What to buy in Japan Part 3: Kyushu
This is the third part of our guide to what to buy in Japan, covering Shikoku. The first part covered Hokkaido & Honshu and the second part covered Shikoku.
Kyushu (Capital: Fukuoka)
Kyushu ranks third in size among Japan’s 4 main islands but it certainly isn’t little in terms of shopping. Among the things you should buy in Japan from Kyushu are stunningly beautiful porcelainware, delicious ‘volcanic tea’, several delicious snacks and, of course, the celebrated and very unique local sake.
In between your shopping sprees, you can enjoy escapades to ancient hot springs, towering mountains, serene beaches and lots of wonderful local food.
It’s almost unbelievable that objects as beautiful as Arita porcelain have been around for 4 centuries. You can choose your very own piece of exquisite artwork right from what is considered the birthplace of Japanese porcelain.
Arita is located in the northwestern part of Kyushu. The region’s porcelainware has been in high demand for centuries, with European royal houses particularly fond of these artistic masterpieces. Arita porcelain is marked by its almost ethereal elegance. The detailing features extremely delicate and intricate artwork, predominantly in blues and reds.
These unique products from Arita undergo a tedious process of design with patterns first traced onto the vessel, then painted in multiple stages to achieve the iconic Arita look. This time-consuming series of artistic endeavours creates a highly decorative display piece with a 3-dimensional look.
Arita wares are most often shaped into vases, bowls, mugs, and sake flasks. They are one of the most elegant souvenirs to buy in Japan from Kyushu.
‘Volcano tea’ would be a very interesting name but would give a very different impression of what the superb tea from Kagoshima, Kyushu is like. Blessed with soil that has been enriched by millennia of volcanic eruptions, ample sunlight and a fresh, open location by the sea, the Chiran district of Kagoshima produces some of the best brews anywhere in Japan.
Characterised by a wonderful jade colour, a light but lingering aroma, and a flavour that is best enjoyed in progressive stages. The first infusion of Chiran tea produces a sweet result with no hint of bitterness at all. Every sip rewards the drinker with a smooth, rich experience. the next infusion takes a step back from the fullness of flavour but retains the level of mellow smoothness that connoisseurs appreciate.
Tea grown in volcanic soil is said to have myriad health benefits, including the ability to stave off inflammation as well as boost immunity.
How can you resist something that is billed as being better than black caviar? That is indeed the way that they describe Fukutaro Menbei. If you are not familiar with the term ‘menbei’, it is a portmanteau: mentaiko + senbei = menbei.
Mentaiko is the roe of Alaskan pollack that has been cured with salt before being marinated in red chilli peppers. Here, they use particularly spicy roe. Meanwhile, senbei is a special type of cracker made from potato dough. Fukutaro menbei is a particularly tasty variety of this unique Kyushu snack.
There is no doubt that Fukutaro is a master of its games— they have been making delicious munchies for over a century. Their menbei is not particularly spicy but every piece has a deep and rich flavour of actual mentaiko. This is achieved by double marinating the roe before it is applied to the crackers.
Menbei crackers are wonderful on their own but often also used as accompaniments to meals.
Indulging in Hakata Torimon is an experience. Tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, they pack an overdose of lovely flavour. Each piece is individually wrapped and you are greeted with the nostalgic aroma of cream as soon as you open the packaging. It is an over-joyous olfactory occasion.
Every bun is exquisitely smooth and pillowy, regaling your sense of touch next. This is the perfect set-up to enjoying your first taste of Hakata Torimon. The bun virtually melts away on your tongue, rewarding you with the creamy and sweet white bean paste inside.
Meanwhile, the milky creaminess from the now-melted bun combines with the paste, creating an incomparably wonderful new union of flavour. It’s a divine experience and that was just the first bite!
Several companies make this addictive little bun. Most are priced around the same at about S$6 – S$10 per box, making them one of the best food items to buy in Japan from Kyushu.
Alcohol – Shochu
If you order sake (which is the generic Japanese term for alcohol) in Kyushu, the odds are that you will be served shochu.
No, not soju from Korea, Japanese shochu is a completely different drink. (Although both names mean “burned alcohol” in their respective languages) Japanese shochu is a distilled spirit that can be made from about 50 different grains and vegetables.
The most common ingredients are edible roots such as yam and sweet potato, and crops such as rice, barley and sugar cane. However, more exotic bases such as seaweed, mushrooms and milk are also used.
What type of shochu you buy in Kyushu depends on whether or not you are looking for the traditional spectrum of taste or to explore a rare find. One of the more unconventional concoctions can provide an interesting experience but there is always the possibility that the bottle will go to waste after the first sip. Choose wisely!
Other articles you might like:
What to buy in Japan Part 1: Hokkaido and Honshu
What to buy in Japan Part 2: Shikoku
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