From the moment the plane touched down, I always knew my adventure through Kumamoto, my beloved hometown in Japan, was going to be something special. There’s something deeply comforting about returning to your roots, especially when it’s the launchpad for a two-week buying trip that promises not only to replenish our shop’s inventory with treasures but also to reconnect with the heart and soul of traditional craftsmanship.

The Journey Begins: A Taste of Home

Nothing says "welcome home" quite like the taste of the local farm's soft serve, It's the best soft serve...ever! (for me..!) It was my very first stop right after the flight – a creamy, delicious treat that instantly grounded me in the flavors of Aso Mountain in Kumamoto.

 

On the Road

I hopped into my car and began a road trip towards the southern parts of my hometown. The roads here are more than just pathways; they are ribbons tying together the rich, cultural landscape of Kumamoto.

Reunion with Shimoura Bentenkai

I love kicking off my trip with the cheerful Shimoura Bentenkai in Amakusa. It’s been a year, yet the warmth of reunion felt like stepping back into a circle of lifelong friends. Shimoura Bentenkai, formed in 2013, carries the noble mission of preserving local businesses and the traditional craft of doll-making. In a town with over 300 years of history crafting remarkable clay dolls, the dedication of the new generation of volunteers learning these skills to keep the local tradition alive is both inspiring and heartwarming.

Warm Welcomes from Mrs. Keiko Munakata

Mrs. Keiko Munakata, the leader of the clay doll crafts team, welcomed me with her infectious mothering energy and a glass of freshly squeezed Bankan Juice. The citrus burst was a refreshing start to the morning, especially appreciated by someone shaking off the last strands of jet lag. We matched in our early-bird schedules, making the workshop my perfect first destination.

Creativity Amidst the Rain

Despite the rain greeting us this year (actually almost every time!), the spirits at the workshop were anything but dampened. The clay doll making team outdid themselves, presenting the new Shishi lion dolls that captured my heart!

 

The team’s creativity didn’t stop there; they showcased custom-designed dolls for the local dinosaur museum which were absolutely adorable!

Additionally, their initiative to find deadstock Nobori flags, which I had custom ordered to be made into Noren curtains, demonstrated their commitment to blending tradition with innovative utility.

Community and Farewells

The highlight of community spirit was perhaps realizing that my arrival on April 8th was announced on the community board – a gesture that warmed my heart and happy to be welcomed by this community!

Saying farewell is never easy. Each visit strengthens the deep connections and shared dedication to preserving the rich cultural heritage of Kumamoto. It's these relationships and the shared moments of creativity, learning, and laughter that make each product I bring back not just an item but a story – a piece of heart and history.

 


 

 

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