Just back from: Kyūshū
Tell us more… I spent five days travelling around northern Kyūshū, meeting local craftspeople and traditional food producers, with a side trip to historic bathing spot Takeo Onsen.
In a nutshell… Like many other regions in Japan, northern Kyūshū has a strong tradition of artisans producing goods using techniques honed and passed down through generations. I was lucky enough to go off the beaten track to visit workshops and family-run factories dotted all around Saga and Fukuoka prefectures: glassware makers, tea producers, sake brewers, indigo dyers, vinegar fermenters, washi (traditional paper) makers and more.
You’d be a muppet to miss… If you have an interest in ceramics, history, or both, the town of Arita is well worth a visit. Kilns in Arita have been producing porcelain since the 1600s – the old quarry, where half a mountain appears to have been carved away, gives some idea of the scale. A few kilns in the area are still run by the same families after many generations. At a museum in town you can see the finely decorated 2m-high vase (made by the Fukagawa family) that was a grand prize winner at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900.
Good grub? The speciality in the city of Fukuoka is tonkotsu ramen – aka Hakata ramen – noodles with a rich, pork-based broth. While I could have happily slurped on bowlfuls of that every day, I did get a chance to try a bunch of other regional treats, including Saga beef (as melt-in-the-mouth as the more well-known Kobe beef), and a multi-course meal featuring vinegar as an ingredient in every dish (even the dessert).
Fridge magnet or better? I came back with a small horde, including a colour-speckled glass from Soejima Glassware (hizen-vidro.co.jp), and from Shoubun vinegar makers (shoubun.jp), a bottle of yuzu-flavoured fermented vinegar (you mix it with water to make a refreshing beverage – surprisingly good). I am also always a sucker for an interesting mug, and at Fukagawa Porcelain (fukagawa-seiji.co.jp) in Arita I couldn’t resist buying one that had an unusually (and perhaps unnecessarily) large handle. If I could have fit a swathe of patterned ‘Japan blue’ indigo-dyed cloth in my bag, I would have.
Bizarre encounter? I’ve seen some skilled chefs at work behind sushi counters, but the chef at Sushi no Jirocho (jirochou.com) in Fukuoka had a few extra tricks up his sleeve. When not creating sushi dishes, he uses a knife to make art. I got to take a look at his folder of works in between mouthfuls of sashimi. With a few fine flicks of the knife, he also put together a platter of sushi in miniature (complete with garnish on the side), just for kicks.
Laura Crawford travelled to Fukuoka and Saga with support from JTB Kyushu (tourist-information-center.jp). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.
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