we move on, a coarse metal tower appeared ahead of us. Well, do we have to climb that tower?

Wow, what a scene!


By the way, this observation tower should be more stylish, don't you think?

Honestly speaking, I thought lift ticket to Rakanji temple station was suffice for us, no bother to by ticket to mountaintop station.

Having Oita Local Food "Yaseuma" at the Teahouse

After coming down to mountain foot by lift, we decided to have lunch at the teahouse by passage.


We both ordered soba noodle. Among the menu, this dish caught our eyes. This is Yaseuma, local food of Oita.


It is a kind of dessert, wide noodle like udon coated by kinako sugar powder. Yaseuma means a skinny horse. We wonder why this dessert is called by such a name.

As you can see, Yaseuma is just like udon noodle, so it may be heavy for your stomach if you plan to eat it as a dessert after your meal.

Now, let's re-start our trip to Beppu. You see, our side trips are taking our time..

Translated byooo70ooo


Address: 1501, Honyabakeimachi Atoda, Nakatsu-shi, Oita,



This post is also available in 日本語.

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-Oita Prefecture