The Kunisaki Peninsula is home to a growing number of
passionate people who thrive amid the area’s unique focus on spirituality.
These individuals have found their ikigai – “reason for being” – and commit
their lives to preserving local culture and cuisine, injecting energy
into an otherwise ageing rural community.

Three years ago, I spent nine days with Walk Japan trekking 90km of the Kumano Kodo, a 900-year-old pilgrimage on Japan’s Kii Peninsula, for Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia.  This peaceful and meditative hike through “stands of Japanese cedar and pine, carpets of red maple leaves [and] vivid mossy stepping stones” was one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences of my two decades spent living here in Asia.  So, when an opportunity arose this past December to visit the Kunisaki Peninsula for another Walk Japan experience — this time on assignment for Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris inflight magazine — I was thrilled.

Over the course of five late-autumn days, writer Stephanie Zubiri and I traversed the rural interior of northern Kyushu and the Kunisaki Peninsula, from Fukuoka to Yufuin, across “a peaceful landscape steeped in religious belief and tradition” in search of spirited Japanese who “have found their ikigai — roughly translated as their ‘reason for being’ — and committed their lives to preserving their local culture and cuisine, injecting energy and passion into an otherwise ageing rural community.”

“From one remote ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) to another, this particular [Walk Japan] tour leads visitors through Kunisaki’s mysterious forests and picturesque countryside in an exploration of Japan’s spiritual heartland.”  Over the course of the week we met the abbot of the historic 12th century Fukiji, one of the most sacred temples in Kyushu, a “hipster, toothy-grinned couple” who fled Tokyo to live and run a vegetarian café “in the middle of nowhere”, a 22-year-old half-Swedish and half-Japanese shiitake farmer, a sixtysomething paper scrolls restoration specialist and a 72-year-old fifth-generation sake brewer.

Although each person we met was unique in their individual passions and skills, it was clear they were all living their best lives — their ikigai — within the quaint rural communities that dot the Kunisaki foothills.

Read “Soul Train” — another one of my adventures for Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris — when I traveled on The Ghan, an epic 3,000km train journey across Australia’s vast and inspiring landscape.