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Into the noiseless realm

Touring in upcountry Kirishima to enjoy a cup of coffee brewed with spring water



Kirishima City in Kagoshima Prefecture is located north of the Aira Caldera, a significant geological area sandwiched between two active volcanoes, the Kirishima Mountain Range and Mt.Sakurajima. The climate and vegetation in the southernmost part of the mainland is primitive, and mysterious places are ubiquitous throughout the landscape: the riverbeds are the remains of flowing lava, while the entire mountains are covered with volcanic ash accumulated from eruptions.

I wondered if I could enjoy Kirishima’s fabulous nature in a new way, and came up with an intrepid biking tour to imbibe coffee brewed with spring water in the great outdoors! To do so, we invited Tatsuya Inoue of VOILA Coffee and one of Kirishima’s biggest fans, to accompany us.

Departing from VOILA Coffee with Inoue-san and heading from the town into hilled rural area.

I will never forget the coffee I drank when I climbed Takachiho, the main peak of the Kirishima range. The beans at that time were also VOILA coffee. Kirishima, Coffee, Hiking. This time we are adding “natural spring” and “bicycles” into the equation to dial it up another notch. 

While cruising silently along the mountain road, my thoughts turned to coffee. Will it taste better if brewed with spring water? What if we’re exhausted from pedaling up the mountain? What if Inoue-san brewed it for me? Answers were not forthcoming. The mountains were silent.

When riding along a mountain road with your mind running free, you suddenly realize that there are many beautiful things all around.  The glistening sun filtering through the trees, softly swaying leaves, casually blooming flowers. Fallen leaves fluttering in the sky, moss, and the light that changes with the clouds. They communicated something to me. That there are things we have forgotten. That we had become so far away from ourselves. And before I knew it, I had forgotten about coffee.

After cycling some 23 km, we finally reached a secluded spring.

The area became increasingly mysterious as we moved from the city center to mountain roads, forest roads, and further into the backcountry. Here, we get our spring water. Stepping off the bike, I realized how much strain cycling puts on your legs. The elevation of the Ōdemizu spring  is about 200 m. Although we took a break along the way, we had been pedaling for nearly two hours, and felt nicely worn out. 

Having drawn our spring water, we head further in. The riverbed is made of lava, and pebbles that have flowed through the river and have accumulated over a long period of time, colliding with each other, and passing through the same places, creating beautiful curves.

Born in Tokyo, I moved Kirishima City in 2014 having been lured by the magnificent nature. As well as the delicious food, the water and air were divine, and the hot springs healed my body. I felt it had everything necessary for people to coexist with the earth.

Of course, that feeling remains unchanged. This is a place that gives a sense of being on Earth. When I lived in Tokyo, the notion that I lived on Earth had somehow eluded me. I followed my instincts and here I am.  With these thoughts in mind, I descended to the riverbed.

The three stones wedged between the fallen trees are pumice. It tells us that the water level has gone down. When I visited in November, the water level was too high to enter the riverbed. It is probably possible to descend to the riverbed from December through May.

There are so many beautiful places, but the absence of people makes you feel cocooned by nature and gives you a true sense of well-being that money can’t buy. On top of that, you get to enjoy coffee brewed by a professional barista!

Brewing drip coffee in a magical place gives a sense of ceremony lacking in everyday life.  Down on one knee while perfecting our brew, Inoue-san looked like an angel sent by the coffee gods.

Inoue-san’s setup for the day included a Windburner personal stove system, nalgene bottle,   Dripper Air (S), and a Porlex coffee mill.  It’s a set that brews delicious coffee while thoroughly portable. The beans are “Mocha Noir.”

The wild nature of Kirishima, the welcome fatigue from biking, the crystal-clear water and air. The coffee I imbibed while feeling the connection of these elements was simply divine.

“If you experience time with no noise, you realize there are many fun things hidden out there”, remarks Inoue-san.

“Coffee, for example, is a capsule of aroma. It is ground just before drinking, freshly brewed, and this very act is an important ritual to break through the wall of noise in the world. Fetch delicious spring water, boil the water, grind the beans, and brew the coffee while inspecting the aroma. In a cocooned realm of noiselessness, you feel relieved as soon as the hot liquid passes your lips.”

“The electric bicycle I used this time also made no noise and allowed me to easily ride along the mountain paths, giving a sense of oneness with nature.”

 “Recently, I feel that due to the glut of information there is a strong tendency for people to seek out the optimum without experience. As with this time, it’s important to just try something without overthinking it. I admire people who don’t seek perfection, and who can entertain a certain degree of failure and reflection into their leisure pursuits.”

Despite the nice weather, it was still February. It was getting chilly, so we decided to finish our coffee and head home. On the way back, we enjoyed an exhilarating ride down the main sightseeing streets of Kirishima, as opposed to the way up. On the way, we passed through two hot spring resorts, Anraku and Myoken, before heading back to the city center. This bike trip is truly a great way to discover deep Kirishima.

Caught up in our busy lives, ordinary everyday scenery becomes a “byway” that we simply pass through. Go at bike speed rather than car speed. Or just walk on your own two feet.  And sometimes, just stop where you are. In a world without noise, you are bound to notice something. 

Hanayuki Higashi
Born in Tokyo, Azuma has been a freelance photographer since 1996. He worked as a senior editor of TOKION magazine for 3 issues, and as a photographer and director of H.P.FRANCE production department from 2004 to 2011. Currently based in Kagoshima City, he works mainly in Southern Kyushu, also in other areas of Kyushu, Osaka, and Tokyo.