The Mount Taharayama hike leads you on a steep ascent up to an epic, rocky ridgeline before you descend down into the forest to discover a 10th century stone buddha carving into the cliff wall. It’s an adventure with a tomb-raider vibe and is definitely sure to have you off-the-beaten-path and out there amongst the adventure in the Oita Prefecture of Kyushu Island, Japan.
HOW TO GET TO MOUNT TAHARAYAMA
Kumano Magaibutsu: If you are only interested in the stone Buddha statue (Kumano Magaibutsu) and don’t want to hike at all that is a possibility. You can simply drive up to the parking lot and then hike up the stairs through the shrine to the stone carvings. The trail is a stairway the whole way and is common among tourists.
Mount Taharayama: If you are keen for an epic adventure that finishes at the Buddha statue (Kumano Magaibutsu), then you can start in the lower parking lot and hike up the ridge and finish at the statue before returning the same way you came or walking back along the road to your car. I’ve attached my map below so you can see how I did it. It wasn’t very straightforward with no English signs but we managed to find our way. A little tip is that ‘Kumano Magaibutsu’ is on Google Maps so when we were a bit lost on the trail (there are many routes) we just tried to head in that direction and it worked out well enough. I’ve added the exact pin to the parking lot below.
MOUNT TAHARAYAMA TO KUMANO MAGAIBUTSU TRAIL MAP
I started our trek in the parking lot and then went up to the ridge and down to the Buddha statue. I then exited the same way the tourists come in and out and walked 2.5km back on the side of the road. I did that because it was dark when I finished at the statue and I didn’t fancy going back along the ridge in the dark. If you did it in the day then I would suggest returning the same way you came because walking back along the road takes about the same time and is much less scenic obviously.
Below you can find my map, which I recorded on my Garmin. If you want to download as a map for your Garmin or smart device I’ve attached the GPX route and you can download it by clicking here.
The hike following my route was 5.7km but it can be shorter if you take other routes as detailed below. The total incline for me was 400m and took just over 2 hours.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE MOUNT TAHARAYAMA HIKE TO KUMANO MAGAIBUTSU
This trail was a bit of a tough one to find much information on so I probably would have parked in the Kumano Magaibutso parking lot and done my route in reverse so I didn’t have to walk back along the road but alas it was a good adventure and everything turned out fine.
We parked the car at the place on the map you can see above and began the trek straight into the thick trees. The trail was 20m inside the road but ran parallel for about half a kilometer through the thick brush. We could hear birds but also something bigger inside the tall grass. In the end, we found out that there were a number of wild boars in this area but they tended to run away before we got too close so we had no issues with them.
In the early stages, I wasn’t sure exactly which route to take as there were often forks in the trail with signs in Japanese that neither I nor Google Translate was able to decipher. I ended up cutting half of the ridge off with the route I took but it ended up okay. Basically, if you follow my route it will be a bit of a scramble at times but as you can see we made it up on the ridge and to the buddha statue so I will call it a success. If you can read Japanese, I imagine it is very straightforward and well-signed.
The trail began to get interesting when we took a steep turn up to the left through the tall grass, which led us to a small wooden cabin. We passed by the cabin and went to the left of it and up over the hill. We followed the pink tabs tied to the tree but these also led in other directions. Finally, they led us up on top of the ridge and then we were in the right place so it all became a bit simpler from then.
The ridge was the fun part of the hike as we scrambled and bouldered our way along the narrow, rocky path in the direction of the stone Buddha, which is known as Kumano Magaibutso. We had some pretty nice views of all the layers but we never made it to a high altitude. This isn’t a very mountainous view or the toughest hike but moderates across the board. You do get a pretty nice view up to Mount Yufu and you can see the two peaks quite clearly, which was nice.
After following the rocky ridgeline for a while, I began to wonder how and where we would find the Buddha statue. It was at this tree pictured below that we deviated off the ridge and went down into the forest.
The sign was one of the few that Google Translate managed to decipher and it said something like the ‘Eternal Buddha’ with the arrow going down. That was about as much direction as we had all afternoon so we set off down the hill. A couple of wrong turns, muddy scrambles and corrections later and we find our way to the side-entrance for the Kumano Magaibutsu (Buddha Statue).
The sun was just giving its final goodbye as a golden tinge floated through into the area of the carvings. We read the signs at the site and did a little research and it turns out that the sculptures are from the late Heian or early Kamakura period in Bungotakada, Ōita Prefecture, Japan. The image of Fudō Myōō measures 8.07 m and the image of Dainichi Nyorai 6.82 m.
One funny anecdote from the sign was that the carving on the left was done much later than that on the right by an apprentice. It does seem that the carving on the right is of a higher quality and strange that an apprentice would be given a huge area to give it his best shot on a bigger rock next to the original site. You’ll see what I mean when you compare the two in person.
We hung out here until the sun pretty much set and then walked down the stairs and through the shrine to the Kumano Magaibutsu parking lot. We then had a 2.5km journey back along the road but it was all part of the adventure and it’s a fun little off-beat adventure if you are staying in Beppu.
KYUSHU TRAVEL TIPS
WHICH REGION IS BEST FOR YOU?
Here’s a checklist for you to start:
- Fukuoka: If you want to be in a vibrant city scene and a central base, you may want to stay in Fukuoka.
- Kumamoto (my pick): If you’re looking to get away from the bustling city life and be centrally positioned for all hotspot tourist locations then visit and stay in Kumamoto.
- Beppu: If you want to check out a lot of hot springs, mud baths, and sand baths, Beppu in Oita prefecture is the best place for you.
- Kagoshima: If you are eager to go hiking in Kirishima and see Mt. Sakurajima, head to Kagoshima prefecture.
- Yakushima (Separate Island): If you want to hike through the stunning Shiratani Unsuikyo Valley, see ancient cedar trees, and waterfalls, Yakushima is the best place for you.
For a full article about how to split up your time between the popular regions in Kyushu, check out my guide about how to plan your Kyushu Itinerary: THE ULTIMATE KYUSHU ITINERARY: 5-DAY, 7-DAY & 10-DAY
WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU
Best Luxury Place to Stay in Fukuoka: Hotel WBF Grande Hakata (Value): This is by far the most popular hotel and one of the most luxurious in Fukuoka. There are a large public bath and an open-air bath on the top level of the hotel where guests can relax and enjoy the views.
Best Value/Budget Place to Stay in Fukuoka: WeBase Hakata Hostel (Budget): This stylish hostel offers a wide range of dorm-type rooms with shared bathrooms, sockets, and safes for your belongings. They also have a kitchen, a terrace, and is within walking distance to convenience stores, a subway station, ramen shops, and sightseeing spots.
Best Value Place to Stay in Kumamoto: Hotel The Gate Kumamoto (Value): Hotel The Gate is a well-situated accommodation in the heart of Kumamoto, just across the train station and walking distance to shops and restaurants.
Best Budget Luxury Place to Stay in Kumamoto: Kumamoto Hotel Castle (Luxury): Set near the infamous Kumamoto Castle, this luxury hotel features a wide range of carpeted rooms from standard rooms to suites fitted with plush amenities.
For a full list of the top-rated places to stay in Kyushu, you can check out my comprehensive guide: WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU: BEST REGIONS & HOTELS
HOW TO GET AROUND KYUSHU FOR ADVENTURERS
While the train may suit those in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and even in Fukuoka, it won’t cut it out here on Kyushu. The trains will get you from major towns and even into some regional areas with bus connection but almost all of the adventure sports I visited had no bus connection. When I searched on Google Maps and clicked the public transport option it would just say ‘not available’. It was very clear, very quickly that Kyushu island is best to explore by car, especially if you are doing hikes and activities outside of the city (literally everything on this list).
Renting a car wasn’t too expensive and I did it through RentalCars.com, finding them to be the best-reviewed and had the cheapest options. I flew in from Tokyo so picked the car up from Fukuoka Airport and dropped it back when I was done. If you click on RentalCars.com and then search to pick up at Fukuoka Airport you should find a range of options. I got a very small car as it was cheap but it turned out very handy as the narrow roads of Japanse suburbs where my Airbnb was made it impossible for big SUVs. There was also no time that I needed to be off-road or anything like that so a small, fuel-efficient car made it cheap and convenient.
*** It is extremely important to know that you MUST HAVE an international driver’s license to rent a car in Japan. In fact, they won’t even look at your actual driver’s license and only want to see the international driver’s license. Take that seriously as they genuinely will not give you the car and likely no refund if you don’t have that. To get one you need to be in your country of residence and you can get one on the spot or order online and receive in a week or so. Make sure you organize that in advance as I almost got caught out not knowing that.
Here is my little blue whip that I rented on RentalCars.com
ARE YOU FOLLOWING MY KYUSHU BLOG SERIES?
I spent over three weeks exploring Kyushu and visited some incredible waterfalls, hiked some amazing trails, and visited a number of epic volcanoes. I created a number of guides to help travelers find the best spots in Kyushu. You can explore the articles by clicking on the links below.
The Ultimate Kyushu Bucketlist: 30 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KYUSHU
A guide to the best places to stay in Kyushu in each region: WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU: BEST REGIONS & HOTELS
How to plan your Kyushu vacation: THE ULTIMATE KYUSHU ITINERARY: 5-DAY, 7-DAY & 10-DAY
Interested in chasing waterfalls?: 12 AWESOME WATERFALLS IN KYUSHU
Keen for some epic hiking?: 11 AWESOME HIKES IN KYUSHU
Everything you need to know about Oita: 11 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN OITA
Your Ultimate Guide to Kumamoto: 13 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KUMAMOTO
My favorite waterfall in Kyushu: TAKACHIHO GORGE – MOST BEAUTIFUL WATERFALL IN JAPAN