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..
The 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.
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.