A weekend in the historical South Islands of Japan
Kyushu seems small on the map but when you get there it feels like you want to add more days to the trip. It’s volcanic, with many smaller islands that can only be reached by boat. A drive up North from Nagasaki airport was like a dive into the Japanese history from the first arrival of Portuguese until the beginning of the industrialization end of the 19th century.
If you have watched Martin Scorsese’s movie “Silence” or read James Clavell’s “Shogun”, it’d sound familiar. We went to Hirado island, where the first Portuguese landed at the end of the 16th century to start commerce and spread Catholicism. This is where Christians hid on islands, in the thick forests, preaching in silence if not found out after their religion was outlawed by the shogunate in 1614.
Churches are here and there, in bright blue and white or red stoned towers, right next to ancient temples and bamboo forests.
In Nagasaki, old stone bridges and docks of Deijma -the only trading post between Japan and the outside world during the Edo period- are now surrounded by new buildings. But this was the place where the porcelain of Arita, Imari, and Hasami where bought and exported through the Dutch East India Company’s own network. A stop by the Glover House in Nagasaki will remind you that many foreigners were actually behind the industrial and political rise of the Modern Japanese nation after its opening to the world in 1853-4.
If life brings you to Northern Kyushu, here is what I recommend you visit:
Arita – famous for their pottery skills, especially the new line celebrating foreign artists with local craftsman under the label called 2016 Arita. The retro looking pottery museum is an interesting pit stop as are the ateliers of the oldest pottery maker in town called Kakiemon.
Korean potters originally introduced their savoir-faire in Arita and Imari before these two towns made Chinese-styled porcelain for the Dutch. Arita used to work together with the neighboring Hasami town, where you must see the creative complex in one refurbished pottery factory called Nishinohara, now a hype organic grocer, a sustainable select shop, an art gallery, workshop spaces, a cafe serving delicious home made Japanese home food (and cake), a cafe with their own roastery and of course a pottery shop for every day use hand made tableware.
Some people are so skilled, they forget that they even doing something special. This was my impression of this glass blower in the country side near Arita. He is living with his adorable wife a simple life, creating pieces for an exhibition in Paris and drifting off into thoughts like artists do.
In the atelier, that has been there since the Edo period, once surrounded by fields, now by houses and buildings, the know how is transmitted from generation to generation.
Each and every piece is hand made, by one of his three craftsman left to honor the name, although, there is no particular branding. Not on any of his pieces. They simply accompany a pride of accomplishment and an honor to serve as flatware to whom ever cherishes hand made over factory made.
My eyes caught the blue water pitcher that comes with a glass fitted over the spout, for bedside tables. Blue, being a healing power to serve water in, aligning the 5th and 6th chakras, the throat and the third eye. It’s an exquisite piece, for one self or for a gift.
Heading back to Tokyo with a head filled with creative, historic and botanical impressions. Kyushu grew on me like ivy to a wall.
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