A small town just an hour from Fukuoka, Ukiha offers the kind of peace most of us only dream about offers the kind of peace most of us only dream about
THE NIGHT is black and the sound of the wind blowing through the cedar trees is interrupted by a chorus of night insects until all falls silent once more. It’s hard to believe that I am less than an hour away from Fukuoka, the economic centre of the Kyushu region in Japan.
Spider lilies bloom along the terraced rice field in Tsuzura
As the clouds scurry away to reveal a full moon that bathes the surrounding landscape in a pale, pearly light, I set off on a late night walk amidst the tranquil terraced fields in Tsuzura Tanada, one of the mountain villages surrounding Ukiha city. Stopping to sniff the sweet scent of the ears of rice diffused in the summer breeze, for a moment I am convinced I have tumbled down Alice’s rabbit hole and emerged in Wonderland.
Tsuzura Sanso, an old farmer’s house converted into an inn and perched at the top of a hill overlooking the terraces, adds to the feeling of amazement. Here, surely
one of best places to immerse yourself in the scenery, the fresh air ensures a long relaxing sleep and a gentle awakening to a new day. For someone like myself, desperate the leave the rat race, the quiet here is more than enough, but for those visitors who need a more active lifestyle, Ukiha also has a lot to offer.
Renowned for its abundant fruits, there are plenty of orchards to enjoy seasonal fruit picking while occasionally sinking your teeth into a strawberry, blueberry, pear, peach, persimmon and grape.
Traditional buildings in Chikugo Yoshii
If you prefer to linger around town, then a visit to Chikugo Yoshii is a must. The district flourished in the Edo period (1603-1868) and is full of traditional white buildings, canals and antique stores where browsers are welcomed. It’s also home to several artisanal shops run by creative locals.
Nearby is Budo no Tane, which is packed with cafes, a gallery, a shop that makes Japanese sweets, as well as gift and speciality shops. Minou Books &Cafe is a great place to hang out and Pan no Mocca has some of the most delicious freshly baked bread I’ve tasted. Yumeno Kitchen Buffet Restaurant and Deliboy Bros Hamburger are popular with the lunchtime crowd and for the history buffs, the Kaneko Fumio doll museum, the 200-year-old Nagao noodle factory and the Sugi Kojo woodwork gallery are well worth a visit. My favourite, though, is Kusumoridou, the 200-year-old residence of the Kawakita family. Surrounded by trees, it’s today owned by Yukitaka Kawakita, whose family tree goes back an impressive 1,200 years. There have been Kawakitas in Ukiha for more than 400 years running the tea plantation and factory.
The beauty of minimalism in Kusumorido
Despite having zero knowledge about tea, Yukitaka was determined to protect and pass on the old wisdom to the next generation by continuing to produce Zairaishu, a tea grown from seeds in the traditional Japanese way. Growing tea plants from seeds makes it difficult to assure the quality demanded by the industry and production has dropped significantly through time. Today, Zairaishu makes up just three per cent of Japan’s tea production.
While tea leaves cultivated from cuttings have almost the same characteristics and provide a uniform taste well suited to mass consumption, seed grown leaves have subtly different characteristics from plant to plant. Mixed together, they form the basis for a deep and rich natural flavour and Zairaishu tea remains a favourite beverage of the elderly.
Budo no tane cafe
Sitting on the Japanese style Tatami in a room surrounded by the serene moss-covered garden, I sip the tea prepared by Yukitaka while listening to his stories. I cannot helped but be moved by his gratitude towards his ancestors and the selfless passion that drove him to single-handedly renovate the house – now designated as a tangible cultural heritage – and to open it to the public free of charge.
Yukitaka personifies the kind and caring nature of the people of Ukiha, the residents that make the town so special that will keep you coming back.
IF YOU GO
>> Several airlines offer direct flights from Bangkok to Fukuoka.
>> From Fukuoka, you can travel to Ukiha by train, bus or taxi.