The beautiful bay of Kagoshima
When the Minami-Kyushu city Tea Bureau asked me to do a photo shooting of their region to help with the promotion of the “Chiran” green tea brand, I didn’t hesitate and jumped on this wonderful opportunity to discover in detail this beautiful area. Sencha from Chiran has long been one of my favorite and any chance to meet their producers and marvel at that beautiful landscape is a good one.
Boarding a shinkansen (bullet train) in Fukuoka, I crossed the entire island from north to south in less than 90 minutes to find myself in the warm and relaxing sub-tropical climate of Kagoshima prefecture. Kagoshima city itself is remarkable and visitors are always impressed by the imposing and beautiful Sakurajima volcano that dominates the bay. It is no wonder that the city is called “the Napoli of Japan”.
From there, I took a local train that ran leisurely along the blue and green coast; I could admire the black sand beaches touched by the East China Sea. I went off at Ibusuki, where the city officials were waiting to pick me up.
We went around the foot of Mount Kamon, an extinct volcano that local people call “the Mount Fuji of Southern Japan” due to its perfect shape that reminds everyone of its much larger and iconic sibling. It’s a good reminder that volcano ashes from Sakurajima play a key role in the composition of Minami-Kyushu soil. Not everything can grow where ashes regularly cover the ground. Tea trees do, however, as well as sweet potatoes – so it’s no surprise that both are such a significant part of the town’s agricultural production.
One of the most striking features of Chiran area is how the sea, the sky, the tea fields and the mountain blend together. The weather was perfect during this photo trip and I could once again bask in this absolute natural beauty. A perfect spot for enjoying this is the top of Onodake: after climbing 108 steps, you arrive at the top of a platform and are treated with a 360° panoramic view.
The number 108 represents the ideal age of 108 years. Reaching it is a proof that you have lived a long and fruitful life. As you climb up the steps, you are encouraged to stop at the step representing your current age and look behind you to take good measure of what you have done and accomplished.
At the end of the 108 steps, we could see a column named “Chabashira”, which is supposed to bring good luck when touched. “Chabashira” refers to the rare sight of a tea stem vertically floating in a tea cup when hot water is poured. The Chinese character for tea – “Cha” (from the name “Chaju”) is made up of Chinese characters representing the numbers 10 十, 10 十 and 88 八十八, which totals 108.
Green Tea & Onsen, the perfect mix ! Afterwards, we drove to one of the countless tea fields, in time for a chat and a snack with some of the older ladies. They still pick the tea by hand all day long.
The yummy snack finished, we met with Orita san, one of the IKKYU green tea producers. For 40 years now, Orita-en has been focusing exclusively on organic farming.
They have created various kinds of sencha, made from different blends of well- and lesser-known cultivars. We definitively recommend trying them; the tastes and fragrances are simply marvelous.
As the day was coming to a close, my guides brought me to a incredibly cheap public onsen (hot spring) in Ibusuki (5 USD per adult!).
Its main feature is its wide outside pool that faces the sea and Kagoshima gulf, with Mount Kamon on the right. You can simply relax and enjoy the peaceful view and amazing sunset, while all your day’s fatigue is washed away by the hot water.
This trip wasn’t my first or my last to Minami-Kyushu but certainly one of the most memorable. If you come to Kyushu island, be sure to put Chiran area on your map!