folk houses of fujino

inspiration: This book from 1963, featuring wax-dyed textiles of the folk-houses, small towns, work spaces of craftsmen, and daily life in Japan in the early to mid 20th century. If I were a different sort of person, I would hide this book in my luggage and never let it out of my sight again! (Mom, if you are reading this, my birthday/christmas is coming up.) I was particularly inspired by this kimono.image


stencil: Folkhouses of Fujino–my representation of daily life in the mountains. I attempted a 4 way repeat, if that means anything to you.


in progress: pasting the fabric. The pasted areas will remain white.


results: The difference between the light and the dark samples is due to how many times it was dipped in indigo.



I am really excited about this technique and the possibilities it offers. I appreciate the effort and intentionality that goes into stencil making, especially the push and pull between planning and execution, and what can’t be predicted or planned. (Or, at least, not by me or not yet). There is a kind of magic in seeing your stencil brought to life once the fabric is dyed. Maybe katazome could offer me room to grow and a set of limitations to explore. I’m thinking on it.

mt. takao part ni

image image image image image image image image imageFrom the top of Mt. Takao, Serj and I decided–on the spot, over lunch–to walk home to Bryan’s. This was either going to be the best idea ever, or a long walk to nowhere! But after looking at the map in the Takao visitor center for a bit, I felt confident in our skills. Civilization would never be far away, as there were towns along either side of the ridge-line we’d be walking. The weather was perfect:  sunny and clear.

We headed out on the well-marked trail (at least, well-marked in Japanese) and started home. The trail led us to the top of Mt. Shiro, along the Kobotoke Pass, to the summit of Mt. Kagenobu and Mt. Dosyo, through the Sokozawa Pass, the Myoo Pass, the Narako Pass, and then to Mt. Jinba. Each summit had a lovely rest area with a noodle shop, though only the first two were open because it was a weekday. When we stopped, Serj said it was the best soup he’d ever had. (I wouldn’t know–I had barbeque Cheetos. What can I say?)

We met hikers along the way. (Konnichiwa!–Good day!) Nearly every one was dressed in full hiking gear:  backpack with camelpak, hiking poles, full length pants, hiking boots and an outdoorsy shirt. Were we hiking Mt. Fuji? They take their hiking seriously here, like everything else.

Meanwhile, I was dressed in polka dot shorts and running shoes and was carrying a coke and a candy bar in case of emergency. I realized I was taking the hike a bit casually when I almost slipped while unwrapping a chocolate bar on an uphill slope. Did I mention it had rained throughout the night? And that the trail was:  up a path of tree roots, down a path cut into the slope, up a path of stepping stones, down a slippery path,… Well, you get the idea.

After 4+ hours (ahead of schedule I might add), we reached Jinba-san. At 855 meters, it was our highest peak and the most deserted. We were treated to a view of white horse statue. (I think Jinba means military camp + horse). From there, we took the Wada Pass and after walking straight down the mountain, we arrived down on the main road which runs by Bryan’s. By the end of the day, his extremely steep driveway seemed like nothing we couldn’t handle. We’d just walked over 22 kilometers–a half-marathon on a whim. Totally worth it!

mountain climb, but not the mountain you’re thinking of

imageEarlier this week, I convinced Serj (Bryan’s apprentice of sorts) to climb Mount Takao with me. Takao-san is a popular hike, as it is close to Tokyo and really accessible. You just take the train to the nearby station of Takaosanguchi, and follow the signs to the trail. We cheated a bit at the start and took the lift up the steepest part (as does nearly everyone, though most people opt for the cable car instead of open air suspension).

Next up: monkey park!!! Over fifty imagemonkeys live at the park; the youngest one was born in May. (The ones that live near Bryan’s probably descended from monkeys that escaped the park after a weather event.) I have been driving everyone at the house crazy with my desire to see monkeys while walking the dogs, so this was a good opportunity to check them off the list and stop spending my dog walks looking up in the trees.

The mountain temple (Buddhist) is imagedevoted to Tengu, a long-nosed red goblin said to reside in the mountains and have supernatural powers. His giant-nosed image is everywhere on the climb and on all the mementos for sale.

imageThere are multiple station-stops along the way, with vending machine drinks, a snack stand or two, and souvenirs for sale. (I bought a Tengu pin from a vending machine). If this is Japanese hiking, we should all be doing it, because it involves a 5 minute stroll, a small set of stairs, a stop for snacks and drinks, and repeat for every stop until you reach the summit.


At the top (599 meters/1965 feet), we were treated to a view over Tokyo (with Mt. Fuji hidden in the clouds) and had lunch at the noodle shop. But we had heard a rumor that we could actually walk all the way back to Bryan’s from Mount Takao.  And it was only 12:30, and we had barely done any hiking… Part 1 of 2.


the way to the farmhouse

Let me say a bit about the location of Bryan’s house: It is perched on the hillside, amongst the greenery and monkeys (so they tell me, I have yet to see one) and encroaching trees. The nearest town is Fujino, with roughly 10,000 occupants, known for its artist community. Bryan’s house is about three miles from town but a million miles away in spirit.

From Fujino station, the road to the house follows the creek and winds around the mountainside. On the corner of each pavement turn sits a set of buildings–a house, maybe a garden shed, an open-sided building under which a car or two is parked. The nearby greenery feels sculpted and controlled. The road cuts into the hills, and patterned concrete walls line the roadside turns.

Once we turn from the main road–served by a bus a few times in the morning and evening for commuters–the road narrows into one lane, with occasional turnouts to create passing room when cars meet. Mirrors mounted high on poles let you know if other traffic is approaching on the blind turns.

We pass roadside signs, collections of buildings, abandoned sheds once used for traditional tasks like tea harvesting or making charcoal. (Many people in this area still grow tea, but Bryan explained that people abandon the practice once they can afford to buy tea. Farming your own is seen as backward and something to leave behind). The tea rows that do exist mark the hillsides around the houses. They form neat rows, with impossible paths worn into the vertical ground by the farmers who weed and tend them.

The truck rises with each back and forth. We drive by a small shrine fronted by a large wooden gate. We pass still more houses. Finally, we take a steep driveway with hairpin turns and are home. There is freshly-dyed fabric drying on the line, two indigo vats waiting to be used, and two dogs happy to see us. image image image image image image image