Travel Thru’ The Lens: Kyushu with Drum Tao

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!

Fukuoka was absolutely pouring when we touched down but the airport staff pass each passenger an umbrella at the foot of the stairs when we disembarked. I feel welcomed already.
Fukuoka was absolutely pouring when we touched down but the airport staff pass each passenger an umbrella at the foot of the stairs when we disembarked. I already felt welcomed.

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.

After 3 delays and 1 cancelled flight transiting through Pudong, it felt great to be on the train and enjoying the view.
After 3 delays and 1 cancelled flight transiting through Pudong, it felt great to be on the train and enjoying the view.
The train slowed down so you can take a closer (or far) look of the waterfall. This place will look gorgeous when the leaves turn totally red.
The train slowed down so you can take a closer (or far) look of the waterfall. This place will look gorgeous when the leaves turn totally red.
Special train for a special place. Yufuin is a place to check out if you are in town.
Trust Japanese creativity and hospitality rolled into one. An Onsen pool for your tired feet as you wait for your train to come. What a great idea!
Japanese creativity and hospitality rolled into one. An Onsen pool for your tired feet as you wait for your train to come. What a great idea!

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.

Another mark of extraordinary Japanese hospitality. I was picked up from the train station and rushed to Oka-jo. This lady if you noticed is the same person in the Taketa brochure!
Another mark of extraordinary Japanese hospitality. I was picked up from the train station and rushed to Oka-jo. This lady if you noticed is the same person in the Taketa brochure! (http://www.taketan.jp/en/hotsprings.html). Nice to being ferried inside the Honda Fit/Jazz/Shuttle because I am usually at the wheel.
The car park with Oka-jo's fortress wall in sight. It was a huge compound and and i have to run with the gear up the mountain and get to the top. Yes I ran. It was a miracle.
The car park with Oka-jo’s fortress wall in sight. It was a huge compound and and i have to run with the gear up the mountain and get to the top. Yes I ran. It was a miracle.

I managed to catch about 10-15 minutes of the performance. The actual stage do not have the awning but was put due to the heavy downpor. Unfortunate but manage to get some pretty awesome shots.
I managed to catch about 10-15 minutes of the performance. The actual stage do not have the awning but was put due to the heavy downpor. Unfortunate but manage to get some pretty awesome shots.

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.

Welcome to Kuju Kogenso!
My room. Totally dig the tatami and it was really comfortable!
My room. Totally dig the tatami and it was really comfortable!
A little party in the room with rice wine and Kyushu's version of makgeolli rice wine and sake.
A little party in the room with rice wine and Kyushu’s version of makgeolli rice wine and sake.

onsen

Because of the fog I can't really shoot the environs of Kuju Mountain range. Do a google of this place and you can see how gorgeous this place when sunny.
Because of the fog I can’t really shoot the environs of Kuju Mountain range. Do a google of this place and you can see how gorgeous this place when sunny.

It is just egg, carrot, onion, sausage, broccoli and cooked with the water inside the vegetable over earthern pot. Simple yet delicious.
This is breakfast. Simple but fulfilling and definitely healthy.
This is breakfast. Simple but fulfilling and definitely healthy.

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.

Kuju Winery Cellar
Kuju Winery Cellar
The locally grown grapes certainly produces their own unique tastes.
The locally grown grapes certainly produces their own unique tastes.
Foggy when we visited but beautiful when the sky is clear.
Foggy when we visited but beautiful when the sky is clear.

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.

The place where the senior members stays...
The place where the senior members stays…
...and the trainees' bunks.
…and the trainees’ bunks.
The performance started off pretty intimidating.

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.

Drum Tao has split into several performing groups and this is just one group. Nevertheless all of them are powerhouses in their own right and I am very happy to be part of this trip to enjoy their performance once again.

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.

Flowers Paradise
Flowers Paradise
菊花台...imagine Jay Chou singing here. LOL!
Really huge park.

Kyushu Milk natural sweetness is good enough by itself when made into Ice Cream.
Kyushu Milk natural sweetness is good enough by itself when made into Ice Cream.
Guernsey Farm's yogurt!
Guernsey Farm’s yogurt! The packaging is so nice you’d can already taste it!

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.

Another place you can check out if you are into Onsen is Nagayu's Lamune Onsen.
Another place you can check out if you are into Onsen is Nagayu’s Lamune Onsen. Their carbonated bubbly onsen water is special is this region.

What a great end to the Taketa tour as we bid Taketa goodbye with the setting sun.
What a great end to the Taketa tour as we bid Taketa goodbye with the setting sun.
We checked into Canal City Washington Hotel to continue with part 2 of my trip.
We checked into Canal City Washington Hotel to continue with part 2 of my trip.

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.

Kushida Shrine in the heart of Hakata City
Kushida Shrine in the heart of Hakata City

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.

Contender for best Tonkotsu Ramen- Ippudo
Contender for best Tonkotsu Ramen- Ippudo
Contender for best Tonkotsu Ramen - Ichiran
Contender for best Tonkotsu Ramen – Ichiran
If you want to try various versions of Ramen under one roof, Canal City's Ramen Stadium is the place to go.
If you want to try various versions of Ramen under one roof, Canal City’s Ramen Stadium is the place to go.

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.

My ride to Nagasaki
My ride to Nagasaki
My ride around Nagasaki. It is the same size as Hakodate and smaller than Melbourne's but the colour scheme is so similar I feel right at home immediately.
My ride around Nagasaki. It is the same size as Hakodate and smaller than Melbourne’s but the colour scheme is so similar I feel right at home immediately.
Peace Park Nagasaki. The Peace Statue has his right hand pointing to the sky to represent the threat of Nuclear weapons while the left hand symbolises eternal peace. The extended left leg and folded right leg symbolises both action when call upon and meditation and praying for the souls of those who died during the bombing.
Peace Park Nagasaki. The Peace Statue has his right hand pointing to the sky to represent the threat of Nuclear weapons while the left hand symbolises eternal peace. The extended left leg and folded right leg symbolises both action when call upon and meditation and praying for the souls of those who died during the bombing.
The paper crane folded and strung together. It is said that if a thousand of the paper cranes are folded and strung together, the gods will a wish. Peace is in the mind of the students who come here to remember the victims of the bombs.
The paper crane folded and strung together. It is said that if a thousand of the paper cranes are folded and strung together, the gods will a wish. Peace is in the mind of the students who come here to remember the victims of the bombs.
I went to the A-bomb museum. Once you enter, you see this huge space that gives you the sense of destruction right after the bomb exploded.
I went to the A-bomb museum. Once you enter, you see this huge space that gives you the sense of destruction right after the bomb exploded.
Dubbed the
Dubbed the “Fat Man”. It is a plutonium based implosion type atomic bomb dropped from B-29 bomber Bockscar
The clock stopped exactly when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, same day as Singapore's National Day.
The clock stopped exactly when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on the morning of 9 August 1945, same day as Singapore’s National Day.

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.

'Battleship' Hashima. It looked like one from this perspective. Because of the storm we can't get on the island.
‘Battleship’ Hashima. It looked like one from this perspective. Because of the storm we can’t get on the island.
So near yet so far
So near yet so far.

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!

The original location of Shikairo. Shikai, or four seas, speaks of Nagasaki as the port that people from four corners or seas comes. The founder of the restaurant is the one who created the Champon.
Champon set at the Shikairo restaurant next to the pier.
Champon upclose. Basically a seafood fried noodles in chicken and pork broth.
Champon upclose. Basically a seafood fried noodles in chicken and pork broth.

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.

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