by Raul Leon
A Replica of the Statue of Liberty welcomes you as you arrive by Route 10 from Fukuoka Prefecture, but that is not what draws you to Usa. The WWII fighter hangars now used as warehouses are not a major attraction either. Usa’s hidden treasure is Usa Jingu (shrine). Over 1,200 years old, the shrine marks the origins of the important Hachiman Shinto sect, which is now represented by 40,000 shrines throughout Japan. Usa Shrine houses gorgeous gardens surrounding the god Hachiman-Okami’s shrine. There are three palaces within the shrine, creating a peculiar “Enshrined Gods” concept. The first palace belongs to reincarnate Emperor Ojin. The second is dedicated to female god princesses Takitsu, Ichikishima and Takiri. The third palace was built for Ojin’s Mother, the Empress Jingu. The year-round beauty of the park-like grounds encourages over three million pilgrims to visit every season. The New Year and Obon festivals draw visitors, but Nagoshishinji, a fighting mikoshi (portable shrine) festival in the first weekend after July 27, brings the largest crowd. The intensity of the mikoshi battles has actually claimed a few lives in past years, and creates an aura of almost unbearable excitement. Usa’s surrounding area in northern Oita does not lack for attractions. To the south of Usa is Innai Town, which hosts Jamaica Mura, the biggest reggae and ska festival in Kyushu. And not too far to the east is Beppu, a city known for its hot springs. Of these, I recommend Kenko Hoyo Land for their rather unique mud pits!