London Craft Week 19: Contemporary Japanese craft

BUAISOU indigo hands

Indigo Hands installation at Coal Drops Yard

 

At the London Craft week this year, many Japanese craftsmen and artisans were invited to take part and showcase their exquisite craftsmanship. Although Japanese craft is highly regarded worldwide, the future of many traditional Japanese crafts is still uncertain due to the lack of younger people entering these fields. In the past, traditional craftsmanship is passed down from generation to generation within artisan families. However, due to dwindling demand, urbanisation, change of lifestyle and taste in Japan, few young people would want to dedicate their lives learning and perfecting an ‘old-fashioned’ craft. In order to preserve these crafts, artisans have to constantly evolve, collaborate, and innovate.

In recent years, the revival of natural and indigo dyeing proves that there is no such thing as an ‘old fashioned’ craft. After computer and mobile technology took over our lives for the past two decades, many people are now finding comfort and joy in making tactile craft again. 

 

BUAISOU indigo hands  BUAISOU indigo hands

 

Eastablished in 2015, BUAISOU is a young team of Japanese indigo farmers and artisans responsible for the revival of sukumo – dried and fermented indigo leaves – in Tokushima, the hometown of Ai Zome (natural indigo dye). Tokushima was the top producer of Ai Zome garments in Japan in the 19th century with around 4,000 aishi (sukumo farmers), but due to the introduction of synthetic indigo and other various factors, now only six are left.

At LCW, Coal Drops Yard commissioned BUAISOU to produce a series of handmade and hand dyed flags, and the team conducted several onsite dyeing workshops in KIOSK N1C. Unfortunately, I missed the workshops, but I do hope to visit their studio in Tokushima in the future.

At Heal’s, the Japanese Craft Market showcased ceramics, Mino washi, blades, and wood craft produced by thirteen exhibitors from the Gifu prefecture. I visited Mino and Takayama in the Gifu prefecture last year, so seeing the crafts brough back memories for me.

 

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Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

There are several towns in the Gifu prefecture that are famous for ceramics, including Mino, Toki, and Tajimi. In Tajima, there is Ceramics Park Mino, a ceramic museum and park that showcases Japanese ceramics. The town also holds an annual ceramic festival during the second weekend of April which attracts thousands of visitors to this area. The region has a lot of small and large scale producers making tiles and ceramic wares including household items, crockery, sculptures etc. as well as huge furnaces and other equipments for industrial purposes.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market   Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

The ancient town of Mino is famous for Washi (Japanese paper), which is used for shoji doors, umbrella, fans, lanterns and stationery. The high quality and durable handmade paper uses pristine water from the Nagara river and is considered as natioanl treasure in Japan. You can learn more from my previous entry on Mino here.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

As soon as I arrived at Hida Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture, a glass showcase of wood crafted furniture at the railway station caught my eye. The wood-abundant Hida has maintained a woodworking tradition for over 1,300 years. This region is famous for its skilled woodworkers and beautiful handcrafted furniture, and its minimalist aesthetic is similar to Scandinavian design.

I think the exhibition was a good introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Japan’s regional craft and design. I hope the Toyama prefecture will be next on the list.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu  Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

At the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe in Mayfair, California-based mother and daughter team Shizu Designs demonstrated traditional Japanese basketry weaving techniques that transform rocks into art. Rattan or cane is used to wrap and tie the rocks with ornamental knots used in Japanese ikebana basketry. Shizu Okino and Karen Okino also contributed to the LOEWE Baskets accessories collection which features their signature style.

It was mesmerising to watch the two artisans working side by side. Basketry is another traditional craft that is being revived today, and I believe these collaborations are likely to make people appreciate traditional craftsmanship and see it in a different light.

 

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design  loewe

shizu design

 

To be continued…

 

‘Living Colours: Kasane’ – an exhibition on Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop

Living Colours: Kasane

 

When I returned from Asia, I managed to book myself onto the curator’s tour of the “Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations” exhibition at Japan House. The exhibition explores the natural dyed textile work of the Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop in Kyoto. Due to my interest in natural dyeing, it prompted me to pay a visit to Yoshioka‘s small shop Somenotsukasa Yoshioka in Kyoto last year (see photos at the bottom), hence I was particularly keen to see this exhibition.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

 

The exhibition focused on the ancient art of kasane, the creation of Japanese colour combinations based on the changing seasons in Japan, using natural dye techniques. Master Sachio Yoshioka is the 5th-generation dyer of the 200-year old family-run company, while his daughter Sarasa also co-runs the workshop.

Kasane is the layering of colours seen in formal kimonos worn by the aristocratic women of the courts during the Heian period in Japan (794-1185 CE). The hand and plant-dyed silk kimonos were made up of three, five, or up to eight layers, with each layer reflecting the colours of the natural world around them, such as cherry blossom, or an important occasion or the wearer’s rank.

Japan’s oldest record of natural dyeing was also compiled during this period in early 10th century in books called Engishiki, which describe royal rituals, customs, and clothing, including dye ingredients used for particular colors.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

With the help of pre-19th century historical documents and textile samples, Yoshioka was able to recreate the palette of the Japanese court and revived this an anicent craft from the brink of extinction.

When I did the indigo textiles dyeing workshop in Japan last year, I learned that the traditional kimono industry is rapidly declining, and craftsmen working in the industry are struggling to preserve their important heritage and craftsmanship. Hence, what Yoshioka doing is not only reviving an ancient craft, but an industry that is in crisis.

 

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Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

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Aside from textiles, Kasane was also used in paper. Members of the Heian court often wrote and exchanged poems between lovers on dyed fans or several sheets of seasonally coloured paper.

The most famous Japanese literature from the Heian period is “The Tale of Genji”, which is often referred to as the world’s first novel. Written by a noble women from the 11th century, the novel depicts the lives of courtiers during the time. Inspired by the novel, special dyed washi revealed how the layering concept applied to paper as well.

 

img_4843  Living Colours: Kasane

 

For over 40 years, Yoshioka has been taking part in the the thousand-year-old Shuni-e Buddhist ceremony held every March at the famous Todai-ji temple in Nara. Washi paper flowers dyed in red with benibana (safflower) and yellow with kuchinashi (gardenia) are offered to the Kannon (the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) for harvest and protection for the nation. A five-coloured cord made of dyed silk yarn was also recreated at the consecration ceremony of the Great Buddha at the temple in 2002.

 

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Based on traditional dyeing methods, Yoshioka uses 30 kinds of dyeing materials, including indigo (ai), benibana petals, murasaki-gusa (purple gromwell) roots, akane (madder) roots, acorn nuts, and leaves and stalks of kariyasu (rice grass). Meanwhile, silk, hemp, and cotton are commonly used in their work.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

The Japanese are a nation particularly sensitive to the changing seasons, and their appreciation for this is reflected in their culture, habits, arts and craft.

Simon, the curator of the exhibition told us that Yoshioka wanted to show that Japanese aesthetics are not just about wabi sabi (the beauty of the transience and imperfection), and the art of kasane demonstrates an aesthetic that is vastly different.

 

Living Colours: Kasane  img_4848

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Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

 

It is encouraging to see that natural dyeing is becoming more popular in recent years, and this exhibition showcased the vivid and sensual colour palette that can be created from plants. It is time for us to reflect on the sustainability of synthetic dyes and its damaging impact on the environment.

 

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can watch this beautiful video “In Search of Forgotten Colours” on the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop made by the V & A, which was accompanied by a small exhibition at the museum.

 

 

yoshioka workshop

yoshioka workshop

The “In Search of Forgotten Colours” display at the V & A museum

 

Higashiyama-ku

Somenotsukasa Yoshioka

Somenotsukasa Yoshioka’s shop is located at 206-1 Nishinocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto

 

 

Manhole cover designs in Japan

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Sakura motifs are often featured in Japanese manhole cover designs

 

If you have visited Japan before, you have probably seen the wonderul manhole covers on the pavements all over Japan – it would be hard to miss them! The popularity of these manhole covers has been growing rapidly both locally and overseas, and often the ‘manholers’ would seek, photograph these covers and share them online to websites like Japanese Society of Manhole Covers (日本マンホール蓋学会), and the Manhole lid museum. Meanwhile, Osaka-based photographer S. Morita has been photographing manhole covers around Japan for several years, and there are close to 2000 designs on the site. However, if seeing the photos doesn’t satisfy you, then you could attend the Japanese Manhole Cover Festival or summit in Tokyo where a variety of manhole cover designs are exhibited, along side with souvenir to bring home.

 

Only in Japan: A factory tour of the Nagashima Imono Casting Factory

 

The history of the manhole covers in Japan is mentioned in the book, Drainspotting: Japanese manhole covers by Remo Camerota. In the 1980s, the modernisation of the sewer system in rural Japan was unwelcomed by the local residents, but a civil servant Yasutake Kameda solved that problem by introducing customised manhole covers in every municipality. By enabling each city/town/village to design their own unqiue covers to showcase their specialities or identites turned out to be a huge success, hence it has become a cultural phenomenon over time. Although each cover is designed specifically for the location, it would generally feature elements such as the town emblem, famous landmark, special event, war battle, official bird, local flowers or local mascots etc. The ones with firefighters indicate that there is fire hydrant underneath it.

Although I am not a manhole cover otaku, I have been photographing these manhole covers whenever I came across them over the years during my trips to Japan, and will continue to do so in the future.

 

Floral theme

manhole cover  manhole cover

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manhole cover  manhole cover tokyo

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Local symbols/ specialties

manhole cover nara  manhole cover nara

Deer and nature in Nara

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Nagoya’s Amenbo (or water strider) is the symbol for Nagoya City Waterworks and Sewerage Office as this insect only lives in clean water

manhole cover

Grapes in Furano, Hokkaido

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Washi paper making in Fukui

 

Local lanndmarks

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Osaka castle

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Shiragawa-go

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Nature

manhole cover

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Firefighters

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Toko firefighters

 

 

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Boro textiles at Amuse museum (closed in 2019)

amuse museum Boro – real astonishment exhibition

Boro – real astonishment exhibition

 

After spending so much time in the rural countryside, I found it hard to cope with the hustle and bustle back in Tokyo, and felt slightly dazy and detached from reality. My original Airbnb booking was cancelled by a host in Tokyo at the last minute, (the 2nd Tokyo cancellation on this trip), and at the last minute, I found an apt hotel in Asakusa, which turned out to be excellent and very reasonable.

I usually avoid going to Asakusa whenever I visit Tokyo because it is always packed and very touristy. This time, however, I thought it might be fun to explore an area that I am not familiar with especially while I was staying minutes away from the famous Senso-ji.

One day, I walked past an old building and saw the name Amuse Museum with a shop at the front. It was the poster and indigo textiles that drew me inside. I had never heard of this museum before and had no idea what was exhibiting inside, but seeing the textiles compelled me to purchase an entry ticket. And once inside, I was completely blown away… I couldn’t believe that I stumbled upon this museum right after my Japanese textiles workshop! Serendipity, perhaps?!

 

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

 

This private museum opened in 2009 and specialises in Japanese textile and ukiyo-e. The amazing collection consists of 30,000 pieces of Boro clothing and textiles (from the 17th and 19th centuries) collected by folklorist and ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka, of which 786 items have been designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties.

Derived from the Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired, boro grew out of necessity rather than fashion. Its concept is almost the opposite of what fashion has become in the 21st century – you can even call it the precedent of ‘slow fashion’ and ‘upcycled fashion’.

There are two Japanese terms and concepts that are deeply ingrained into the Japanese culture: Mottainai meaning ‘a sense of regret concerning waste’, and Yuyonobi meaning ‘the beauty of practicality’. In the old days, impoverished rural farmimg families (especially those who live in the north like Tohoku) would mend, repair textiles (clothes and bedding) through piecing, patching and stitching to extend their use. Since the region was too cold to grow cotton, hemp became the most popular choice of material. Later, when old cotton clothing from the south made its way up to the north, scraps of indigo-dyed cotton would be used, and sewn with sashiko stitching (a type of functional embroidery) to reinforce and to quilt layers of cloth together. These ‘rags’ and garments would be handed down over generations, as the testimonies of decades of mending.

Interestingly, this concept is similiar to the robes worn by Zen Buddhist monks in ancient times, when monks used to collect rags and sew them up to create their one-of-a-kind patchwork robes.

 

amuse museum

boro textiles

amuse museum

amuse museum boro

amuse museum

 

For many centuries, Japan was a relatively poor country, and it was around the Meiji period (from 1868 to 1912) that the overall living standard started to rise. This meant that much of the Boro textiles were discarded, and new clothing was bought as fixing or mending became a tradition of the past.

Thanks to the effort of one ethnologist – Chuzaburo Tanaka – we are now able to admire this intricate and fantastic ancient craft and art form, and appreciate its unqiue value.

The special 10th year anniversary exhibition: Boro – Real astonishment showcased a collection of boro textiles along with 34 photo images published by Kyoichi Tsuzuki (the photographer and author of “BORO Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan”). This is a touring exhibition, and will be touring until 2020, so people outside of Japan can learn about this outsider art/craft form.

 

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

 

Besides the temporary exhibition, the permanent collection also showcases a rotating collection of 1500 pieces of boro clothing and textiles, alongside with other antiques and folk arts from Mr. Tanaka’s collection.

I was particularly glad to see the indigo-dyed firefighter’s jackets hikeshi banten often mentioned by Bryan at the textiles workshop. Made in the Edo period, these reversible jackets often feature a plain side and a decorative side. Firemen would expose the plain side while fighting the fire, but after the fire had been extinguished, they would reverse their jackets to display the decorative side to a cheering crowd. Hence, many firefighter’s jackets were decorated with tsutsugaki (a resist dyeing technique that is similar to Katazome) symbolic images that were meaningful and important to the firefighters. Indigo dye was chosen for its antibacterial and flame-resistant qualities, as well as its resistant to ripping and tearing, cutting and abrasion due to impact. With roots dating back to the 1600s, indigo-dyed fabrics were worn under the armour of samurais to keep bacteria away from wounds and to repel odor and dirt. Therefore, the indigo dye was used not for aesthetic reasons but for its excellent practical properties.

 

amuse museum  amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museumamuse museum

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amuse museum

 

Although I saw Akira Kurosawa‘s “Yume” or “Dreams” years ago, I could barely remember the costumes featured in that film (I watched it again after seeing the exhibition). It was fascinating to learn that the costumes featured in the film were lend to the director by Chuzaburo Tanaka himself. The folk clothing was beautifully showcased in the last segment of the film, Village of the Watermills, and the scene where the villagers all paraded down the village was heartfelt and memorable.

 

yume costumes kurasawa  yume costumes kurasawa

yume costumes kurasawa

The folk costumes featured in Yume/Dreams

 

The museum also has an interesting collection of woodblock prints, and it houses an indigo-dyeing studio where visitors can take part in workshops.

 

woodblock print amuse museum   woodblock print amuse museum

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Woodblock prints and Indigo-dyeing studio

 

After my inspiring tour of the museum, I went upstairs to the rooftop and spent some time admiring the panaromic view of Asakusa and watching the sun set behind Senso-ji (there was literally no other visitor there!). Spending a few hours at the museum made me forget that I was in Tokyo; while watching the sunset was the icing on the cake, it was a perfect end to my day.

 

senso-ji asakusa

 

N.B. Sadly, I learned that the Amuse Museum closed in March 2019, but hopefully it will revive again in another venue somewhere in the city. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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Japanese textiles workshop (Part 2): Katagami & Katazome

Ise-Katagami Artisan Isao Uchida

katagami  katagami

Top: a visit and demonstration of katagami by the Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida

 

Like I mentioned in my previous entry, my knowledge on traditional Japanese textiles techniques was quite minimal before the workshop. I have done some shibori techniques like itajime and pole wrapping, but I have never done any stitch shibori nor Katagami and Katazome before, and so when I received a stencil cutter and some stencil paper from Bryan in the ‘homework’ box before the workshop, I had to google frantically to get some ideas on how to create three unqiue patterns.

So, what is Katagami? It is an ancient Japanese paper stenciling craft that dates back to the 6th century. The specific paper required is made up of several sheets of washi (Japanese mulbery paper) pasted together with kakishibu (a tannin-rich persimmon juice), resulting in a strong and flexible, brown-coloured paper. Patterns can then be cut out with a razor-like cutter or punched out with various tools. It is also possible to overlap multiple stencils to create intricate and beautiful patterns.

 

katagami

katazome  indigo fujino

katagami

 Botom: a vintage katagami stencil from Bryan’s collection

 

We had the prilvilege to meet the Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida who demonstrated a skill that he has practiced for several decades. He had just been named as the ‘Living National Treasure (Ningen Kokuhō)’ by the Japanese Government, and he came to pay Bryan a visit before attending the ceremony with the Prime Minster that eveing.

The craft of katagami is often accompanied by katazome – a traditional craft of stencil resist-dyeing using a paste made from rice husks, lime and water. Using the katagami paper stencils, the rice paste is brushed onto the cloth and when dried, it is immersed in the dye, like indigo. In the old days, katazome was used primarily on kimono fabrics, but now it has become a dying art form as the demand for kimonos have decreased significantly in modern Japan.

During the workshop, we spent a full day working at the katazome paste maker and dyer’s home/workshop, Hiroshi Noguchi, in Hachioji. Mr Noguchi is the a sixth-generation paste maker and dyer who specialises in indigo katazome. He works with his son, and his young grandson (the eighth generation), who showed immense interest and enthusiasm with the family bsuiness.

 

Hiroshi Noguchi  paste maker

indigo vat

paste maker  indigo dyeing

Hiroshi Noguchi

katazome paste maker

paste maker

paste maker  Hiroshi Noguchi

paste maker

  

At Mr Noguchi‘s workshop, we watched him making the rice paste from scratch, and his son preparing the paste for us to use. When the paste was ready, we applied it onto the cotton cloths laid out on long boards through the stencils we had each designed. Since it was a very hot day, the paste dried fairly quickly in the sun. These long cloths were then hung horizontally outside and we all had a go at applying a special grey dye onto them.

Aside from the long strips of cloths, we also cut up some shorter ones and dipped them in the indigo vats. Since the paper stencils are very strong, we could easily wash them and reuse them over and over again.

 

paste maker

Hiroshi Noguchi

katazome paste maker

katazome

katazome paste maker  katazome

 

The experience of working at Mr Noguchi‘s workshop was novel and humbling. It was encouraging to see that this craft has been passed on for so many generations, and that he was generous enough to let us use his workshop. I highly respect Bryan for trying to protect these traditional Japanese arts and crafts from disappearing by bringing his students here in order to support these artisans. With so many anicent arts and crafts vanishing globally due to our ‘fast culture’, it is time to review our lifestyle and support artisans who have spent their entire lives dedicating to one specfic craft or art form.

 

Shibori & indigo dyeing textiles workshop in Fujino (Part 1)

indigo textiles workshop

 

Lately, I have beein trying to recall when I first became interested in textiles, initially I thought it was after seeing a Japanese textiles exhibition at MOMA years ago. But then I remember how I used to draw/sketch historical costumes after seeing them on TV drama series, and this made me realise that my interest in textiles and fashion began long before I was even consciously aware of it.

After running a solo business for over 6 years, I was feeling mentally exhausted and unispired. I was desperate to take a long vacation. I also wanted to go back to creating and making things – which I have missed after starting a business. I have done many short textiles courses on and off for years, but I have always considered them as my ‘hobby’. When I finally decided to take my 6-month sabbatical, I wanted to learn crafts that I have always been interested in, and shibori was high on my list. After some research on the internet, I found Canadian textiles artist and teacher Bryan Whitehead‘s blog and I contacted him to enquire about his textiles workshop. Originally, he told me that all his workshops were fully booked until next year (!), but then about a month later he informed me that some people have dropped out and there were spaces available.

The 10-day indigo dyeing and shibori textiles workshop turned out to be the most intense, eye-opening, overwhelming and yet satisfying experience. Even though I have done some shibori before, it was pretty basic, hence I felt quite out of my depth at the beginning. I felt like I have jumped into the deep end of the ocean but somehow survived. I have never done so much stitching in my life and was shocked by how much I managed to achieve in such a short period of time. Looking back now, I can say that this workshop has led me to a new path, and it was the beginning of my indigo dyeing and shibori journey.

 

fujino  fujino

fujino

fujino

fujino

 

Bryan and his partner, Hiro (an ikebana artist and amazing cook), live in a 150 year-old traditional farmhouse surrounded by mountains in Fujino, Kanagawa (about 1.5 hour from Tokyo). This area used to be known for its silk farming, but this has ceased and now it is more notable for its tea plantation and art village.

About one month prior to the workshop, I received a box of ‘homework’ with instructions, materials and tools to be completed before the workshop. I was busy planning my 5-week trip and I completely underestimated the amount of work that was required. I also misread the illustrations and ended up stitching on bullet trains and in ryokans late at night trying to complete the rather long piece of textile.

 

fujino  img_1286

ikebana

fujino

fujino

cat  dog

 

Bryan has lived in Japan for almost 30 years, and since he moved to Fujino, he got to learn silk farming from the local villagers, but sadly he is the only silk farmer left in the area now. Besides silk, he also grows and harvests tea and indigo. I am amazed by how he manages his time – he weaves, dyes, and teaches, yet he was always full of energy during our 10-day workshop.

 

fujino  fujino

fujino

shibori  shibori

shibori  shibori

 

I had no idea what to expect before the workshop, and to spend 10 days with 10 women from different parts of the world could have been quite challenging. Luckily, we all got on pretty well and even set up a whatsapp chat group after the workshop.

Over the 10 days, we stitched and dyed endlessly. We even had to go to the river to bash the textiles like people did in the ancient times, but then I woke up the next day with a sore and stiff neck. Luckily, Bryan‘s excellent acupuncturist was called in and cured me from my textile-bashing injury!

 

fujino textiles workshop  fujino textiles workshop

indigo vat

shibori  fujino textiles workshop

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fujino textiles workshop

 

One thing that struck me at the workshop was how time-consuming it is to do stitch shibori and dye with indigo. Everything we did required time, patience, and focus, and we could not rush anything. I honestly was a bit clueless before. My final piece was dipped 16 times, and I was working on it until midnight on the last night… I must have spent more than 50 hours making that piece from scratch! The experience totally changed my view on shibori and indigo dyeing, and I now understand the true value of handmade and handdyed textiles.

 

fujino  fujino 

fujino

fujino

fujino

 

Another highlight of the workshop was the amazing food freshly prepared and cooked by Hiro. He applied his flower arrangement skills to his food presentations, and every meal felt like a journey of the senses. Not only does he grow vegetables in the garden, he also goes foraging nearby. One day, he took us up to the hill at the back of the farm house to look for bamboo shoots, and hours later, we got to taste the freshest bamboo shoots on our plates!

On the last day, Bryan invited his 99 year old Japanese neighbour/student to make udon from scratch for us, and it was the best udon that I have ever tasted. Although Bryan and Hiro live in the rural countryside, they are never short of visitors, and there seems to be a a strong sense of community spirit. To me, their way of living and ideal, and I hope that I can live like that one day.

 

fujino  bamboo

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salad

fujino

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udon  udon

udon

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To be continued…

 

 

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Art, nature & permaculture in Fujino

fujino

 

Most foreigners who visit Japan tend to stick to big cities or well-known onsen/resorts, and they rarely travel to the rural parts of Japan. On this trip, I completely fell in love with Japan’s rural countryside. The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage was a highlight, but I also loved Fujino, a rural town (with population of just over 10,000) located in the northern edge of Kanagawa Prefecture and about 1.5 hour outside of Tokyo. Officially, the town name doesn’t exist anymore after it was merged into Sagamihara city (it became Midori Ward in 2010), but locals still fondly call the area Fujino. Surrounded by mountains and tea plantations, the numerous hiking trails are big attractions for hikers who live in Tokyo due to its proximity and beautiful scenery. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji (which we did one day) up on the hill.

 

fujino  fujino

fujino

fujino  nature fujino

fujino

spider web

 

Actually Fujino is not near Mount Fuji, its name means wild wisteria town. As soon as you step out of the railway station, you would see a ‘love letter’ art installation – an envelope sealed with a heart held by 2 hands – midway up on a mountain opposite the station that welcomes visitors.

So what differs Fujino from other rural towns in Japan? First of all, it is the first official Transition Town in Japan, and the 100th in the world. The world’s first Transition Town was initiated in 2005 by Transition Network founder and permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins in Totnes in Devon (see my earlier blog entry here). The Transition Town Movement is an international network of grassroots groups that aim to increase self-sufficiency through applying permaculture principles to reduce the potential effects of peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability.

Hence, Fujino is considered a hub for sustainable communities that use local resources, farming, traditions and culture to increase self-sufficiency and tackle peak oil and climate change.

 

fujino

flowers

fujino flowers

fujino flowers

fujino flowers

 

Besides permaculture, the area has also been attracting artists for decades. During the times of WWII, some sixty of Tokyo’s most prominent artists (including Tsuguharu Foujita, Toshio Nakanishi, and Genichiro Inokuma) evacuated to this village, with the goal of building a ‘city of artists’ here. Since the 1970s a number of foreign artists, artisans and craftsmen have also moved here.

Although Fujino never became a world-renown ‘art city’, a ‘Fujino Furusato Art Village Plan’ was launched in 1986 to promote it as an art dwelling community. In 1995, a multi-purpose art centre called Fujino Workshop for Art was built. It has a 300-seat concert hall, rehearsal studios, craft-making studios and accommodations. The venue provides workshops in pottery, woodworking, and natural dyeing for local children, adults and visitors.

 

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino  fujino

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

After doing the Kumano Kudo pilgrimage in Wakayama, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Kumano Shinto Shrine up in the mountains

 

Soon it was followed by the opening of the Fujino Art Village, an art and craft market where local artisans and craftsmen sell their work in 9 individual huts. The village is not massive, but it is a good spot to find one-of-a-kind handmade crafts and designs and support local artisans. You can find glassware, woodwork, leather goods, ceramics, and home accessories here.

 

fujino art village  fujino art village

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tsumugu fujino art village  tsumugu fujino art village

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fujino art village  fujino art village

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Fujino art village

 

At the art village, you can also enjoy lunch at an organic cafe/restaurant. From Fri to Sun, the cafe becomes a pizzeria serving stone oven pizzas with organic produce made by potter, Touhei Nakamura (also a friend of Bryan). In addition to the standard pizzas, he also serves some unconventional ones with an Asian twist, and they are super delicious with very thin base and crunchy crust.

 

fujino art village

Touhei pizza  fujino art village

Touhei pizza

Touhei pizza

 

While staying with Bryan, we had the opportunity to meet his artisan friends who live locally. One of them is a basket maker and his basketry works are incredibly beautiful and intricate.

 

basketry  basketry

basketry

basketry

 

Bryan also took us to visit a potter who lives in a very secluded place… we had to walk downhill along a trail off a road for about 15 minutes in order to reach his home studio at the bottom of the valley.

While the potter normally sells his pottery through a gallery, we got to buy his very reasonably-priced work from him directly, and needless to say, we were all more than happy to part with our cash in exchange for some exquisite handcrafted pottery.

 

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pottery

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pottery

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A secluded potter at his home studio

 

Last but not least, we also visited a secluded art gallery and cafe called Studio Fujino founded by graphic designer/art director, Yuko Higashikawa. After working in Milan on exhibition planning for some time, she returned to Japan to pursue a slow life. Her galley is surrouned by nature, and its secluded location means you are very likely to miss it if you are led by a local. (N.B. Unfortunately, I learned that the gallery closed its doors two months after our visit, but I hope it will revive in a different form in the future).

 

 studio fujino studio fujino   studio fujino

studio fujino

 studio fujino

Studio Fujino

 

After spending 10 days being surrounded by nature, it was hard to leave this place behind. My only wish is that I can return again in the near future.

 

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