Japan Guides: Hiji, Oita Prefecture
by Jake Davies
Hiji is a small town on Beppu Bay in Oita, northern Kyushu. Hiji is located about halfway between Kitsuki and Beppu, both fairly well known tourist sites, and is usually just passed through on the train, but for those with time and a desire to see some fairly interesting and diverse sites Hiji is definitely worth a stop.
The most interesting site in Hiji is probably the garden by Sesshu in Sho'oku-ji Temple. Sesshu Toyo is generally considered to be the greatest painter of Japan. He was also a garden designer, though he is less well known for this as most of his gardens are located in less visited regions of west Japan like Shimane, Yamaguchi, and Oita, though Sesshuji (Funda-in), a sub-temple of Tofukuji, is in Kyoto.
Sesshu was born in 1420 in the Kibi Plain area of what is now Okayama Prefecture and as a child was sent to a local Zen temple, Hofuku-ji to begin training as a Zen monk. He later spent about 20 years as a monk in Shokokuji and while there studied under the painting master Shubun Tensho. Sesshu moved to what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture most probably as a first step towards making a trip to China which he achieved in 1467, staying and travelling in China until 1469. Upon his return to Japan he settled in the Oita area to avoid the fighting of the Onin War (1467-1477).
It is during this time that Sesshu produced his greatest works and also when his garden at Sho'okuji Temple was built. The temple itself is set in large grounds due at least in part to it being chosen as the family temple of the Kinoshita clan who controlled this domain from the start of the Edo Period.
After paying your entrance fee to the elderly and wizened old priest, the buildings are approached through the Manyu Garden, which Sesshu possibly had a hand in designing. As you approach the main hall what appears to be a huge clump of trees comes into view. This is a cycad, and is a single tree.
In fact it is the biggest cycad in Japan. Estimated to be about 650 years old, it reaches a height of 6.4 meters and the trunk has a girth of 4.5 meters. It was originally in the home of Otomo Sorin, the famous Christian Daimyo of the 16th century and was moved for a while to Funai Castle before being transplanted here.
By now the elderly priest will have caught up with you and he opens the treasure house and points out the artifacts and paintings that are attributed to Sesshu, and then leads you to the Sesshu garden itself. It is not as manicured as many of the more famous gardens in Japan, but it has the qualities I associate with Sesshu.
Sao, Higi-cho, Hayami-gun, Oita 879-1506
Tel: 0977 72 2561
Entrance 350 yen.
Hiji Castle Ruins
The Kinoshita were moved to this area from Himeji at the beginning of the Edo Period and, unusually, maintained control of the domain until domains were abolished in the early Meiji Period. The castle, known as Yokoku Castle, was built in 1601 and occupied a strategic position overlooking the bay, but it was only ever a small castle with a three story keep and 6 turrets. It was dismantled in 1871. All that remains now is the stone base and one dilapidated turret. It is a small park next to an Elementary school. Entrance is free.
2610-1 Hiji-machi, Hayami-gun, Oita 879-1501
Hiji is home to many surviving example of kote-e plaster reliefs on traditional buildings.
Probably the biggest tourist attraction in the Hiji area is Sanrio Harmonyland, a theme park built around Sanrio characters, the most famous of which is Hello Kitty.
There are plenty of rides, roller coasters, Ferris wheel, boat and train rides etc, though none of them outstanding or superlative, however if you visit on any days other than the major national holidays there is likely to be no lines waiting so multiple rides on your favorites is easy.
There are plenty of opportunities for photo ops with her as well as other Sanrio characters, there is Hello Kitties House, live shows, and of course lots of Hello Kitty merchandise on sale, even Hello Kitty themed food.
Fujiwara 5933, Oaza, Hiji-machi, Hayami-gun, Oita.
Closed most, but not all Thursdays.
Open 10am-5pm but 10am-9pm on weekends and holidays.
Entrance for adults and kids is 2,900 yen but that includes all attractions and rides.
Evening tickets 1,500 yen in the summer season, 1,000 yen in the winter illumination season.
Access - getting to Hiji
Hiji is located on the Nippo Line, 70 minutes from Kokura, 30 minutes from Oita, or 15 minutes from Beppu.
Alternatively take a Sonic Limited Express train to Beppu and then change to the Nippo Line to Hiji. Journey time is also about 2 hours, 20 minutes and the fare is cheaper.
Hiji Hotel Accommodation
Beppuwan Royal Hotel is a 3-star accommodation overlooking Beppu Bay with western and Japanese rooms available. Spa and Resort Hotel Solage Oita Hiji is also on the coast and offers indoor and outdoor hot spring baths and great views. The hotel provides a free shuttle bus to Hiji Station.