The bus tour organized by Fukuoka Now on behalf of local governments to Chikugo last Sunday was a brilliant day-out, bursting the Fukuoka city bubble. Located in southern Fukuoka Prefecture, the area of Chikugo is known for traditional handicrafts and beautiful nature and the bus tour gave us the chance to tour the area all in one day. With great delight we tried our hands at local crafts and witnessed both beautiful scenery and workmanship. From the moment we got onto the bus at half past eight to our departure from Yame, the day was jam-packed with fun. Our tour guide Mizu energetically started the morning off by teaching us about Kyushu’s geography and explaining the itinerary for the day. She was so bubbly and informative, it made the driving elements of the day speed by.
The first stop was the indigo dyeing experience at Tomihisa Orimono. This was a great way to witness a way of life that has remained unchanged for years. The family business produces Kurume kasuri, a hand-woven, and very valuable, textile. It is dyed the distinctive indigo colour using the aizome plant and is recognized as an important cultural asset because of its unique patterning. This activity was super fun and hands on, and everyone definitely left not only with their tie-dyed handkerchiefs but also with big smiles. At the workshop we were each given a plain handkerchief and rubber bands. Everyone’s creativity then had a chance to shine, as we knotted and folded our fabric in preparation for dyeing. Then, we moved into the dyeing studio where big pots sunken into the ground contained the aizome dye. Carefully, we dipped our handkerchiefs into the dye, each of us choosing how long to let it stay in and how many times to dip – in order to affect the shade of indigo. The final stage was to rinse the handkerchief in water and untie the bands. Everyone’s creation was unique, with some really cool effects achieved! After the activity everyone was given a tissue holder as a gift from the family, who generously also gave the tour group a bag of persimmons from their garden. This wholesome and fun experience set the tone for the rest of the day.
Afterwards we went to Hirokawa Aisai Market, where there was the opportunity to buy official Kurume kasuri textiles. Many of the group bought themselves small souvenirs, either a small textile item or even some pottery and antiques. Lots of people also remedied the early start with a coffee from the cafe next to the market. Fukuoka Now has a good introduction to Kurume kasuri here for those who want to learn more.
Next up on the itinerary was a walk through a bamboo forest in Miyama. We walked just under two kilometers of the 11.5 km trail. The bamboo towered above us, with the crisp November sun filtering through and providing some gorgeous photo opportunities. Afterwards, we were given a little badge to commemorate our experience. The steep portions of the walk really worked up our appetites for lunch at Sakura Terrace, which did not disappoint! There was a Japanese-Italian fusion buffet, which was constantly replenished, and we each had a choice of four dishes (with vegetarian and vegan options available). The buffet was delightful, every dish had evidently been freshly made with quality ingredients. Favorites included the indulgently creamy spinach soup and delicious pumpkin tempura. The main courses were equally amazing and so was the roll cake that concluded the meal. Everyone filled their bellies and enjoyed talking to each other in the beautifully decorated restaurant.
After lunch the group made its way to Okawa to join in with “Craftsman’s Day”, an event taking place that weekend. The festival meant that the various woodwork and furniture shops of the town were opened to the public. It is one of Japan’s largest displays of traditionally made furniture. We first visited the award-winning kumiko (lattice woodwork) workshop of Watanabe, which is known for their intricate and masterly designs. The traditional Japanese technique was developed in the Asuka Era (592-694 AD). Pieces of wood are thinly and precisely shaved in order to be carefully assembled, piece by piece, to construct unique lattice designs. The wood goes through a laborious and delicate process of selection, grinding, splitting and assembling. The skill involved is outstanding, and we marvelled at the various lattices on display. There was time to explore more workshops around the town. The group dispersed and walked along the street, lined with beautiful Edo-style buildings. The autumn sun really perfected the afternoon as people meandered in and out of workshops throughout the town.
At 3 pm we departed Okawa for the day’s final destination – Yame Traditional Crafts Center. Here we were given time to look around the displays after a brief talk by a local expert. The pieces on display were wide-ranging, from Buddhist altars to lanterns and wooden toys. The most exciting part of the stop at the crafts center was the opportunity to, once again, have a go at crafting. To complement the morning’s dyeing experience the final stop of the day entailed paper making. Yame handmade washi is a local variety of Japanese paper with a history of over 400 years. It is designated a special traditional craft of Fukuoka. This, I think, was my favourite part of the day. We each got to dip, fill, and swill our own wooden frame with the paper mixture, made from the bark of kozo (mulberry tree). Next, we chose a selection of dried foliage or flowers, which we then placed onto the frames. Everyone enjoyed taking great care to figure out their design and the aesthetic to go for (we were reminded that minimalism is often best). After being left to dry, what was produced was four Japanese-style postcards to be proud of and take home as a souvenir. Once again, the group was gifted with more souvenirs, this time Yame green tea! This generosity added the final touch to what was a fantastic day! Be sure to visit the Fukuoka Now website, (or follow them on Facebook) to catch announcements of upcoming tours. Or plan your own trip to Chikugo!
1236-1 Ota, Hirokawa-machi, Yame, Fukuoka
Hirokawa Aisai Ichiba
1164-6 Hiyoshi, Hirokawa-machi, Yame, Fukuoka
Setaka-machi Okusa, Miyama City, Fukuoka
15-1 Setaka-machi Ogawa, Miyama City, Fukuoka
Yame Traditional Crafts Center
2-123-2 Honmachi, Yame City, Fukuoka
Report by Isla Phillips