Nakatsu is a small city of 85,000 in Kyushu’s Oita Prefecture about halfway between the famous hot springs of Beppu to the east and the modern metropolis of Fukuoka to the west. A few years ago my wife, Miho, took a teaching position here. I, not gainfully employed myself, spent a lot of time exploring Nakatsu and the surrounding area on my trusty steed, “Orange Crush,” a one-speed mama-chari bicycle.
My two-wheeled adventures often took me along Nakatsu’s surprisingly well-developed and paved trail system deep into nearby mountains where a pleasant variety of onsen and hiking trails awaited. However, I also explored side streets and back roads within the city.
It was during one of my urban adventures when I came across Daichi, a fair-trade shop and café in central Nakatsu. Daichi was founded in 1987 by Rumiko Suga. She was inspired by examples of fair-trade organizations she encountered during travels outside of Japan. Her daughter, Kanako, is a partner in the shop.
Daichi’s eclectic exterior was what first caught my attention—covered in colorful writing and decorations, it seemed somewhat out of place amid the rest of central Nakatsu’s standard buildings. I parked outside and entered a welcoming environment packed with clothing and handicrafts from all over the world. The interior and the familiar scent of incense was slightly disorienting at first. Was I still in Nakatsu? I was temporarily flooded by nostalgic memories of similar shops on Canada’s earthy West Coast.
After gaining my bearings, I was warmly greeted by Kanako Suga and her mother. They invited me to sit down and offered me organic coffee or tea. It turned out to be some of the best coffee I have had in Japan.
Over the next several months, Miho and I made regular visits to Daichi. We were always warmly received, and we slowly learned more about the history and day-to-day operations of this unusual endeavor. The Sugas make regular trips to central Asia to buy their products at fair prices directly from artisans and textile workers. Photos of these trips adorn the shop along with descriptions of the origins of every product.
The family’s concern for global social and environmental issues is also evident locally as Kanako helps organize Nakatsu’s annual Earth Day celebrations while Rumiko continues to divide her time between Daichi and her duties as a long-time representative on the Nakatsu city council.
Next time you find yourself pedaling around northern Kyushu, be sure to drop by this inspiring family-run shop.
Tel.: (0979) 22-0963
Greg Lowan is a writer, researcher and wilderness guide based in Calgary, Canada. He welcomes correspondence at email@example.com. www.greglowan.com