Posts Tagged ‘shibori’

***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.


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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

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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.

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