asa no kyoto

My first morning in Kyoto started with Daitokuji, a complex of 24 temples and sub-temples, featuring quiet Zen gardens and paths to wander down and around. It was a quiet and contemplative way to start the day.
And then the rain began. It made the gardens quite atmospheric. The rain allowed me to see one of my favorite sights: beautifully dressed women with umbrellas.
On to Nishijin Textile Center. Kyoto’s Nishijin district was the heart of the town’s textile industry. Nishijin woven textiles are intricate and complex, with ornate styling. It is totally the opposite of the Japanese textiles I am drawn to. I knew I was close to the center when I spied all the middle-aged women with giant shopping bags and vaguely-handmade clothing. (Textile women are the same the world over, I swear.)

From there: Nijo-jo. The castle was built in 1603 and was the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun. I especially enjoying the “nightengale” floors–designed to creak and prevent treachery. By the time I got back to the capsule, my sandals offered the same effect.
More rain.

searching for shibori

I came in search of Arimatsu, a small town along the old Tokaido Road (the East Sea route from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto). Dating back to the early 1600s, Arimatsu has been associated with shiborizome. (You may have seen it represented in ukiyo-e prints by Hiroshige as one of the 53 stations of the Tokaido.) In 1934, a small part of town was designated for preservation.
I visited the Arimatsu-Narumi shibori museum, where two ladies in their 90s were demonstrating shibori techniques. (One was doing kanoko; the other working on kumo. The guide told me at this age they were “very professional”).image

There are some samples of kimono fabric rolls in different patterns and techniques.
There are shops selling indigo items along the streets.
Because shibori was my gateway to an interest in Japanese textile techniques, I felt I owed it to the town to stop and visit. But, partly stemming from the experience at the farmhouse, I feel I’m moving on from shibori and ready for a new challenge. Thank you, shibori, for introducing me to this path.

tokyo round 2

Friday, I headed to Tokyo to buy art supplies (katazome paper, thread, linen fabric to dye, etc). I took the train from Fujino station into Tokyo (about an hour, depending on the part of Tokyo you’re headed to)¬†to go to Seiwa, where they teach dyeing classes and sell supplies. The French dancer Julie and I arrived and… it was closed due to Oban, the mid-August Japanese Buddhist festival honoring one’s ancestors. Officially Oban ended a day or two before, but some shops close the weekend after.

During Oban, people travel home (or to their ancestral homes) to honor their ancestors and spirits. On the mountain roads in Fujino this week, the little family shrines were tidied up and cleaned, and you could hear kids’ laughter as they played outside late into the night or spent time around a bonfire. (I heard a rumor than the “bon” of “bonfire” comes from this festival name, but I haven’t read up on that). My sense is that it is a ritual of family togetherness and a reunion of sorts for many Japanese.

With the shop closed, I headed to the Tokyo National Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Japanese art. The museum is really easy to navigate and every sign is in multiple languages (thank you!). There were some beautiful textiles from the late Edo period on display, and some amazing things in the bookstore. (Sorry, credit cards, but I really needed that book on Happi coats!)

The National Museum is located in a museum-dense section of the city in Ueno Park near the zoo. Although the weather was hot and humid once again (as it has been every day here), it was a lovely day to walk around and eat popcorn. I walked over to the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the emperor who opened Japan to the west, but… it was closed due to renovations. It’s still a brilliant gold on the outside.

My third destination was Nippori, a quick train from Ueno. Nippori textile town is a mile-long section of shops selling all manner of ¬†sewing supplies and fabric. My goal was Tomato, which boasts six floors of every fabric imaginable. And I arrived, and it was… closed. All five locations. Luckily, there were a few shops open so I could buy some supplies. Sweet treats from the local mart, pizza in the park, and a train ride back to Fujino to round out the day.image

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street fashion and ukiyo-e

I spent an afternoon walking around Takeshita Dori in the Harajuku neighborhood before going to a woodblock print museum. Takeshita Dori is the young, hip ped-only street, filled with boutiques and small shops with all the trendy teenager clothing. If you’ve seen the photos about Tokyo street fashion, this is where those kids are going out to be seen on the weekends.

The Ota Memorial Museum of Art houses over 12,000 ukiyo-e prints collected over Mr. Ota’s lifetime. Ukiyo-e prints were a genre of woodblock prints introduced in the Edo period. They became popular with regular people due to their affordability and subject matter, (such as kabuki actors, famous geisha, depictions of popular stories, etc).

This exhibit focused on prints of “Handsome Boys and Beautiful Men of Edo” and it’s rare to see an exhibit narrowly focused on images of men. My favorite showed a young couple trying to feed sake to a rooster, so that the bird would sleep in and they could have a longer night together. Another image depicted the conflict between Japanese yakuza, partially identified by their tattoos and weapons.

An amazing day–showing two eras of fashionable folks. Except me, I was sweaty and hot and treated myself to vending machine snacks and drinks every couple hours to keep cool.


day to night

Today, I made my way from mountainous, quiet, country-life Fujino to, um, pretty much the opposite of that. Tokyo!

My destination was the Japanese Folk Craft Museum, to look at the textiles, pottery and other works on display. For such a plain entrance, the inside is pretty amazing.
Next up: Shibuya. I stopped at the statue of the loyal akita Hachiko, who kept returning to the station to meet his master long after his master had died. (I seem to remember a Richard Gere movie, but don’t quote me on that.)
Then up to look over Shibuya Crossing, where 100,000 people move through every hour. I was there on a Tuesday afternoon, so I suspect this is a picture of a slow time.

I made my way to 8 stories of crafting goodness. Don’t worry everyone, I didn’t buy everything I wanted (such as washi tape in every color!). Check out the washi tape stairs in Tokyu Hands.

Finally, to East Shinjuku, for neon lights and active streets. If you’d ever like to confuse your brain, may I suggest moving from a quiet mountain house through one of the busiest train stations in the world and end the day in an area known for its nightlife? Sorry, mind. I’ll get back to meditative work in a day or so. But let’s enjoy the energy of the city for one more day!