Overshadowed by the more well-known temple towns of Atami, Ito, and Shimoda, the small town of Usami often gets lost in the shuffle. But several miles from the seaside, in the hills of Japan’s Izu Peninsula, sits one of the country’s largest seated Buddha statues. Perhaps it’s evading popularity due to its ambiguously public nature.
Making the up-hill trek from Usami station, you will find this striking temple complex, though you may or may not be welcomed—it is a mystery whether or not the temple is open to the public. Despite clear open hours listed on the internet, visitors have reported being ushered away by at least one monk. A sign positioned at the main gate states “believers only, tourists prohibited”—a somewhat vague statement open to interpretation.
That said, it is possible to catch a taxi (there are no buses as of 2021), or make a one hour uphill walk alongside traffic to enter the complex. A taxi is recommended, as is retaining their contact information for the return journey.
Strangely enough, the town of Usami seems to want to forget its own superlative feature. Even on the “City Area” map facing the town train station, Usami Kannon-ji escapes mention. At its peak, the temple must have been quite the sight: aside from the impressive, towering Kannon statue, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of smaller statues of various Buddhist deities. On a clear day, you can see right down to the ocean.
These days, the temple is showing signs of neglect, with crumbling facades, rotting wood, and rust and filth marking the buildings. There will be no staff members to perform blessings, or sell you an omikuji fortune or wooden ema amulet. The deity simply smiles serenely, oblivious to it all, looking down on the people of Usami and the sea beyond.