Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 17


We visited The Senbido Dye House in the Nara area today. Mr. Shinobu Yasukawa does marbling on silk fabric. This is one of many deigns in his gallery. [click photos to enlarge]

Mr. Yasukawa and his wife posed with me in fronting the studio.

A paisley pattern which is a popular and recent design. It’s a large one; maybe a meter square.

Another design. There were so many different colors and designs it was hard to choose. I got two but could have chosen many.

I bought this lovely scarf. Seemed to resemble marbling so much.

The second scarf I bought is a heavier silk and lined with a solid kimono fabric.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 16


We visited the hugely famous shrine In the city of Izumo yesterday, the day the typhoon was hitting Tokyo. We were on the other side of Japan so only got gray sky some rain and a lot of wind. It didn’t stop our guides from volunteering to drive us 2 hours to see the shrine and Mr. Nagata’s dye studio. Trains were shut down and we could never have gotten there on our own. Besides the guides translated for us. this is a shrine not to be missed. It’s impressive straw structure is its distinguishing feature in the guidebooks. [click photos to enlarge]

The roof structure is also well known. Note the threatening sky.

I couldn’t resist making a video of the sound of the wind and the blowing of the little white wishes tied on the wires.

Waiting for the bullet train on the platform takes experience. You have to know where to stand for the cars with non reserved seats. And you want to be first in line if there will be a lot getting on. The bag shown was holding the place first in line while its owner found a bench to sit on. We took an express train to Okayama and then the bullet train on to Kyoto today.

The sky the day after the typhoon was dramatic at first then just sunny with clouds in Kyoto later in the day.

The moon came out over Kyoto tonight after a breezy fresh day of blue sky, puffy clouds, and about 70 degrees. Even though the typhoon didn’t actually strike here the air seemed remarkably fresh and clean.

We saw an excellent exhibition called, “Dress? Code: Are You Playing Fashion?” today at the National Museum Of Modern Art. These socks in the museum shop tickled me. Enlarge do you can read all of the titles.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 15


A Visit to the Nagata Dye Factory. The first thing that caught my eye was this old furushiki wrapped around a box in Mr. Nagata’s dye studio. A furoshiki is a square fabric used to wrap things—before shopping bags. I have many of various sizes but I’ve never seen one with the design showing like this one. I asked him to unwrap it so I could see how the square turned into a pattern like this. This wasn’t going to happen but Mr Nagata showed us others opened out. His and old ones. [click photos to enlarge]

Here is a big furoshiki opened out. It is a meter square. The big center area is a family crest and the corners have smaller images of good luck symbols. I wanted one of Mr Nagata’s but figured I could never afford one so left his studio empty handed. But at an exhibition that day I saw this one and asked to buy it. The artist was called over and said it was made by his father and was dirty and he would call his father to see if I could buy it. Luckily he said yes and for a very nice discount. Later I found out that “the father” was actually Mr. Nagata himself. I am thrilled. We were told that the design on top here should be on top when wrapped. I hope I can remember how to wrap it.

Here is the way a large furoshiki would be used as per the design layout.

Seen from the front are the smaller images. The image on the back would be the family crest. The model is Mr. Nagata. The furoshiki is sort of old I think. It just fit perfectly.

Mr and Mrs Nagata and Bret. Bret’s neck scarf is barely visible but proudly worn.

I am always interested in the dyers’ indigo vats. These are very old and can’t be replaced.

Here is Mr. Nagata’s shrine over his indigo vats. I’m always interested in seeing them, too. Every indigo dyer seems to have one.

This stick is used to stir the vats to keep them happy and working. He is showing how deep the vats are.

In this video Mr. Nagata stirred one of the vats to show us how it’s done and the color brown that comes when stirred. The vat can’t be used then for a least a day until it settles. He can tell by looking to know if a vat will work or need more time to rest before being useable. I was glad to see his technique is the same as what I learned from Yoshiko Wada.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 14

A Day of Kasuri or Ikat Weaving.

This is a traditional Japanese kasuri design. It is an old cover for a futon. Here is the traditional dark blue background. The white areas are made by tying or binding threads in a pattern before dying in indigo. In other words the pattern threads are tie-dyed first then woven into cloth.

The threads on the right are shown after dyeing. The white areas were tightly bound so when the threads were put into the indigo dye the dye couldn’t get into the threads (areas resisted the dye). The piece on the left is the final cloth after weaving and shows the pattern that had been bound off or tied before weaving. The technique is called ikat or in Japanese, kasuri.

Here you can see what the bound threads look like before dyeing.

Here is kasuri cloth being woven on the loom. The patterned area on the right has not been woven yet so there is no pattern there…yet. The area with the pattern has been woven with the patterned weft thread. It’s magical to see the pattern appear.

Mr. Tanaka puts big pillows on top of his indigo dye vats. I’ve never seen that before. The dye likes to be rather warm. There is also a heater by the dye vats. You can see the hole for the heater in the center of his 4 dye vats.

We also visited a young woman kasuri artist by the name of Butsusaka Kanako. This beautiful kasuri piece was her graduate piece. She employs both traditional and contemporary designs which can be seen here.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 13


Ritsurin Gardens in Takamatsu. We spent a lovely afternoon in this famous and huge beautifully manicured garden. How it got it’s name, Ritsurin, isn’t exactly known but there are theories according to our volunteer guide we had for the day in Takamatsu yesterday. It is known for lots and lots of pine trees. There were so many it was hard to isolate them for photos. This photo also show one of the tea houses on the site. [click photos to enlarge]

A view from one of the round bridges we think of in Japanese gardens. It says it all: tea house, rock garden, manicured tree, and natural forest. I liked the reflections too. It is unusual for Cathy and me to spend time in a garden. I tell people when we travel in Japan it’s “no gardens, no shrines, only textiles.” This place was so big we were glad to have our guide take us around. I was surprised to see signs for WiFi all around. She said it was in case anyone got lost.

Cherry trees. Imagine them in full bloom in the spring. Probably there wasn’t a crowd today because it is the fall.

Today we took a train across an enormous bridge from the island of Shikoku across the Inland Sea to Okayama. Then another train onward across the main island of Japan to Yonago. Going by train is so easy even if changing trains because they absolutely leave on the minute they are scheduled. We have Japan rail passes which make it even easier.

The view from on train window on the bridge made my palms sweat just imagining someone walking on the catwalk. I still get the creeps when I see this photo.

At the end of the bridge I could see the cloverleaf for car traffic.

This special train runs from Yonago to the little town of Sakaiminato which is famous because it is the birthplace of the cartoonist Mizuki Shigeru who made the manga series of folklore and ghouls, Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro. It can be said it is the birthplace of Japanese cartoons. Besides the trains all painted up the whole town was saturated with his cartoon characters.

There were sculptures all along on the sidewalks with the cartoon characters.

Every tourist shop promoted the characters even this hairdresser.

The bakery was no exception. Neither one of us knew of these characters but we soon got to know they were important in the town. We thought were were going to see textiles. That will be tomorrow with a guide.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 12


Tokushima to Takamatsu. On the hour long local train we saw the autumn season. I love seeing the persimmon trees in the fall. It’s a little too early and the leaves aren’t ready to fall and expose the bright orange fruit to its splendor. [click photos to enlarge]

The trip to Takamatsu is our last stop on the island of Shikoku. These rice fields/paddies have been harvested up to this point. Other paddies have been recently planted and are flooded and green with young plants.

The egrets like to hunt in the fields of lotus plants at this time of year. The fields are still flooded but soon harvesting the roots will begin. There were many lotus fields on Shikoku. We had some for lunch in a delicious plate of vegetables and chicken.

Our destination in Takamatsu was to the Okawara dye Studio Co. Mr Okawara spread out a big silk piece his studio made for the lion dance festival which happens the day after we leave town. The process in creating these beautiful works of art is called Sanuki Norizome which is technique of dyeing textiles using rice paste resist.

Mr Okawara draws with the special rice paste using tubes like for decorating cakes. The paste is colored red so it will show up for the next stages in the process. These lines will be white in the end result because where ever there is the paste no dye will go into the cloth. This is another “resist” technique like what we’ve seen previously.

Here is a small piece which shows the technique in a simple design. After the lines are drawn the areas are painted. Then the cloth is washed to remove the rice paste, leaving the stark white lines. Traditional designs are more like for the lion dance. The studio makes all kinds of banners, flags, and curtains for shop doorways called noran.

Mr and Mrs Okawara posed in their tiny shop in front of the studio. He is holding a photo in a book of a very large art work he has exhibited. I coveted her shirt. Weavers will understand why. The shirt is color samples. Instead of the sample shirt (not available) I bought a piece of art similar to the one shown only my piece has a gorgeous red circle and a black “X”. It is made as a large tote bag but I plan to hang it as art on the door to my apartment when I get home. I fly home on Day 20.

A lovely picture of mother and father and son and daughter in law. We all enjoyed each other so much today. Both men have taught their traditions in the US. Cathy knew when the father came to her university when she was in college in Seattle.

At the end of a wonderful visit.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 11


An Indigo Day!
Today we visited two farms whose crops are indigo. Here a young farmer, Kent Watanabe, and his young farm hands are working on the fermenting process that began this week and will go on for some weeks. Their hands and fingernails caught my attention immediately after we arrived on the farm. [click photos to enlarge]

Indigo dye is made from indigo plants. Various plants grow all over the world. These are cultivated on Shikoku island outside of Tokushima. The plants are harvested and processed before the indigo can be used for dyeing. Blue jeans traditionally are dyed with indigo. Chemical dyes are often used instead however.

Young Mr Watanabe’s dye vats are unique in that they are made of stainless steel. Usually they are huge ceramic pots sunk in the ground and about waist deep. The advantage is his vats are wider so larger things can be dyed easier. His are chest deep. One still has to bend over and reach into the vats while dyeing. I suggested he make his next vats do one could stand up while dyeing. That would be a first!

After harvesting the plants the leaves are chopped up and thoroughly dried and kept in large bags until October when the fermentation process begins.

The fermenting process begins with the dry leaves sprayed with water and mixed together to distribute the moisture evenly throughout the dry material.

Turning the plant material to distribute the moisture for fermentation is strenuous work and takes place over a period of weeks.

A day of turning the plant material to moisten it just right for fermentation is left piled up just so until the next time it is all turned over again.

Back in Mr Watanabe’s studio he shows us his little shrine for his indigo dyeing. I asked if he had one because most Japanese indigo dyers I’ve visited have some type of shrine—usually much bigger than his. He knew what I was asking for but he had to search around a bit before he could find his cute little good luck shrine.

We also visited the very large indigo farm of the well known master, Mr. Osamu Nii. The pictures of the fermentation process are from his operation.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 10


Bunraku!! An amateur performance was fantastic. Local groups of people are active in the city of Tokushima—even children. This city is famous for Ningyo Joruri another name for bunrako. The more emotional the story is, the better. Many women play the puppets and they get emotional too, according to a video telling about the players. It take three people to work one puppet. At this point in the performance all were on stage at once. It was just before the tear jerker ending. [click photos to enlarge]

Here the mother is sewing. They even had her cut off the thread with her teeth with a nice jerk of her head! All along was music from a samisen and voices doing the dialogue of the mother and her daughter.

At the end of the show the puppeteers came out on stage. Many women are doing this now in the amateur world but the professionals are always men still. The group performs twice a day every day with different groups giving the performances. The company is Awa Jutobe Yashiki that we saw today. I understand there is a lot done in Tokushima now days.

There is a small museum attached to the theater and we were given a private tour along with the video before the performance began. Here you can see levers that operate the head and face. Notice above the eyebrows where they would go up and down.

The person who controls the head and one arm must stand on these platforms to be tall enough. I think we were told that would be the major puppeteer.

I even got a chance to work the head and eyes of one of the dolls. Cathy made the video.

At the end of the show the audience was invited to have our pictures taken with the puppets that were in the performance. What a treat the whole experience was.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 9


Today was a travel day to Tokushima on the island of Shikoku. This was one of the looms we saw yesterday at the Fukuyama City Museum of History and Folklore in Onomichi. This type of double ikat pattern is called Bingokasuri. I’ve never heard that term but Cathy knew it. Ikat means that the threads are tied and dyed before they are woven on the loom. Double ikat means that both the warp threads and the weft threads are dyed separately and they must line up correctly to make the pattern work out. At the front of the loom is the cloth that has been woven so far and the vertical threads (the warp threads) are lined up with the weft threads (horizontals). If you look at the back of the loom you see the unwoven warp threads that are just the vertical lines of the pattern. The museum has many looms being worked on by local women who are teaching themselves the traditional weaving techniques used in their area. [click photos to enlarge]

We visited a old but working canvas weaving factory yesterday. It used to be a huge operation because there was a huge amount of old industrial looms and equipment. These are the threads ready to be measured for one section of warp threads currently in use today. The mill made cotton canvas cloth for the welders’ work clothes for the ship building industry to protect them from the sparks while welding.

This is the gigantic warping reel used in industry long ago (but way after the Industrial Revolution). The first section of warp threads would be put on the left end of the reel where the wedges are. The first section leans against the wedges and subsequent sections lean to the left so the threads don’t slip off the reel. A giant warp beam is placed beside the reel and the warp is transferred from the reel to the beam while being very tightly wound onto the beam.

This is a magazine to hold the shuttles at the ready so they can be quickly changed whenever one is empty. The invention of the machine gun was based on this idea long in use in the weaving industry.

The train stations where the Shinkansen trains (bullet trains) stop have to be very long. This is looking out to the right from our hotel window. The longest trains are 16 cars long and the cars are mostly 82 feet long. The end cars are a few feet longer.

Here is the rest of the train station looking to the left from our hotel window. 82 x 16 comes to over 1300 feet long for those trains. Some are only 8 cars long. We always find the cars with unreserved seats because they are significantly cheaper. Today I pushed into a car crowding in front of a bunch of petty hefty guys. Cathy said they were rugby players. I couldn’t figure out how they got in front of us since we were first in line on the train platform for that car door. Come to find out they had been standing because they couldn’t find seats when they got on at a previous stop. In the end enough people got off so we all found seats.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 8


A mountain village where persimmons are grown for dye and for eating. We were interested in the type grown for dyeing. The Blue Persimmon tree is the variety used for dye. You can see the blown cloths hanging In the sun to deepen the color. In the foreground are some persimmon trees. This tiny picturesque village is nestled in the mountains near Onomichi which is in the Hiroshima prefecture. [click photos to enlarge]

Dyed cloth in the sun to darken. The ones in the foreground had iron added to the dye process to change the color from the common reddish brown. I’ve done some dyeing with persimmons so was eager to see the real process.

This is a 200 year old persimmon tree which we were shown proudly. The persimmons were just harvested in September when they were hard and green with the peak amount of tannin for dyeing. If you ever tasted an unripe persimmon when it should have been soft and ripe you know what tannin tastes like.

This tree is grown for vinegar. It won’t be harvested until December. The vinegar was delicious mixed with some water.

A museum we stopped by had maybe 30 floor looms that local women were using to teach themselves various weaving techniques since there were no masters left to learn from. There was so much energy in the room even if the weavers weren’t there. It was thrilling to see. We asked several people how to find the museum and no one knew about it so it was good to see it alive and flourishing. The museum is the Fukuyama City Shinichi Mueum of History and Folklore. There were many old power looms on display and an exhibition on indigo textiles. Also archeological sites were shown from the area.

This is a machine for tying threads for ikat. That means that the threads are tied in patterns before dyeing so the tied areas will resist the dye. Then the threads are put on the loom to be woven and the patterns are then in the cloth. Many blue and white fabrics are patterned this way.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 7


We happened upon this little group of women weaving at the Saga City Cultural Museum today. They were weaving on tiny box looms with gilded paper strips for warps and colored silk wefts. The effect looked a bit like gold brocade. You could imagine it used for a fine evening purse. [click photos to enlarge]

This shows a bit of the weaving and the warps made of paper coated with gold. In the traditional way it would be gold leaf but I’m not sure if these are. One year Cathy and I visited a gold leaf artist. Traditionally the gold leaf paper would then be cut into fine strips for wefts for obi.

One beautiful pattern had 12 pattern heddles. It’s a shame I couldn’t get a good enough photo.

Here is the 12-shed pattern. It is much more beautiful but you can see it is a complicated design.

One of the warps was made of paper coated with lacquer. The women said the paper warp strips came from Kyoto when I asked if they cut them themselves.

The weavers. They were so gracious even though we crashed their afternoon.

We took 5 trains today. The sake in our hotel bar was heavenly along with pizza (the best) and French fries. We are now close to Hiroshima. Back on the main island of Japan.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 6


Tiny and unusual shape silk cocoons at the studio of the known artist Masakazu Akiyama outside of Miyazaki on Kyushu Island. Mr. Akiyama is famous for raising silk worms that make fine delicate silk threads. After seeing the silk worms we were shown an outdoor freezer under lock and key full of these precious cocoons. Very fine silk threads are unwound from the cocoons in their studio. Then dyed in natural dyed and woven into gossamer cloth. [click photos to enlarge]

Watch this short video to see the silk worms feeding on mulberry leaves. They were hatched a week ago. I forget how long it takes them to be full grown and begin spinning cocoons—maybe about a month. The air conditioning fans made too much noise so we couldn’t hear the sound of the munching that people say can be heard.

When it’s time to make their cocoons each silk worm is put into a small confined space so each individual cocoon is separate. This is an old style contraption. There were hundreds of frames in the cocoon barn with grids for the cocoons. The worms get to be the size of the tomato worms we had in our garden as a kid. That’s BIG.

Here Mr Akiyama is giving his babies more mulberry leaves to eat. It’s interesting that’s the only thing that silk worms eat all over the world.

I’ve never seen so many indigo dye vats in one place before. This shows about half of the indigo dye house. The vats are of different ages. Ones that are fresh are the ones used for dying. Other rest until ready. This way they can dye practically whenever they want I assume.

a woman is dyeing cloth in one of the indigo vats. The open vat shows the characteristic foam when a vat is “ happy”. The vats are in the ground with steam heat to keep the warm. Usually vats are in the ground for temperature control.

A gossamer scarf woven with the fine silk threads.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 5


At the loom weaving the final silk cloth. I think more time is spent hunched over an area of the woven cloth to align the tiny dots than throwing the shuttle. This young woman is being trained to weave the Oshima Tsumugi silk. There were 15 or 20 people learning at the Cooperative. [click photos to enlarge]

All the weavers spent time aligning individual warp threads to get the warp and weft threads to line up perfectly together!

At the back of the loom you can see both the plain and patterned warps. The plain warp is wound on the warp beam. The patterned one is attached in bundles and let up as needed.

On the right is the woven cloth. On the left is the warp threads alone before the wefts are put in. Both the warp and weft are patterned and must line up exactly with each other.

Here is a white cloth with black pattern. Notice the black dots on the edge of the cloth. They were woven in the binding mat for help in alignment of the wefts. Black or brown fabrics are more common and they have white dots along one edge for registering. These dots on one edge tell you it is authentic Oshima Tsumugi. NOTE that for a WHITE background fabric like this the threads are dyed solid BLACK and THEN starched. This is so the binding will be where the black areas are wanted in the cloth in the end result. Then the mat will go into a pot with color REMOVER to make it white. The bound areas will resist the remover and remain BLACK!!!

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 4


Weaving the mats for the ikat binding of the weft threads. Since the wefts are continuous in the final weaving, all the pattern mats for the wefts need to be connected and continuous. That means all the mats for each and every change in the pattern wefts need to be woven in the binding warp so they are connected! I was thrilled to see this young woman training to do this highly skilled operation. I think the loom had a pneumatic assist so the beat was hard enough. [click photos to enlarge]

Here are the woven mats to bind the weft threads for one repeat of a design.

Here are the starched threads which will be woven into the binding mats. 16 silk threads are wound as one and stick together when starched. The result will be white dots or dashes remaining after the binding is done and the dyeing and finally the woven silk fabric which is called Amami Oshima Tsumugi.

I became curious how the mats were unwoven to access the warp and weft threads. The demo in the video was dramatic.

This piece of equipment has 16 hooks and is used to wind the individual 16 threads taken from the starched “thread” that was woven in the mats.

Here the 16 individual threads are being separated from within the starched “thread”. You can see where the dye hit the threads and where the dye was resisted by the binding to produce the white areas. This is a mat made of warp threads. These mats are woven separately as opposed to the continuous mats for the wefts.

The patterned threads for the warp are wound on this cardboard then put on the loom. The little bags are the pattern wefts that go with this warp. Here is the patterned threads for 2 kimonos. The final cloth is woven with solid color and patterned threads in both the warp and weft.

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 3


Here is exactly what I have hoped to see for years. For ikat in Oshima the threads are tightly WOVEN in a pattern so that they RESIST the color in the dye process. Then that mat-like cloth is UNWOVEN and the unwoven threads are then WOVEN into intricately patterned silk cloth mainly for exquisite kimonos. To see the process actually being done today was fantastic. Here is the first step: the weaving that is binding the threads to resist the dye. The loom is extraordinarily strong and so is the weaver as he beats in small bundles of threads. [click photos to enlarge]

Here is the woven “mat” that is ready for dyeing. It is laying across a big bundle of unwoven threads for comparison. The lines seen in the mat are the woven threads that are tightly binding so no dye can seep into those places which are arranged to make a pattern when put on a loom to be woven into silk cloth called Oshima tsmugi.

Dyeing a skein of silk threads in the special mud which is unique to Oshima. There is a small pond at each dyer’s studio where the bound cloth as well as threads are dyed in the famous mud. This is what makes the brown and black color of the cloth known to be from Oshima.

Here is one of the mats that has been dyed and partially unwoven. The white areas were not dyed because they were woven tightly in order to resist the dye. Think of tie-dye! The mats aren’t big because each one is made to weave a single part of a pattern. A new mat must be woven for every time there is even the tiniest change in the design. I hope you can see where the binding threads were woven and the spaces between in the mat. The spaces between were free to accept the dye. Some “mats” were 1/4 inch strips. All are as wide as a kimono width which is about 14”.

A traditional Oshima tsumugi design at last!!

Japan 2019 Fall Tour – Day 2


Coming in for landing on Amami Orishima an island close to Okinawa way south of the japan mainland. It’s known for beaches and tourism. Cathy and I are there for the Oshima silks. Tomorrow we’ll see how they are made.[click photos to enlarge]

I’m feeling a tad green 🙂

Our sunset looked promising but we’d been warned that a typhoon was going to hit us in the morning and last for the whole two days we have here with a guide to take us to see the special textiles. When we got back to check our iPhones we found it was going to miss Oshima and our plans were still on. Hooray!