I was just looking through my email like any other morning when I got an email from the fan club of Drum Tao. Monitoring Tour. 5 pairs to win a trip for free. Where? Kyushu. When? About a week after the results of the draw is out. Seriously. 1 week after the results are out. Okay why don’t you send it out and then see how it goes? That’s what I mused.
On that fateful day (LOL!) I got an email to say I didn’t win the trip but Drum Tao extend an invite for me as media/journalist. Woot!~ Time to get my arse on the plane. I got my ticket (there’s a huge story that any horror movie director would love to use for material) and off I went!
Taketa And Drum Tao
I reached Fukuoka airport on the morning of the tour and rushed down to Yufuin Onsen Town in the middle of Oita. I do have a very positive image of Yufuin though. Yufu mountain was overlooking this small little town that immediately reminds me of my time in Switzerland. It was a quaint and very attractive little town that has art museum, cafes and boutiques. Yes small place but a small place with character. Even the train station has so much character but I have no time to shoot it. And yes it has a foot bath just next to the train tracks. I look forward to what Yufuin can offer if I come back for a thorough trip.
Because of the horror story, I have missed my tour of Taketa City but managed to rushed to the performance venue at Oka Castle. Oka Castle is not a castle but the site of the ruins. The castle was dismantled following the Meiji restoration and so only the foundation was left intact. It is still a big place and for the first time ever, I was able to run up the hill with this fat ass of mine with some quick rests in between. I surprised myself really! I actually caught some action of the performance and kudos to Drum Tao was done under heavy autumn rain.
After the performance, I began to really enjoy Taketa. Taketa is a place not very widely known to most except for Yufuin which is a famous onsen town to start with. Actually Taketa is surrounded by Hot Springs and Nagayu, also another famous Onsen town, make this area worth exploration other than Beppu. So it is to my delight, I got to stay at the 3-star ryokan Kokumin Syukusya Kuju Kogenso to enjoy some traditional Japanese hospitality with Onsen within the compound.
The very next day we are invited to a special treat. We are to visit Grandioso, Drum Tao’s training facility at the foot of Kuju Mountain very near to where our Ryokan is located. But first, a quick tour to the Kuju Winery to taste some local wines.
Grandioso, its real meaning is to denote a part of the music to be played in a grand and majestic way and it matches perfectly what Drum Tao in essence and so to name their training facility as such is to project the vision they have for the troupe. Although we visited the place in a fog filled day, you could easily imagine how vast the land is and to play the Taiko and musical instruments here would make Drum Tao’s performance even more awesome. Even though we see this special performance inside Ako-Kabuto, we still enjoy it tremendously. Definitely unforgetable and I would love to experience it again.
To even perform at the level that Drum Tao does would mean having mind, spirit and body that would compete with any Olympic team. Every early morning the training starts with 20km run and then practice and more practice throughout the day. They don’t practice the drums or Taiko, but dance and various instruments such as Japanese flute, harp and gongs. Add that to a choreographed presentation and you can imagine the complexity involved. Drum Tao’s insistence to perfection is the reason why they are so widely recognised now.
Just before we go back to Fukuoka to end the Drum Tao leg of my trip to Kyushu, we visited Kuju Hana Koen and Guernsey Farm. If you are into flower fields, I guess 49 acres worth should be enough to immerse yourself into flowers. Autumn is slowly creeping into the park with some maple trees has started to turn red. The flowers still bloom beautifully for the photos.
We all know about Hokkaido milk and quite honestly, Kyushu’s milk product, especially from Gurnesey Farm is just as good. It was creamy and flavourful even without any addition of flavour and I like it that way. Add the yogurt and it just add the proverbial cream on top of the cake.
Fukuoka – Capital City of Fukuoka Prefecture.
As we ended the tour to the interior of Kyushu, I started the next part of my trip from Fukuoka. The city is Capital of Fukuoka Prefecture and with its swanky shopping malls and streets, it looked the part and yet it is small enough to feel welcomed something kin to what I feel about Melbourne. You don’t feel overwhelmed and the place allows you to explore like a small town and I proceed to do just that.
As providence would have me, the group came back into town during Hakata’s Okunchi. The 1200 year old tradition is their autumn harvest festival. It involves an ox-drawn cart that pulls the mikoshi or portable shrine through the streets of Hakata. Children also pull their own mikoshi and followed behind the adults in tachi-eboshi and tengan. If you are going to visit this festival, do check with Kushida shrine at the heart of the Hakata town for next year’s schedule.
When you are in Kyushu, any foodie will know to go straight to their Ramen – specifically Tonkotsu Ramen. I don’t really dig ramen in shio (salt) or shoyu (soy sauce). Miso based broth really depends on the paste but Tonkotsu or pork broth is another story. Perhaps it was the influence of early migrants that resulted in this broth. Even Ramen or lamien is also from China. Anyway I am just happy that Tonkutsu Ramen is enjoyed througout the world.
If you are sick of eating another bowl of Ramen, perhaps give the mentaiko or fish roe a try. Mentaiko can be considered a pretty popular street food in Japan. You can also try it at Ganso Hakata Mentaiju where they prepare Mentaiko in various ways. It was a bit of a gastronomic adventure so to say and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
There are definitely alot of places to visit if you are based in Fukuoka. However with a trip to Hiroshima coming in December, Nagasaki seems to be a natural choice since they have the same historical theme between them – the atom bomb. Getting to Nagasaki is an easy 2.5 hours trip from Hakata station and I planned it was a day trip. When I reached there, it has the same yellow and green streetcars or tram as Hakodate, another port town with western influences. Nagasaki, despite the devastation of the A-bomb, has recovered and is bustling and again, the same small town-city vibe permeates the place.
Nagasaki is pretty rich in history and so it was a pity that it was levelled during World War II. Fortunately, they have another historical site that just gained UNESCO world heritage site – an island they called Gunkanjima or battleship island. Its original name is called Hashima Island and is the entrance to a large coal mining operation beneath the sea bed. As with any operation, there need to house and feed the mining workers and that’s how Hashima Island was built. It was a thriving mining town until the 1960s when the Japanese government changed its energy supply policy that excludes the use of coal. The island was abandoned until it was rediscovered and became a sensation. The site is unique with its run-down architecture straight out of an apocalyptic movie so much so it is the darling of photographers and movie makers alike, with the last James Bond movie being shot here.
While in Nagasaki, you can try their version of Tonkotsu Ramen or the unique Champon noodle. The dish is invented out of a quick and cheap bite for Chinese students who are studying in Japan. I have heard of Champon before in Busan Korea and they spelled it as Jjambbong and with China, Busan and Nagasaki separated just by the sea of Japan. Nagasaki’s version is not so spicy and is made by frying pork, vegetables and seafood with lard and then add in soup broth made of pork and chicken bones. It tastes a bit like the Hokkien noodles but with soup. It was tasty but I still prefer Tonkotsu!
After 5 days of whirlwind travel to Kyushu, it is time to say goodbye. I will be back especially during the Summer period when Drum Tao will have their Summer program or in November when Taketa Town will light up by Bamboo candle holders during Chikuraki or Taketa Bamboo Lantern Festival, in time to catch the Autumn colours again. I would love to look at the Onsen towns more closely too. Now I wish there’s a local guide I can use for a photography trip! Let me say goodby with some more photos of Nagasaki’s sunset.