It has been two years since our last trip together. It was December 2019 and we spent a week in Kyūshū 九州 in southern Japan.
We first visited the island a few winters ago with a fleeting stay in Fukuoka before riding the train south to Kagoshima. This time, our trip revolved around tea, pottery and driving around Kyushu to explore its quiet rustic villages. Our first stop was Fukuoka, the capital city of Kyushu, which is a short three-hour flight from Hong Kong.
Having visited Fukuoka previously, it was nice to have a sense of our bearings as we wandered around the city and not have to constantly consult our phones for directions. It was also reassuring to revisit familiar places that have remained as charming as I had remembered them: From the long-standing Komaya 駒屋 mochi shop that rolls out delicious chewy treats every day to Ohori Park where ducks glide in the lake as the sun sets. I like this city. It feels grounded and unpretentious. It is active yet it is not too busy and is not overrun with tourists.
Sampled a flight of sake served in Arita ware by the cherubic moustachioed Bonchan of the eponymous izakaya (which unfortunately has closed due to the sale of the building it was in).
Jabbered over whisky with the slightly tipsy owner of jazz kissaten, JAB, even though we spoke no common language. Sort of. The proprietor understood enough when AB mentioned he plays the alto saxophone, putting on Sonny Criss’ Saturday Morning (Xanadu Records, 1975).
Admired the beautiful afternoon light on the elegant interiors of Yorozu 万 as we sipped fine tea and nibbled on delicate wagashi. The space with its tasteful mix of mid-century modern and vintage Asian furniture – there was even a drawing by Egon Schiele in the toilet – was too styled for my comfort though. Perhaps the imposing daytime ambiance was intended to create a sombre temple-like setting where the tea would take centrestage.
Had “cabbage toast” with cheese on Japanese white bread for the first time alongside pour-over coffee at Coffee Hanasaka 珈琲花坂. It felt like we were in someone’s cozy living room with Jim Jarmusch movie posters peeling at the edges. I found out later the coffee guy rents the space which operates as a bar, Petrol Blue, in the evenings – which explains the bottles of whisky and spirits alongside the jars of beans.
Explored the Nishijin neighbourhood outside the city centre in search of Takatoriyaki Mirakugama 高取焼味楽窯 亀井味楽, where the traditional climbing kiln from the 1700s has been preserved. While doing so, stumbled upon a bakery that sold thick slices of fluffy shokupan (Japanese milk bread) individually packed for sale – bewildering! But also chanced upon Houraku Manju 蜂楽饅頭, a low-key shop selling round cakes filled with sweet bean paste made on the spot which were worth the waiting in line.
Finally got to see the Yanagibashi market in operation after passing through its dim corridors after-hours on various occasions. Having seen both sides of the market, I prefer the quiet respite of the night and find the space more intriguing. I’m sure the cats that roam the market for tasty scraps in the evenings would agree.
Next stop: Karatsu 唐津市