Turn around and go south, back down the street. You will see a flight of stairs leading up a hill. This is the entrance to Manmyōji, Unzen’s oldest and most important temple.
Nearby, you will see a stone pillar bearing several names for this temple and the mountains it honors. One of these is “Unzen-san,” written using Chinese characters that spell “Hot Spring Mountain.” However, these are not the same characters used to spell Unzen today! When the area received its designation as a national park in 1934, it was necessary to choose new characters to avoid confusion with other locations. Chinese characters were chosen that can still be read as “unzen,” but that instead mean “mystical land in the clouds.”
The mountains were once known simply as “Nihon-san,” or Mount Japan. When crossing the ocean from China, the mountains of the Shimabara Peninsula were the first many sailors saw as they approached their destination—further cementing Unzen’s sacred reputation.
Climb the stairs and take a moment to enjoy the view of the town from up top. Again, you can see the traditional architectural elements that tie the town together—white walls and red-tiled roofs inspired by Unzen’s original inns. Many of these were built in the early twentieth century, when wealthy Westerners living in Shanghai and beyond began to visit Unzen as a summer resort destination.