Japan, like many other developed nations, has had to contend with the issue of traditional culture being lost amidst a quickly modernising world. One of the reasons that traveling to the Japanese countryside can be an eye-opening experience is for the opportunity to experience the region’s fascinating history and culture firsthand. Such opportunities are available for visitors at Asakura’s Kansui teahouse. At Kansui, it is not only possible to enjoy a delicious meal overlooking a zen garden, but to also experience and learn about tea ceremony (known as sado) and learn traditional Japanese archery, called kyudo. As you will see, Kansui is far from an ordinary restaurant.
A traditional life in an old castle town
Kansui is located in tranquil Akizuki, an old castle town area known as the “Little Kyoto” of Fukuoka. Once you leave behind the hustle and bustle of busy Fukuoka Airport, it takes approximately 50 minutes by car to reach your destination. Kansui is the life’s work of Mr. Yoshiaki Shinohara, 65, a carpenter by trade, who created Kansui with his wife as a place for locals to get together, both young and old, in order to strengthen the bonds in the local community. Shinohara, who built Kansui himself, was taught carpentry by his uncle, and further honed his craft by studying under various master craftsmen in the Asakura region.
Even now, Shinohara remembers his mentors with pride. “I admired them and wanted to be useful to them, so I accompanied them, rain or shine, and in return also learned about how to better treat others as a human being.” Shinohara and his wife also maintain the beautiful zen garden located on the premises at Kansui. In particular, Shinohara realises the value of such artisanal skills, ones that can be passed on for generations. “Out in the countryside, it is common for people to learn a trade to support their families, which they can then teach to their younger relations as they grow older. This was central to our way of life; unfortunately, that is no longer the case these days, and as a result of younger generations not taking over these crafts, the industries themselves are beginning to disappear.”
A journey from Kyoto to Yemen and back again
Mr. Shinohara’s desire to create strong ties is not limited to just Japanese people. He also takes a keen interest in foreign cultures, stemming from his time working on a construction project in Yemen. “I enjoy learning from foreign people about the kind of places they grew up in, and what sorts of culture or arts exist there. When I went abroad, even though I didn’t speak any foreign languages, I was struck by how well the locals treated me. That’s why I try to return the favor in this way.” As a service to foreign visitors, Kansui offers the opportunity to learn and experience traditional Kaiseki cuisine, archery, and tea ceremony.
Kaiseki cuisine has its origins in Kyoto, and features many small plates of light, delicate fare. In addition, central to kaiseki is the usage of fresh, seasonal ingredients. In this way, it is likely that no two kaiseki meals you experience will be exactly the same. The beauty of the food itself is also characteristic of kaiseki, such as suimono (a clear, lightly flavored broth, usually including fish) or aemono, a type of Japanese salad. At Kansui, it is possible to enjoy this unique meal in a private, serene setting, overlooking a zen garden planned by Mr. Shinohara himself. But why have a zen garden in a restaurant in the first place? Mr. Shinohara explains: “I want people to practice zazen (zen meditation), or at least reflect more on life. I want people to be kinder to one another.”
The philosophy of archery and tea
Shinohara’s mastery of tea ceremony also reflects this philosophy of leading a slower, more contemplative life. Japanese tea ceremony emphasises simplicity and refinement, but the ceremony itself can take hours, and features precise rituals and tea-making techniques that can take years to master. Principle to tea ceremony is the idea of omotenashi, or hospitality, from the tea ceremony host to their guest.
For Shinohara, omotenashi also means freely passing down his knowledge of a traditional martial art. As a 6th rank kyudo practitioner with over 35 years of experience, he is happy to teach foreign people this art form. Recently, kyudo federations have been gaining popularity in countries such as the UK. As opposed to what most people think of as archery in the western world, in Japan, kyudo has been thought of almost like a spiritual practice. The arrow hitting a target is considered something of a metaphor for seeking truth. It emphasises rightness of spirit, harmonious, not forceful, movements, and being able to achieve inner peace. If you can do so, it is believed you will surely hit your target. If you do miss, you are taught to consider why you did so. This contemplative practice is similar to zen meditation in that way.
Looking to the future
Mr. Shinohara, now in his 17th year of running Kansui, shows no signs of stopping. He is especially interested in fostering a sense of community with local youth, such as camping trips. He is also eager to continue passing down his wealth of knowledge about precious traditions from Japan’s history to travelers to Asakura. “Even if you are up here in the mountains, surely you can create something meaningful with enough effort,” Shinohara says. The food, atmosphere, and experience at Kansui is truly unique, and one that can only be seen by coming to Asakura.
On a final note, on the Kansui grounds there is also a bakery called Anberu, which is famous in the area for its delicious bread. In fact, it is suggested to make a reservation by noon of the day before you want to go, as they are known to sell out rather quickly.
Information for travelers
Yamami 709, Asakura, Fukuoka （福岡県朝倉市山見709）
Phone : 0946-25-0777
Hours: 11 am to 9 pm
Tea Ceremony or a Kaiseki meal can be reserved for a group of more than 4 people
Price: Starts from 6,000 yen per person
* Reservations by phone are accepted only in Japanese, but you may reserve in English via the Visit Asakura Facebook page.
Hours: Saturday and Monday only, from 11:30
Price: Half loaf 450 yen ∼ 550 yen
Full loaf 900 yen ∼