An alluring artscape
Upon emerging from the tunnel leading us from the sprawling green fields of the Kuju Plateau into Taketa proper, it was almost immediately apparent that something set this little town apart from its brethren. Even before reaching our destination – an old bath house that had been turned into a café and art gallery – various stylish establishments that we saw dotting the streets hinted at some sort of creative aesthetic that pervaded Taketa's overall atmosphere.
We were seconds from opening the door of the Art Space Café Okura Shimizuyu for our long-awaited late lunch when something caught our eye on an adjacent hillside: 16 stone Arhat (enlightened Buddhist) statues, each of which bore a curiously indescribable expression on its face.
Fascinated and determined to find out more, we were unfortunately no longer able to ignore the squeaking of our hungry tummies, so we made our way at last inside the café.
Immediately welcomed by the friendly vibe of the staff, and intrigued by the café's décor of retro-style bathhouse furnishings, warm woods, craftwork, and splashy art pieces spanning two floors, we ordered our lunch and then set about happily exploring.
Floor manager Adachi Katsutoshi told us that the family business had centered around miso, shoyu and salt during the 1800s. The building later went on to be used as a storehouse for rice, he said, but following the postwar land redistribution under U.S. occupation, the operation was turned into a sento (bathhouse), before being converted into its present form as a café and gallery in the late 1970s.
Following a delicious, hearty meal of udon noodles, Adachi and café owner Shinji Hatori took us to the adjacent warehouse for further exploration.
They told us that the structure would soon be converted into a guest house, and that they also planned to turn it into an onsite wine bar and live music venue during the Chikuraku(bamboo lantern)festival, which is held in Taketa every year in mid-November.
They explained that town officials came up with the concept for illuminating the entire town at night with the ethereal ambience of bamboo art pieces, which would simultaneously accomplish the functional task of thinning out the increasingly dense local bamboo forests.
The most atmospheric location in town during the festival, they said, was the staircase of the Kannonji Temple, dating back to the year 1618—which housed the Buddhist statues we had just gazed upon earlier.
Confirming our initial impression of Taketa, they also told us that the town was home to additional artistic-themed events that are grounded in local efforts to bring artists and other creatives to the city from around Japan and beyond: namely, the Taketa Art Culture festival and Arts and Crafts Fair in Taketa, both of which are held in autumn, and which were inspired by the neighboring Beppu Project.
Although it was time for us to move onward to Takachiho, we had already decided inside our hearts to return to this incredibly intriguing town to experience the magic of these festivals – sooner, we both hoped, rather than later.