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On this morning we left the very wonderful Isobe Gardens where we had partaken in many of their amenities which included wonderful public baths, Japanese style rooms and gardens as well as a daily breakfast feast that got us off to a good start each morning. When we were leaving the owner/mgr came out to see us off and we presented her with one of our tour “memory books”. This was a book that included a page/profile of each of the tour participants and was given out as a thank you and remembrance to many people we wanted to especially honor as we traveled along.

saying sayonara

Unfortunately, the day we visited the area around the Kubota museum was a cloudy and rainy one, so we did not get a glimpse of Mt Fuji. The Japanese like to say that she is shy and not always available to be viewed. When I was growing up in Yokohama, this mountain could often be seen out our back door as we lived on a bluff with an east /west orientation. On a previous visit to this area in 2009 I was able to see it…

Fuji san

First up was the Kubota museum where we would view the collection of Ichiku Kubota and his marvelous tsujigahana kimonos. I was excited to be here again and anxious to share this experience with other first time visitors. The first time I was here I was by myself and felt it to be a very spiritually charged experience.
There were appropriately no photos allowed inside, so the photos here are from the outside gardens and the building itself- set in stunning gaudi-style architecture. What I think I enjoyed most was watching everyone else take in this beauty and just feel the presence of the man who had created it. Many were moved to tears and I felt some sort of comfort in that- that I was sharing the experience with the right people. If you ever do go visit here, make sure you ask to see the English version video that is available. It seems that they only play it if requested. It’s a gem.

Kubota museum

-the outdoor entrance and gardens to reach the museum door were relished as we made our way in as well as allowed for contemplation of what we had just seen inside when it was time to go. the recent rain added to the crisp green everywhere.

garden gate

We did manage to sneak in a visit to the tearoom where we were able to soak up more of Ichiku Kubota’s intention, which to me seemed to be that we take time to see and create beauty in this world. This place just seems like the embodyment of that thought. The tea set was more beauty-and delicious as well!

teaset at the Kubota museum

Time to leave but a final group photo before we did on the steps leading up to the famously beautiful entrance gate-

Silk Study Tour group 2011 at the Kubota museum

We had spent a little more time than planned here but really could have spent more…

So, back on the bus and we were off to a lunch stop that had been planned at a famous country style udon house on the way to see the indigo dyer Satou Aiko san. This was a type of udon I had never had and apparently a regional dish in this area- called hotou. It included many vegetables and had a squash stew sort of flavor. We all loved it! Brenda and I had no problem polishing ours off and Kathy at the end of the table kept one all to herself- I think it might of been her favorite meal!

hotou udon

There was only the one dish on the menu and it was served at long community style tables. The dried noodles were available to purchase on the way out.

busy eating- again!

So, back on the bus again and I was finishing the last details of my assignment from indigo dyer Satou Aiko san to prepare a piece to dip into the indigo. With a large group such as ours and a limited amount of time there was only time for a speeded up demonstration of the process. I prepared a silk scarf using makinui and makiage techniques and before pulling up the stitches I briefly explained the technique to my fellow travelers-

demo shibori for indigo

We poured out of the bus and Satou san and her helpers for the day were there to greet us-the rain hadn’t dampened our excitement one bit!

getting acquainted

She explained her process and showed us around…

the source-indigo plant

the vats-covered

dried indigo plant

we dipped a couple of sample pieces, working the fabric beneath the surface of the inky liquid. we rushed this as she would normally take more time but as a demonstration piece this sufficed.

dipping several times

clamping-itajime

Everyone enjoyed viewing her work which she had set up on display for us throughout the house and studio area-

indigo collection

a group photo with her and the piece she had prepared and dyed for us-

part of the group with Satou Aiko san

I have included more photos on the gallery page but wanted to share her thoughts in her own words here-


“I learned the wonder and goodness of indigo dyeing when I lived with the family of an indigo farmer twenty years ago in Hokkaido. I helped the farmer in his vast indigo fields. I learned to treasure and cherish indigo by dying cloth with the pigment of the indigo-making fabric into strong cloth and re-dying it when necessary to wear again. I never forgot the good feeling I have when I wear an indigo shirt at the time of the muggy, rainy season. My roots of the indigo dyeing seem to come from this experience. After working with the indigo farmer, I learned the fermenting process from the indigo dyer. Then I was fascinated with the indigo dying. I guess that my skin was refreshed with the indigo field and indigo fermentation. By the way, my under wears are all the indigo dyed cloths. I have been wearing those under wears for many years. Every year, I re-dye them again and again. The cloth is strengthened by the dying process. If some of them has holes, I patchwork or do sashiko on them to make then strong again.

Before the synthetic dying materials were developed, Japanese common people dyed their clothes by themselves. Since the advent of modern dyes, the indigo farmers and dyers divided and worked separately. Dyers specialized in indigo dyeing were born of this separation and referred to as Konya san or Aishi (terms for a dyer of indigo). These dyers had more than 200 indigo vats and many workers. After synthetic dyes were developed these Konya sans mostly disappeared.

When British people came to Japan they saw everyone wearing blue indigo dyed clothes and they referred to this color as Japan Blue. Today, we Konya work together with other craftspeople and use the name Japan Blue to represent this part of our history.

The above quote was taken from her upcoming website which is in the final stages of completion here- another little job being done on the side here in gratitude of the visit. We hope to have it up and live soon.

We said goodbye and were off to Tokyo for the final days of the tour. I had hoped to return here before I left Japan but it wasn’t in the stars. I resisted the intense urge to run off the bus and wave goodby to the tour with Satou san and her volunteers as the bus pulled away and sped us toward Tokyo. There is just really something connecting me to and drawing me to this place…

Satou sensei and student Glennis

mata ne!

***note***much of this post was written a while back and meant to get it up previously. just now was able to edit it and finish the videos to attach to it. i am still in the process of culling through 1000’s of images gathered from the trip. a needed visit to check in on mom followed close on the heels of my return from Japan and only this weekend am i getting my sea legs back. i apologize if i left you hanging a bit. if you have any issues with this delay you would like to take up with me privately (you won’t be the first- no worries) just let me know via email. thanks….

Every year during the shibori festival two floats are moved out of their storage houses and put on display along the street. They each have puppets moved by men below the decks and tell a story from the past. Every so often throughout the festival the word goes out the puppets will become animated and the crowds gather round. At the end of the festival, the floats are put back until the next festival by a team of men in costume, having drunk much beer and enjoyed much fun. (notice in the video the discussions of how to move the float back into its shelter- I think it came out much easier than it went back in…partially due to a long fun weekend of celebrating!) here’s a video with a street view of the festival and the ritual putting away of the float…

As I walked down the streets of Arimatsu during the festival this year I imagined what it must have been like to be a traveler on this road during the early days of the famed Tokaido road… witness to the artistry and skill of this craft at the height of its existence as well as the efficiency of the Edo period community of that time. Here’s a great book if you’re interested- Just Enough-lessons in living green from traditional Japan, by Azby Brown.

In these modern times much has changed. It’s harder to find older pieces as such production that kept generations of families in business has dwindled and most production has been shipped off to China where labor is cheap and plentiful. I have seen these pieces and while they are well done and affordable, something palpable seems to be missing for me. Intention and invention held hands in the early days of shibori. Now something different is afoot.

The streets during festival still celebrate shibori, its history and stories, the old Tokaido- with food, vendors, demonstrations and entertainment. I was glad to see the celebration and meet the people who still know this craft so intimately (many who are well into their 90’s now), as well as the textile students from nearby Nagoya University. I think everyone who works at making this festival a success (as well as many of the participants) has a sense that things of this nature are slipping away, that if there is a desire to continue, a future must be created. I don’t know the answer, but somehow I felt their desire, their sincere interest, and their enthusiasm to carry this tradition forward. I felt I was scooped up by their passion and carried along the streets, welcomed at every doorway.

I owe Michelle Griffiths for sending me on a small errand for some special thread and this is where I ended up. They had what I had been looking for-the shibori stand. Actually, I was sent to another shop by Hiroshi Murase and his volunteer from the textile department at Nagoya U. That shop sent me on to this location where I had peeked in earlier but not seeing anyone or anything shibori-like I moved on (turns out it was all located behind a second door). I was led there by this fellow who took me under his wing for the rest of the day.

Turns out he owned the shop and was what you might call the master of ceremonies for the festival. He was very kind to me. Later that day he found me again and told me to go sit down. I obeyed. I knew right away that anyone with that fancy kosode tassel needed to be listened to and to my surprise he returned with a beer and some yakiniku! We had a wonderful time meeting people and watching the entertainment.

Speaking of doorways, I took this shot of the next doorway as a reminder of where I found my best Arimatsu treasure- a shibori stand and the needles/hooks to go with.
Just as I was taking the photo to remind me of the shop, a couple of people walked into the picture. Only now when I was looking for it to add to this post did I recognize Yoshiko Wada!

I had hoped to meet her but did not cross her path (that I knew of!). I am thankful for her books on the subject of shibori- most of you are familiar with them if not actually owning one yourself. The DVD she did in conjunction with Hiroshi Murase is a treasure itself, and I’m glad they were able to capture those memories, not only on cloth but on DVD as well. You really get a feeling these days when visiting Arimatsu that much time has passed, continues to pass-and quickly. I think that these days, passing shibori traditions once again call for intention and invention to join hands. There are people who are doing this. I hope that somehow it can be made viable enough to allow those who are focused on it to continue.
I really did enjoy the sculptural shibori glassworks upon entering Arimatsu- a very modern link connecting today with the past. I’ll post some more photos from these two days here in gallery format and you can comment on and ask questions individually if you like-just click on the thumbnail images and a larger image will appear with a comment section. (they will have to go in a separate post as WP will collect all the images from this post and lump them together-either that or i just don’t know how to make it do what i want- a distinct possibility!)

next up…indigo and the Ichiku Kubota Museum.


It was the very end of the shibori festival and by end I mean about 4:30 pm on Sunday. The fabric vendors were already packing up the shibori and the food vendors were hawking their last birus (beers) and snacks.In fact, a guy dressed up as a beer engaged us as we were walking by and sold us a beer which we paid for and when they tried to pour it the tap had run dry! They had drunk a little too much of it themselves I think and they were so embarrassed they had run out. So very Japanese of them- they gave us some of their other goods plus the ¥ back and we continued down the street for one last look around.

I was actually trying to wait out for darkness to fall so I could see the famous shibori sculpture by Kaei Hayakawa at night but alas, it had been a long day and it just wasn’t going to happen. So here it is in the daytime…it was still pretty cool and actually there was more than this- several sculptures around this plaza at the train station here along with shibori patterns embossed into all the glass panels around the walkways. A really nice effect.

So, back to the last walk down the main street of Arimatsu…did you know that this street was actually part of the old Tokkaido road?? Such a fascinating part of Japanese history to me. So many craft traditions were born and grew from these rest stations along the Tokkaido. So, there we were walking down the old Tokkaido road and I wanted to get a last glimpse of the ladies working since the crowds had cleared out a bit (and it was crowded!). That’s when I was able to get that video in the last post which my friend Richard Carbin has translated for me. I could understand the gist of it but he cleared up the details.. here it is:
Richard says:
Yup, it’s really interesting. Someone asks her how long she’s been at it. She answers she’s been doing it for 81 years now, and that when they all started, kids started in elementary school back then. She says they competed to be the best, from even such an age. And that back then there were lots of “shokunin”, or craftsmen(and women, I imagine), 100 or more. She says she’s from Narumi. She goes on to reveal that her age is 92 and that the woman next to her is 2 years older yet(like it’s some contest or something)

And after a second listening he adds:
OOps, she’s been doing it for 83 years. Back then, you started when you started elementary school. They competed to remember different techniques and patterns. There were 120 patterns that had to be remembered, but now there are only 70 or so that are done, the others having been abandoned. She says she did a lot of work back then as a student, and then restates herself to emphasize the amt (like “I did a ton!”)

How interesting! Thanks Richard! You can see his extremely fantastic mandala dye work here. Just in case you don’t click the link, here is one of his pieces. I own a couple of them. have them framed on the wall. He has really made some sick (as it good) mandalas.

look for asiadyer on Etsy

here’s a link to his shop:
asiadyer on etsy


Soon, we found ourselves in front of the Arimatsu float and it was time to put it away until next time. More on that and video too as soon as I get it edited in the next post. Until then, mata ne!

leaning into it- the arimatsu float

leaning into it- the arimatsu float

Arimatsu

there are so many photos and each day more get added. spent two days at the arimatsu shibori festival so there will be several posts on that alone. also still more from gunma prefecture and tokyo too…

here’s a quick video from yesterday. translation coming. one of many so need more time to edit them together. still traveling and will be back in the states on Thursday. have a lot to say about Arimatsu- met some great people and saw some amazing shibori…and LOTS of cheap Chinese shibori. more as soon as i can-

Today I did a little video of the Yokohama Silk Museum and put it in front of the video from the Koyata sericulture farm. This museum wasn’t an official stop on the tour this time but it will be next time. It’s small but has a good and well ordered display with better than average English signage. Special arrangements were made to bring a small group through here as Jacqueline Fields (author of American Silk 1830-1930) asked to make this a stop and although the museum was closed to install a new show permission was granted and a guide volunteered.
A small group went and I went on my own a few days later.

This is followed by the visit to the sericulture farm. This visit allowed everyone to see the authentic raising of silkworms in a traditional setting. Koyata san graciously allowed us to have a workshop here at his home with the Tama 21 Silk Life group- a group devoted to keeping many of the silk traditions alive in order to bring them forward into future endeavors. These women are highly skilled in sericulture, reeling, spinning, weaving and all sorts of textile traditions. Additionally, we were treated to a wonderful afternoon with even more silk craftsmen and women who shared some of their work with us. It was truly humbling. I mean not only did they make some of the kimono they brought to display, they wove the fabric and dyed them as well. A fantastic display of saganishiki was brought and the maker explained how this was done. Micheal Cook of Wormspit has a nice post on this craft here. ( is there anything Micheal can’t do?)
So, without further ado… the video:

At the farm everyone was able to try their hand at reeling cocoons, spinning raw silk, and making mawata (layered sheets of silk from boiled cocoons). Koyota’s farm produces cocoons for reeling that have not been dried (stifled). They are sent for reeling fresh- just ready to boil immediately before the pupae emerges from the cocoon and spoils the filament. This is somewhat of a rarity as most are stifled so they can be stored. It was said that fresh cocoons produce the finest silk. Another major point of interest at the Koyata farm are the special varieties of silkworms raised here. Many types of cocoons from past eras (like Edo 1603-1867 and Meiji 1868-1912) are no longer commercially available.

In fact, the visit to the Yokohama museum revealed that hybrid varieties became popular in the Taisho period (1913-1926) increasing both quality and quantity of silk production. By 1937 only legally authorized varieties were allowed to be cultivated and most of the others disappeared. Some of the older varieties of silkworms raised here are for the specific purpose and use by craftsmen in the restoration of textiles of those periods for the Shosoin.

edo period cocoons

how many cocoons to make a kimono?

Our visit here really brought history alive for us.

-next blog post will be over on my studio blog and will highlight some of the beauty seen on this trip-including my visit to Sankein in Yokohama where I spent a day haunting my childhood…

the many greens of Sankeien-no wonder i love green

Honestly, I am having some difficulty deciding what to post on this blog. Such an abundance of photos, videos and information.

This is going to take some time but little by little I will chip away at it.
-thought you might be interested in these little beauties, on display at the Gunma Silk Technology Center:

You can learn more about these here but basically glow in the dark silk was spun by larvae that had been injected with a jellyfish gene for fluorescence. The purpose behind this was not to produce new silk cocoon colors but to further future desirable genetically altered silkworms for industrial and medical advances.
Quite fascinating but also controversial in many circles. This really isn’t new news but it was interesting to see these cocoons in person and to hear their explanation. The center was very proud of this display. It was front and center.

These posts are bound to be a little lengthy… lots to communicate but I will try to pretty up the page with some great photos and vids in between my recollections.

Some pretty pictures:

I can’t remember right now how may kilograms of cocoons they were able to store at this site (it was a LOT) but the storage area was massive and very interesting to see. Here are large bags filled with cocoons and storage bins into which the bags were dumped before they were sent on their way for sorting (see previous post). They gave us a bag just for fun as a memento-we were given many gifts along our way and we had a draw on the bus for them- my name came up for the cocoon bag!

Speaking of pretty pictures, our travel agent who worked terribly hard through thick and thin, tsunamis and reactor meltdowns was Ayumi from IACE Travel. She was a gem and adorable to boot. Some were able to meet with her in person at our going away breakfast. I invited her to come and her boss gave her permission to join us. Thanks Ayumi- wish you were here!

Here’s a little video of the Meisen kimono collection we visited along the way. I’m a little unclear on the history of this collection but my understanding is that it is the collection of Junichiro Arai with some pieces also belonging to Yoshiko Wada. I met the elder Arai’s daughter who graciously allowed us to stop in for a visit along our way ( we were just “in the neighborhood”).

Meisen kimono were produced from the late 1800’s through the early 1940’s and were made with fabric produced using the innovative meisen technique of weaving and dyeing kasuri-like fabrics. Much like Arimatsu shibori and the invention of arashi shibori, meisen techniques developed out of a desire to produce more fabric at a quicker pace and in larger quantities for commercial purposes. The patterning style and color selections of this type of fabric were directly influenced by increased contact with the West along with many changes in Japanese society at this time. Often described as a “casual cloth for wealthy people but a fine cloth for ordinary people”, we found these kimono to be very beautiful. This visit also helped to prepare the participants for the kimono shopping that lay ahead of them.

Here is a link to an online exhibit of meisen kimono-I posted this a while back somewhere but it’s worth another look.
Never forgetting the number of cocoons that were raised by hand to create all the silk kimono that we have seen…

Actually- the next post will be on sericulture and the Koyata silkworm farm. Meet Mothra:

and Koyata san and Noriko

Indigo and Ichiku later.

filature mill…

oh dear. where to begin? let’s start here:

needless to say, we are living each day more amazed than the next. our group is learning so much- even experts who are among us are seeing things they have only read or written about. part of the fun i am having is watching everyone’s knowledge grow and seeing the information sink in. i can only imagine the places it may lead all of us in the future.

i realize now i perhaps was a bit optimistic about how much time i would have (and underestimated how much it would take) to upload, edit, and write on the go. please forgive any delay and rest assured i will give it the time needed even if it extends beyond the actual physical tour itself. this is, after all, a virtual tour and time is really nonexistent in this realm anyway.

this video is actually from day 2- our visit to the Usui filature mill. this is where silk cocoons are warehoused for reeling into silk fiber. each strand of silk, about the thickness of a human hair, is created from the filaments of 7-9 cocoons. they begin their journey in the sorting room where they are culled and only those that meet specs are sent on ahead. there really is very little waste in this operation. those that don’t meet the specs for reeling are sent along for other end purposes. think willy wonka and the nut sorting room. the rest are off onto the reeling room where they are brushed while floating in hot water to remove the outer waste silk which is twisted into a coarse stiff sericin filled silk fiber called kibisu. from there the cocoons move along to be reeled where one worker can supervise 100 reels with this automatic machinery as opposed to one worker to one reel in earlier days. a 100% increase in productivity. from there the full reels are sent to the drying room where they are automatically rewound into hanks for drying. i will upload video of this step next. not tonight though…it is nearing midnight here and we have a 6:30 am call time. tomorrow we visit the ichiku kubota museum and sato sensei, the indigo dyer.

a few photos…

mata ne
nemutai desu!!

(a couple of notes- sorry for the typos on the video-too tired. also, didn’t mean to add music to the slideshow. too late for me to redo now. just mute it of lower the sound. …..must get some sleep……)