Mr Shindo’s shibori map of Arimatsu





One big mistake I made when I was planning my trip was that I underestimated the traveling and transferring time of using the public transport in Japan. Trains are punctual and frequent if you are traveling to major and more populated cities, but it becomes more complicated if you want to go to smaller towns/ rural villages. I learned that local buses are infrequent, unreliable and time tables would change without prior notice. This had caused me many problems throughout my trip in different prefectures. Meanwhile, navigating your way around major train and subway stations can be utterly daunting, stressful and time-consuming.

After I left Miyama by bus in the morning, I had to change at Sonobe train station to take a train back to Kyoto (luckily, I had already forwarded my suitcase to Nagoya before I left for Miyama), followed by another train ride to Nagoya. Then from Nagoya, I had to take another 30-min train ride to Arimatsu, a small historic town famous for shibori/tie-dyeing. When I was chatting to Mr Shindo about my trip to Arimatsu the day before, he drew me a map of the town and all the places he recommended including his friends’ shops/ restaurant. I regarded this as my treasure map of shibori and kept it safe in my bag.


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With only 1 day/ night in Nagoya, I decided to skip all the sightseeing in Nagoya and headed straight to Arimatsu. Aside from shibori, Arimatsu was also the site of the Battle of Okehazama in 1560 – one of the most important battles in samurai history. The town survived the battle and was established as a post station between Chiryu-shuku and Narumi-shuku of the Tokaido Road in 1608. Tokaido Road was an important ancient route that connected Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), and it included 53 post stations where travelers would rest or spend the night before continuing their journeys. The town flourished during this time; it is said that an immigrant Shokuro Takeda and his peers developed the “Arimatsu-Narumi shibori” fabrics which became very popular with travelers.






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The historic architecture in Arimatsu: the 4th row and 5th left is the Arimatu Festival Float Museum


Most tour groups and foreign visitors visiting Nagoya would focus their sightseeing around the city centre, so Arimatsu is off-the-beaten-track unless the visitors are interested in shibori. And on the day of my visit, the town was virtually tourist-free, which was a sharp contrast from the touristy Kyoto. The Arimatsu Townscape and most of the buildings have been preserved as Tangible Cultural Properties, so it is like stepping back in town when you walk along the main avenue.

Holding Mr Shindo‘s handrawn map, I headed towards Suzusan, a shibori and textiles company founded in Arimatsu. After a quick browse around the shop, I hesitantly walked up to the young guy behind the counter and told him that Mr Shindo had sent me to the shop. The young guy smiled and said: “Yes, Mr Shindo called about an hour ago to let me know that you were coming, and now I will take you to meet my father.” I was rather gobsmacked because I didn’t expect this at all. I told him that I knew about the brand from my visit to the Maison et object trade show in Paris last autumn, and I love their shibori products.

Based in Arimatsu, Murase family has been making stencil-patterned shibori for over 100 years. The current creative director is the Dusseldorf-based Hiroyuki Murase (fifth generation) and the eldest son of Hiroshi Murase (4th generation), who is a shibori master, chairman of the company and a good friend of Mr Shindo.


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Suzusan has two shops in Arimatsu: one is a contemporary fashion shop and the other focuses more on traditional techniques and styles


The young guy in the shop is actually the brother of Hiroyuki, and he told me that his older brother originally studied in the UK, followed by sculpture at the Dusseldorf Art Academy. After graduation, he wanted to preserve and introduce the traditional technique of Arimatsu-Narumi shibori to a wider audience, so he worked with his father to create Suzusan Accessories and Suzusan Luminaires to showcase the beauty and techniques of traditional shibori in a modern context. Their three dimensional and heat-treated lighting textiles are handmade in Arimatsu before being turned into customised shades in Germany.


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Mr Hiroshi Murase teaching a student the different shibori techniques at his bathhouse-turned-workshop space


After walking down an alley a few minutes from the shop, we reached a house – it is actually a former bathhouse – where I met Mr Hiroshi Murase. Mr Hiroshi Murase greeted me and said that Mr Shindo had called him to tell him that I would be visiting the town for the day (Mr Shindo is so thoughtful!). He was in the middle of conducting a 2-day workshop with an Australian lady, and he offered me to join them. In normal circumstances, I would have joined them, but I declined the offer politely and told them that I only just arrived and had yet to visit the museum and other shops. However, I did watch them for a while and took some information for future reference.


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Set lunch at Show Kuro restaurant


My second stop was a new restaurant called Show Kuro that was not listed on the tourist map/ websites, but recommended by Mr Shindo. Mr Shindo told me that his good friend and shibori specialist, Kozo Takeda, sadly passed away a few years ago, and his widow has just opened a new restaurant within the historic House of Takeda. The house is an important heritage merchant house in Arimatsu because it belonged to Shokuro Takeda, the creator of Arimatsu-Narumi shibori. Now the family business is run by the descendants of the Takeda family, and at the restaurant, I met the elegant and welcoming Ms Nakamura. I told her that I met Mr Shindo and he recommended this restaurant to me. Ms Nakamura was delighted when she heard this, and said she would give me a tour of the house after lunch.

The restaurant is cosy, calm and tasteful. The room has high ceiling with original roof beams, shibori lighting and indigo textiles wall hanging. The food was fresh, delicious, and reasonable-priced – it was particularly satisfying after a hectic morning.



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House of Takeda


After lunch, Ms Nakamura led me to the house and shop, but a group of clients had just popped in and so she had to excuse herself. She then asked her son to show me around the historic house, which includes a traditional tearoom and a garden. He also showed me the shibori kimono that took an artisan two years to complete (see below)!

After the tour, Ms Nakamura introduced me to her brother-in-law, the president of the company, Mr Kahei Takeda. It was wonderful to talk to the friendly and warm Mr Takeda, who did not mind spending his time chatting to me. I cannot thank Mr Shindo enough for introducing me to his circle of friends in Arimatsu – I never would have anticipated that I would meet these important figures of the shibori world before my arrival. It was all beyond my expectations.


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Kahei Takeda

Top left: the shibori kimono that took over 2 years to complete; bottom row: Mr Kahei Takeda, the president of the Takedakahei Shouten Co., Ltd.


Soon after I left the House of Takeda, I saw a small shop called Hisada Shibori on the opposite side of the street that sells shibori leather accessories. I really like the shibori effect on leather, and the fact that everything is handmade by the young artisan behind the counter. The prices of the products are reasonable, so I bought a small beautifully-made key wallet to replace my old one.


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The young artisan at Hisada Shibori


Realising that time was running out, I rushed over to the Arimatsu Narumi Tie Dyeing Museum before its closing time. There is a gift shop on the ground floor, and the exhibition area is on the musuem’s upper floor, where some stunning shibori kimonos, textiles work, and samurai outfits are on display. Visitors can also watch the artisans demonstrating various shibori techniques here. I was amazed by the speed of the young artisan demonstrating there – it was simply eye-opening.


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arimatsu shibori museum

arimatsu shibori museum

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arimatsu shibori museum

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Arimatsu Narumi Tie Dyeing Museum


My day in Arimatsu was coming to an end, and my last stop was a small shibori shop near the train station recommended by the young guy from Suzusan. He told me that the shop is run by two young women, and they are using the traditional techniques to create vibrant textiles and fashion accessories that target a younger market.


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Marimomen shop and products


The two artists who run Marimomen are Mari and Yuu, and their shop is hidden behind an alleyway. After seeing all the traditional shibori textiles, it is refreshing to see some bright, bold, and colourful shibori clothing, textiles and accessories. Their tabi boots remind me of Sou Sou‘s, but they are even bolder and brighter.

Before I took the train back to the centre of Nagoya, I reflected on my day at a cafe near the station. The hospitality I received in this town was almost overwhelming, and again, I felt incredibly grateful towards Mr Shindo for pulling a few strings for me.

Japan is a country that loves festivals, and many towns and villages would celebrate different festivals related to the local culture, traditions, arts or crafts. Aside from an annual shibori festival in June, Arimatsu also has an annual Floats Festival in October, where three floats of Arimatsu (they can be seen inside the Floats Museum) are pulled around the town in a big parade, accompanied by flute and drum music. If you love the festive atmosphere, you can pay a visit to the town during these festivals.







East London Comics & Arts Festival 2016

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The Grade II listed Round Chapel, Hackney


Organised by London-based Nobrow Press, the fifth annual East London Comics Art Festival (ELCAF) took place over three days at the Round Chapel and MKII gallery in Hackney.

The festival is designed to showcase some of the most exciting works in comics and illustrations, and it features independent publishers and illustrators from UK and internationally. It also include talks, masterclasses, and workshops for adults and children. Together with Pick me up Graphics Arts Festival at Somerset House (which has become too commercial) and the London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery, this show has become the leading festivals of its kind in the UK.


East London Comic Arts Festival

East London Comic Arts Festival

East London Comic Arts Festival  East London Comic Arts Festival

Bottom row: The lovely mid-century inspired illustrated books and cards at Design for Today’s stall


It was my first visit to the festival, and I was delighted to see a variety of illustrated books, zines and prints available at affordable prices. It also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk to the illustrators and publishers about their works. At the show, I discovered many impressive works by the London-based Design For Today, Otto Press, Peow Studio, Day Job, and I like the comic zines by British illustrator John Cei Douglas.

Exhibitors from outside of the UK were equally captivating. I met and chatted to Singaporean illustrator Michal Ng and the Madrid-based Ruohong Wu about her books that are influenced by her architecture background.


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Katsumi Komagata

Top left: Nobrow founding partner Sam Arthur with Japanese graphic designer Katsumi Komagata at the Artist Talk by The Japan Foundation; Top right: Komagata’s design for children’s hospital ward in Japan; last 3 rows: Komagata’s books at Les Trois Ourses’ stall


Though the highlight of the festival for me was Les Trois Ourses – the French publisher that features graphical books by award-winning Japanese graphic designer Katsumi Komagata.

A few days before the festival, I attended The Japan Foundation‘s Artist Talk by Katsumi Komagata at Foyles. The talk was organised in conjunction with the festival, and Nobrow’s founding partner Sam Arthur was also present to join the conversation.

This was Komagata‘s first trip to the UK, and so it was a fantastic opportunity to hear the designer talk about the inspirations behind his works. Renowned in France, Komagata was less well-known in Japan until he started to design for hospitals children’s wards in Japan. He founded graphic design studio and later publishing press One Stroke in 1983, and started designing books for children after the birth of his daughter. In 1994, he started collaborating with Les Trois Ourses, and has published picture books for children with disabilities. Komagata‘s books have often been compared to the books designed by the great Italian designer/artist Bruno Munari, and Komagata acknowledged that Munari’s designs did inspire some of his works.

Unfortunately, I did not attend Komagata‘s workshop at the festival, but I did manage to chat to Alexis from Les Trois Ourses about Komagata‘s wonderful books like Petit Arbres and Aller-Retour – which I bought at the festival.


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East London Comic Arts Festival  East London Comic Arts Festival

Top & bottom left: The historical interior of the Round Chapel; Bottom right: comics and zines bought from the festival


I never expected to feel fulfilled after spending all the cash in my wallet, but I was! I think the festival was an inspiring event, and I especially liked the fact that it featured many non-mainstream illustrators and publishers that are hard to find in the city’s generic bookshops. Now I just need to save up for next year’s festival!


Strand Buildings in Clapton

Strand Buildings in Clapton  Strand Buildings in Clapton

Strand Buildings in Clapton

The Art deco Strand Buildings in Clapton


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The super cool Cine Real super 8 and 16mm film shop and club at 35 Lower Clapton Road



New product ranges from Japan

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Katamaku – an upcycled stationery and product range


In the last 2 months, we added three new product ranges from Japan, including: upcycled stationery by KATAMAKU, textile products by Tenp, and Sola cube and Sola Zukan by Sola.

During my trip to Japan earlier this year, I met up with Japanese architect Shimon Mioke from k2m design, the designer behind the upcyled brand KATAMAKU. The idea of the range arrived after the architect saw unused parts of industrial membrane used for constructing stadiums, domes and tents being thrown away. The designer and his partners decided to use these waste materials to create a new upcycled range to reflect the beauty of these materials in the simplest way.

Since the durable but stiff materials come in large rolling sheets, the easiest way to handle them is to cut and mold them. The designers took inspirations from origami and kimono, and employed these elements in their designs. And like origami, all of the cases can be reverted back to its original state – a flat sheet of fibre. Minimalist and functional, the KATAMAKU range also reveals what can be done with waste materials, which is crucial in changing our wasteful culture and behaviour.


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Left: Katamaku cases; Right: Shimon Mioke from k2m design


When I first saw the Tenp textiles range, I was instantly attracted to the unusual weaving patterns. I later learnt that these new patterns were created using the traditional sashiko weaving technique famous in the Tohoku region of Japan. I have seen Japanese textiles that feature this technique before, but I have never seen it done in a contemporary context. Last year, Japanese design studio Nendo also collaborated with Kyoto’s weaving house Hosoo to release a textiles range employing the same techinque, but in a more traditional style. 


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Left: Nendo & Hosoo’s collaboration that features sashiko weaving; Right: Satoshi Takiguchi from Tenp


In Tokyo, I met up with architect Satoshi Takiguchi, who is the director behind the textiles brand Tenp. In 2013, Satoshi invited his friend, Japanese illustrator Toshiyuki Fukuda to collaborate with sashiko weave artisan Kenichi Ohazama from Miwa Orimono in Fukushima to create a range of contemporary textile products.

I love Toshiyuki’s abstract geometrical patterns inspired by flora and fauna. And due to the weaving technique, a large piece of textile is first produced and then cut into smaller sizes. Hence, each piece in the collection is unique, with no two products alike. The merge of new design and traditional technique is what I love about this range, and I hope that I can add more products (like stationery) from this brand next year.


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Tenp textiles range


Our last product launch of the year was Sola Cube and Sola Zukan from Japan. Since I love nature, it is no surprise that I would be drawn towards these tiny cubes that contain a preserved plant. Created by Japanese creative director Koichi Yoshimura from Kyoto who was inspired by artifacts seen at the natural history museum, the small 4 x 4 cm cube offers us a glimpse into the universe. The name ‘sola’ comes from the Chinese kanji character ‘宙’, which means ‘universe’ or ‘blue sky’.

Each cube features a preserved Japanese plant in transparent acrylic resin, and it is handmade by craftsman in Kyoto. Through trial and error over the years, the craftsmen use a vacuum kiln to force out all the air bubbles, which further enhances the beauty of the plant.

To accompany the cubes, a set of botantical learning cards was also created to inspire children and adults to understand the wonders of nature.


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I think it is a shame that many people in our world today don’t appreciate and respect mother nature. We keep destroying nature for the sake of technology and profits, and these acts would ultimately bring us inreversible consequences i.e. climate change. I hope that these small cubes would remind people that nature must be preserved rather than destroyed, and we must all act in our own ways to prevent further damage to our planet.


MUJI & Naoto Fukasawa

As soon as I heard that Naoto Fukasawa (Japanese product designer and advisor for MUJI) will be in town to give a talk at the Design Museum, I booked the ticket immediately knowing that it will be sold-out event (and I was right). I have always liked his minimalist designs i.e. his CD player for MUJI, and products at his own company, ±0. In 2009, I saw his exhibition at the 21_21 design sight in Tokyo, Outline, which featured his products along with photographs by Tamotsu Fujii. The unique approach of photographing the contour of the products fully captured the simplicity, beauty and timelessness of his work.

Fukusawa/ Fujii's Outline exhibition at 21_21 design sight, Tokyo 2009

In London, the Design Museum talk coincided with the opening of the exhibition, ‘Product fitness 80 – MUJI‘, just a few days before the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Japan on 11th March 2011.

Apart from Fukasawa, Sam Hecht and Konstantin Grcic, product designers who have collaborated with MUJI, and publisher, Tyler Brûlé also took part in the talk. The 45-min presentation given by Fukasawa on MUJI’s motto, ‘Product fitness 80’, was thought-provoking and inspiring. This motto is MUJI’s response to the aftermath of the earthquake last year, which is to raise awareness of the excessive consumption of goods and materials in our society today. Instead of over doing everything and aiming for 100% satisfaction, they are suggesting that we should aim for 80% satisfaction, share instead of own and slowing down our pace. This motto is also used to review their own “adequacy” (fitness) and renew their determination to pursue craftsmanship in harmony with society and the earth.

Their new concept store (set up in their first ever retail shop in Tokyo), Found MUJI, houses a collection of remodeled products based on durable everyday objects found across the globe. The idea is not to re-design these products, but rather to update them slightly and incorporate them into our contemporary lifestyle while retaining their original essence. Fukasawa is especially fond of the gardening gloves he found in China (see below), as well as the Chinese porcelain bowls that have been produced using the same technique for centuries.

Having witnessed the ups and downs of MUJI over the years, and being slightly disappointed with their direction in recent years, I feel that they are finally back on track again. Although the sustainable living and balance lifestyle motto is nothing new, as an influential lifestyle brand, their re-evaluation or reflection would have an impact on the society esp. in Japan. A visit to their mega store in Yurakucho in Tokyo will make you understand that they are not just another ‘brand’ in Japan.

At the exhibition, you can see that they have re-worked some of their products by downsizing. There are large towels that can be cut into smaller sizes, a pan lid that fits 4 different pan sizes, spiral notebooks with wider gaps in order to reduce the wire used, narrower toilet rolls as well as downsized credit cards… It is quite rare for an established company to re-evaluate and modify their products in such a way but I think this approach is an encouraging one.



The DIY cardboard child chairs (see below) are shown for the 1st time in Europe and you can see Fukusawa‘s fun version at MUJI my chair exhibition, photographed at Detour Hong Kong in 2010.

Whenever there is a crisis, natural, man-made or personal, it is usually a wake-up call for us to reflect and understand what went wrong. By blocking or escaping from the situation will only provide another opportunity for it to happen again. Therefore, we need to deal with the issue and find a way to solve it in order to prevent it from happening again. If companies, designers and individuals can all respond to crisis in a positive and meditative way like MUJI, then the world will definitely be a better place.


Product fitness 80 – MUJI is showing from 9th – 18th March at the Design Museum.



Yuruliku’s Tokyo studio visit

While I was in Tokyo, I was glad to be invited to our Tokyo designer, Yuruliku‘s studio in Ochanomizu, an area which I have never visited before. There are many university campuses and musical instruments stores here (which I later discovered when my friend and I got very lost).

Foolishly, I left the address and map at the hotel and trying to find a cafe with free wi-fi turned out to be much harder than I thought. Eventually, I managed to download the address but even with the help from passerby’s mobile phone GPS, it still took ages to find the small studio by the river. Meanwhile, my camera’s battery also went dead, so I had to use my iphone to take these photos…

While we were lost, we passed by an interesting temple called ‘Yushima Sei Do’, which turned out to be a sightseeing attraction in the area. The 17th century temple is rather unusual because it is also known as the Confucius temple, and has the largest Confucius statue in the world. It was a shame that we didn’t have the time to visit the temple properly but we were glad to know of its existence!

When we eventually found the studio, it was already getting dark, but it was such a relief after wandering for so long! It was great to finally meet Koushi after communicating with him via emails for months and to see their whole collection.


My friend and I decided to buy their handmade greeting cards as they are limited in supply. These birthday cards are so wonderful that I will probably end up keeping them myself! Koushi and Kinue were very hospitable and gave me some Japanese candies that they had bought earlier for me. It made me feel guilty for arriving empty-handed…

To find out more about Yuruliku, click here for their website.