shadow of history

Shadow of the Bomb

Nagasaki. Bombed to smithereens out of a clear blue sky. Risen again as a beautiful, bustling, friendly town. When I told our hostess at the guest house that we had been to the Bomb Museum that day she said simply ‘Thank you’, and we both welled up.

Flight to JapanFlight to Japan 2 Time to introduce you to my friend and fellow traveller Judith Staines. She is a writer who edits a website, culture 360, a ‘space for collaboration, exchange and cultural engagement between Asia and Europe’. She also knows an impressive amount about modern Asian art, and had been invited to speak at a contemporary art triennale in Beppu, Kyushu. She decided to make it into a longer trip, hence the invitation to me to accompany her on a ‘wild impromptu expedition’ (her email subject line), ending up at Beppu, 2 weeks later. Impromptu it certainly was. I realised when I was sitting in the plane that I didn’t really know exactly where Japan was and was stunned to see on the in flight movie panels that we were spanning half the globe, and the cold bit at that. But no need to worry: as a very seasoned traveller and researcher Judith had arranged the itinerary (with room for improvisation), booked hotels and made sure we landed up in the right place at the right time, ie in the middle of the mountains for a shamanic dance event, and in Beppu for the art event. She even managed, it seems, to book our stay in Kagoshima to coincide with a minor volcanic eruption event. More later..

Around the kyushu logoThe idea was to use local transport: bus, tram, train, the famous Shinkansen (see logo right), and to stay in Ryokan, local guesthouses, wherever possible. But in order to minimise potential cultural shock at the beginning (can’t read can’t speak can’t understand) Judith had booked us into a western style hotel for the first two nights, in Fukuoka, the main town of Kyushu.

Culture shock - what culture shock?

Culture shock – what culture shock? – first evening in Fukuoka

After two days enjoying the surprises and novelties of the big city: the Asian Art Museum, shrines, Canal City with its ultra swish shopping malls, lesser shopping malls, Christmas decorations, cafes, back streets and crazy wiring, we had fallen in love with this lovely lively city, but it was time to catch the train south: to Kurume, Yame, and, next stop for this blog, Nagasaki.


‘What do you want to go to Yame for?’ said the American guy hanging around the information kiosk in Kurume, ‘there’s nothing there’. We had come to Kurume precisely to go to Yame, which was a bus ride away down the road leading south towards the tea plantations. When we got off the bus, we began to think the American might have had a point. Yame was a flat, featureless town built on a grid, with no sign of the traditional wooden houses and tea shops we had been led to believe were there. Eventually a local led us through some back streets and then suddenly, without warning, there were the wooden houses, old fashioned shops, and a welcoming restaurant in what had been the salt merchant’s house. The tea merchant’s house was pretty nice too, with bags of locally grown green tea in what I now know to be Yame Washi bags. There was a wonderful feeling of young, enthusiastic energy to the town: creativity and beauty abounded.

The rest of this first day in Yame is history (see last post) – calling in at the tourist craft building and being whisked off by car out through the tea plantations and  past a shrine where we turned left, incidentally, to get to Paper Heaven.

The next day we wandered round Kurume for rather too long, buying pots at the lovely little pot shop

Pottery in Kurume

Pottery in Kurume

and having lunch in the Cafe Hibi below the pottery shop where the ceiling was made of paper

Washi Ceiling

Washi Ceiling

before realising that we had hardly any time to get to the fabled indigo dyers and weavers near Yame, the place designated by the state as ‘Important Intangible Cultural Heritage’. And having got off at what seemed to be the right bus stop it took us ages to find the Moriyama’s workshops: they may have been ‘Important Intangible’ etc etc but for the neighbours you could add ‘Invisible” to the list. We nearly gave up: time was running out, but we did get there, just in time. Moral: never assume something won’t be possible. Belief is important! And here it is: the Moriyama’s Indigo Heaven.

(Apologies for the fact that the sound in the video is very low. This blog is already taking so much time that I can’t go back to correct it just yet. Luckily the text is more informative)

Links to various places mentioned above:

Kurume Kasuri at the Moriyama’s Workshop

(How to get to the Moriyama’s: Bus 31 or 30 from Kurume bus station direction Yame. Get off at KAWAZE (nondescript stop but the driver will tell you) – about 20 -25 mins. Get off bus, walk back to lights, take a left, then left at next lights, and it is about 500m down road on right. Hope that helps!)

The Takahiro Brothers’ Emporium

The Green Tea Company








This gallery contains 12 photos.

Revisiting the photos for this post and thinking about that amazing paper workshop we visited, and the people in it, has made me feel very emotional. People who, in the face of the completely different requirements of modern life, and also in the face of advancing age, are prepared to work unbelievably hard at their …

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I went to Japan last November: to the Kyushu, to be precise. The Kyushu is the most southerly, western island of Japan (not counting the many much smaller islands that extend south of the Kyushu for some way) and together with a friend and colleague Judith Staines I flew into its main town of Fukuoka on November 14th. I described the reasons for this trip in my main blog at the time. Now, four months later, I at last have the time for the blog I always intended. Most blogs are written concurrent with the events they describe, but in this case I’m planning to construct my blog like a book, and write posts based on my diary entries, photos and videos. So here goes.