JAPAN’S A BIG BLUE PEBBLE                                                        thank you Kathryn


A flying saucer. A nearly perfect blue saucer by Omine Jissei of Yomitan in Okinawa.


Old Ema prayer plaque, wooden shrine votive, 19th century perhaps.

Before the year of the snake has slithered away and the Blue Horse trotted in let’s put on our blue goggles and see just how much blue there is in our world.

Tokyo’s very language is blue. Crisp winter skies are a brilliant crystalline blue. Under them, shiny blue garbage trucks ply the city streets. Blue traffic signs tell us where to go in a city that largely does without street names! People wear blue. Ubiquitous jeans – Muji is starring them this year. Uniforms, of course, are blue. Mums wear blue suits to their children’s school meetings, first days of school. Wherever there is a message to be communicated, the communicating language is blue. And often the most heart filled blue is indigo. Blue as the language of communication mostly likely sprung out of a traditional indigo society – Japan Blue as early 19th century visitors called it – whose favored and most available and permissible color was indigo.  It could be grown and dyed at home and most houses produced it. The color of clothing of the common man was indigo as labor intensive as it was.


Indigo laundry line at Kosoen, Indigo Dye Workshop in Ome, in the western blue hills of Tokyo.


Indigo stripes, produced by itazome, clamping cloth between two boards with grooves carved in them produce stripes, are a speciality of Kosoen.


Which blues to choose wonders Eiji Kobayashi, 16th generation  (his son Kenji is behind him) now retired head of Todaya Shoten, a Yukata and Tenugui dyer that uses controllable chemical dyes to approximate the rich depth of indigo and its shades of indigo without the mystery and the alchemy.


Blue bowl by Ai Kobo, Indigo workshop for special abilities members.


Blue bridges: Kiyosumi Bashi over the Sumida River between Chuo ku and Koto ku.


Blues in the night. Eitai Bashi, two bridges down from Kiyosubashi.


Blue skies and clouds over Issey Miyake’s A-line headquarters on the Sumida River.

Blue Mystery

Imagine our surprise when this blue fever started appearing on streets and sidewalks in our Sumida River neighborhood where the great poet Matsuo Basho once lived and wrote his haiku. His spirit remains in the Basho shrine on our street, the river park and statue of him which rotates on its pins in the evening to look out to the river, and swivels back in the morning to welcome visitors who climb the stone steps to do him honor. Basho’s museum is a few blocks away. But who wrote the blue arrows and messages in English chalked on the sidewalks and pavements promising sake and haiku if we followed their directions? We never could quite find either the sake or the poetry, but the blue messages were intriguing. Sadly they washed away in the rain.


 Who knew where the blue chalked messages came from or where they were leading in the New Year. They invited us to follow them and their arrows, but we never found the promised haiku and sake, though we had an intriguing time following the blue messages unti rain washed them away.


Our black dog Basho is curious too.


Blue on the way to the flea market at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, 1st , 2nd and 4th, 5th Sundays of the month.


Blue on the way home. The back gate of the dynamic Fukagawa Narita Fudou Myou Temple where you can have your car blessed, or attend one of the dramatic fire ceremonies held there 5 times daily.


Blues at the market. Heavenly blue boro (sleeping futon cover patched and patched and patched again) the whole range of indigo in wondrous compositions. Hard for me to leave behind, just as the maker couldn’t give them up. She simply kept mending.


Piles of blue: indigo rolls of stenciled futon material and ikats waiting to be taken home and given new roles in life.


Stacks of vintage indigo ikats – a riot of design in two basic colors.


Engaging dealer in blue who remembered the long line of big black dogs I have led to the Sunday markets over the years. Behind him a stone horse statue is hung with sacred straw and washi decorations for the New Year. It is the year of the horse, after all. He and his mate at the next stall come to the markets regularly and banter with the classically dressed traditional Japanese singer – nagauta – who lives in an similarly impeccable house just across the road. They joke with each other, and the elegant gentleman in silk Oshima kimono winds up walking home with a small wooden shelf hung over his arm laughing as he explains to me that if he didn’t buy something from them, there would be trouble. When I compliment him on the beauty of his kimono says he has nothing else.  He doesn’t own a pair of shoes!

Blue Prayers


Blue Prayers at a roadside shrine in Chuo-ku, near Kiyosumi Bridge.


10,000 folded washi cranes.


Bits of indigo scraps tied to willow branches in hopes for good health, good humor and good times, good friends good family, good Blue & White dreams.

Add just a pinch of white from the Hari Kuyo ceremony for broken needles at Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple on a snowy Saturday February 8.



A long line of priests under bangasa, paper umbrellas, clop to the small temple where Hari Kuyo, the ceremony for broken needles is held every year.


The large cake of tofu in which the used needles are given a soft burial and thanked for faithful years of service by seamstresses and designers and people who sew.

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IMG_3565 Wreath of scrunched up pages of old Blue & White calendars.  Mottainai incarnate!

WA can mean so many things in Japanese: first of course is peace, harmony.

It can also be a circle, as in a circle of reconsecrated calendar pages.

Or a circle of friends like you who read these words, and our Blue & White circle of friends.

And it can go so far as to mean Wow!  Joy!

All in all a good word to begin December’s blog (albeit in January)

December has a way of celebrating important landmarks in life.


 Blue & White’s Birthday, the 38th  – imagine!

Reiko Hagiya in birthday suit she made of reused Blue & White calendar pages with her resourceful husband Seiichi.

The end of the year. The culmination of many things accomplished over the months past.

On the 7th of the month we had our Blue & White birthday party and loyal fans came out in full force to make the day not simply a birthday, but a landmark, commemorating all that Blue & White believes in – The Beauty of Japan !


Dried persimmons from a farmer in Nara, artfully arranged in washi pockets – a gift of grace from Sumiko Enbutsu.

IMG_0852 Mini Washi Otafuku masks by Fusamoto Kenji.

The energy and purity of things made by hand.

The perfection of indigo.

The heavenly origins of blue.

The cosmic inspiration of blue and white.

The importance, the energy of neighborhood – Azabu Juban is one of Tokyo’s coziest and most variegated.

The fun of putting opposites together and seeing the combustion that results:  blue and white, old and new, serious and playful, surprise and expected.


 Birthday feast by Reiko Okunushi and other great cooks.

The food culture of Japan

The pure joy of sharing with people the best of Japan

The community of friends we have throughout Japan, throughout the world

The pleasure of welcoming them all into our tiny and chaotic shop

The enjoyment of laughter and chatting and telling our stories

The importance of the spirit of Mottainai – treasuring things, making them last …and last

The celebration of Christmas, though foreign to Buddhist philosophy, is still very popular amongst shopkeepers and their customers.


Mottainai Christmas decoration of cut off ends of tenugui tied to a network garden trellis.


Bamboo transported to our local bamboo craftsman for making Kadomatsu New Year’s Decorations and other auspicious New Year’s installations.

Something8 Kadomatsu of Pine Bamboo and rice straw – three auspicious plants.

Shime  Kazari, New Year’s decorations by Takako Nishikawa of Ishikawa Prefecture.

Something9There are many ways of expressing the joy of the New Year. The rice straw shimenawa of Takako Nishikawa are fresh and original creations that filled our window with their spirit of pure and fresh new beginnings.

She takes the tradition of using sacred straw rope and washi and paper mizuhiki made in Ishikawa, and gives them a new twist with garlic bulbs and red peppers and other surprises.

Something 10

Nishikawa san used nandina red berries and sharp black sumi calligraphy to give old traditions new freshness and punch.

Something 12

Something 11

Totally new, totally original, Nishikawa san’s New Year’s decorations are a heartfelt message of renewal and purification.

Something 13

 The last hurrah on an early morning Sumida River dog walk.

7 serious office workers practice for an upcoming birthday party and invite our black dog Basho to join the dance.

Joy and Peace and WOW! to all from Blue and White and friends.

Hina dolls


A lovely tribute by Susan Detjens’  FLower Flinging blog.

celebrating flowers, floral design, flower shows, fun and sometimes food

Happy Birthday Blue & White!
Posted on February 6, 2014 by Susan


While the dense snows piled up yesterday, I took a most magical walk down memory lane with the discovery of the “Blue & White” blog posting, forwarded to me by Mrs. Olana.  Blue & White is the iconic Tokyo shop of Amy Sylvester Katoh and is currently celebrating its 38th birthday!  At a time when Japan was rushing to modernism and western goods, Amy embraced the vanishing folk art skills that were the heart of Japanese culture.  She founded Blue & White to showcase the hand-made, to celebrate the dearly original ideas of hidden crafts men and women and to find new audiences for their work.

HB2 c Amy Katoh

When our young family moved to Tokyo, Amy and I met through mutual friends while our children were in school together.  She introduced me to the fascinating world of antique sales held in temples and shrines and, on Sundays, together we roamed Tokyo.  Amy is the author of 4, soon to be 5, wonderful books.  Each one is imbued with her warmth and her ever-generous enthusiasm as she shares what fascinates her about Japan and Japanese style, the essential and honest truth of objects crafted with love.  Her blog achieves the same resonance of spirit.


c Susan Detjens

We had great fun amassing the beginnings of a Japanese guidebook together before the exigencies of my leaving Tokyo for London got in the way.   Fast forward a number of years later, another project loomed. Japan Collages.  Amy invited me to do a mixed media show celebrating Japanese life in the ‘city-village’ that is Azabu Juban.  These schoolgirls were featured on a set of notecards.


c Susan Detjens

The first in the tradition of the hand-made books that I still make today, “Azabu Juban” was my love-letter to this unique area.  It was formatted in an 18 page accordion-fold book with yukata fabric covers and hand colored drawings.



The Blue & White blog post that inspired this reminiscence was a delightful compilation of many clever craft projects using the Blue & White annual calendar. Check out the blog: http://blueandwhitetokyo.com/2013/12/05/december-already/.  I have a pile of these calendars that mark our lives as expats.  Trips, parties, language lessons, visitors, school events…they are all there.  It became a challenge to decide how to use the calendars without destroying these memories.

HB6 c Blue & White

Over the years, the calendars changed shape and even changed the shade of  blue.  This favorite cover from 1996 is a New Year’s game called Fukuwari, rather like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey…..only this is pin-the-features on Otafuku……


In the end I decided my Blue & White challenge would be to make a blue and white bowl to celebrate my friend’s anniversary.  As we did not usually spend July and August in Japan, I sacrificed those mostly empty pages to create the bowl above, using a deep indigo artist’s paper as the background.  The technique is much the same as in the container in the last post “Flora for a Young Girl“.


Happy Birthday Blue & White!  Congratulations Amy-chan and to everyone who keeps the shop humming.  We so miss you, all the doings and all the fun.



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Plans for the new year, hopes and dreams too, need noting.

The new Blue & White Mottainai Calendar rolled in from the printer last week and is guaranteed to make you laugh – or smile at the very least.  It should provide humor and surprise in 2014. Large squares provide ample space to record plans and promises.

Pages of old calendars have been repurposed with the free and inventive imagination of our friends and fans and creatively turned into hats and lunch boxes and necklaces and notes.


MOTTAINAI means too good to waste. It is a beautiful term from Buddhism that is central to the mindful upbringing of most Japanese, (notably the older ones!) that honors the preciousness of things.

Treasure it. Waste not. Too good to waste. Use it again. Too good to be true. So many nuances, so many layers of meaning.

Generations of grandmothers have taught their grandchildren about the importance of treasuring each thing, eating everything on the plate, and not throwing things away.


Today recycling is a new imperative at Blue & White where we use only old shopping bags from other stores that our friends bring into Blue & White, and make eco bags of rejected materials from the dyers, and notepads from leftover paper from the printers.

For years friends amazed me when they write letters, postcards, and gift cards on old Blue & White calendar pages they had saved. It delighted me to see the rebirth of old pages of the calendar and know Blue & White travels the world in many different forms!



Try it yourself and see what you can make out of our old calendars. There is no end of possibility.


Old calendar pages reconfigured bring life and fun to the the New Year.


We use the last bits of old calendars as labels and price tags in the shop.


Recycling old Blue & White calendars can be playful and fun. Playing is important! Use it again. Make something that’s never been thought of before. And smile while you’re at it.

May 2014 be filled with play and innovation and happy surprises.

To order your own Blue & White calendar, please email or fax us at
FAX 813 3451 051 0512

Payment by credit card:  MasterCard, Visa, American Express.
Please send name
Card Number
Expiration date
Card security code 

Price:  ¥2,100 for calendar  


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Blue & White relies on two indispensable power sources for our well-being.

The most critical player is the maker: the craftsman, the seamstress, the dyer, the weaver. Together they fill the shop with their handwork and give it honesty and purity and beauty. They are the heart and the pulse of Blue & White and their skills and flourishes bring joy and brightness to all who see them. They bring imagination and flights of fancy, humor and playfulness to the shop. They don’t necessarily do things or make things in the usual way that sometimes becomes mechanical and dry as they go along, making the same thing year after year.

Team14Buttons By Ai Kobo

With their basic skills as a starting point, they experiment with new (and sometimes old) materials and making new things in new ways. Experimenting and breaking rules is part of the flavor they bring to Blue & White.


Reiko Inaba did just that with her appliquéd wall hangings of recycled vintage indigo and other snippets that she reworked into Kimono forms.for her appliquéd wall hangings.

Team13Blue and White cotton Kasuri  Appliqué by Reiko Inaba

Inaba san treasured each bit of cloth down to the end, and was able to breathe new life into especially the most threadbare cloth. I found her at Togo Shrine flea market, now discontinued, in Harajuku maybe 15 or 16 years ago. Her bright indigo appliqués commanded a spotlight of their own for their clarity and sense of color and form. Above all the kimono and other bright things hanging on display, her work had a quiet command of the market scene. Enchanted, I invited her to exhibit her work in Blue & White. She had other suitors as well, but fortunately our shared love of textiles, even the most lowly and forgotten was in sync, and she came to be a generous and passionate and talented member of the Blue & White family.

Team5Reiko Inaba Appliqué: Mostly blue and white, but sometimes glorious reds and oranges

Team6Reiko Inaba Kimono: Appliqué of Antique Kimono Silk

Every time Inaba san came into Blue & White with a new batch of appliquéd Kimono wall hangings, of kimono or monpei, women’s farm pants, or fish – choosing just the right bit of fabric to convey the kimono shapes, the pantaloons with pockets, the fishiness – we held our breath and oohed  over her sleight of hand,  her perfect choices,  her steadfast stitches, all the time marveling that this was the way she had chosen to combat the painful cancer therapy she was undergoing. She turned cancer treatment into a creative force, and there was a depth to her work that no doubt came from her pain. Sewing, vegetable gardening, smoking fish – all were passions she took up to take her mind from her illness.  Her visits were moments of happy unveiling, admiring and laughing at her modesty and endless energy. We will miss them mightily. She lost her battle to cancer, but not before she made hundreds upon hundreds of small tapestry jewels that are now hanging in houses in Japan as well as kitchens and stairways and bathrooms and living rooms around the world. Her work was penultimately Japanese, but at the same time universal.


Team7Enthusiastic and devoted customer in a Sayoko Hayasawa sashiko T shirt

Also essential to team Blue & White  are people who come in looking for new things, new forms of craft, new ways to brighten life and often make it easier. Their delight in what they find at Blue & White is a trigger for us get going and keep coming up with new surprises, new creations to delight them and keep them coming back for more. Some people come in weekly to check out what is new, or even to see if they haven’t missed something. They bring chestnuts from their gardens, persimmons from their trees. Some come less often but are still intent on discovering the new thing made by hand that will be a catalyst in their daily life or a perfect present for a friend or a mother (in law). They are all inspectors of sorts who peruse the shelves and examine what is there. Their reactions and comments are invaluable to us and we take their remarks and suggestions very seriously.

Team8Our irresistible manager Sayoko Hayasawa with an admiring customer

And some come every day like our dear Rei Kamikubo.

Kamikubo san first came in 4 or 5 years ago, a shroud draped in a black cape, with a scarf wrapped round her head, an ominous white mask and a large hat. We could barely see her eyes. There was something frightened about her as she walked tentatively into the shop the first time. Her voice was small and hesitant. As she started to come in more regularly we learned she was enduring treatment for lymphatic cancer and had to keep protected from infection. But she drank in the words of encouragement and support she found at Blue & White and each time she came. Gradually she took off  the layers of protection she had worn at first.

Team9Kamikubo san in Blue & White

She came for tea, she came for hugs, she came to laugh and became a daily source of joking and enjoyment. Hovering around 80, she was frisky and playful and loved clothes. She became our private model and we wound up producing a photo book of her modeling all the things she chose from the shop.



She was a dancer and sometimes proudly came to Blue & White to show us her wonderful sense of style when wearing kimono.

She was a clothes horse and looked at home in whatever she chose to wear.

A day was not complete without a visit and a natter with our beloved Kamikubo san who was also number one customer at Peacock Supermarket next door and would bring in treats for tea after she had done her grocery shopping. She comes no more, having lost her feisty battle to cancer, but her laughter and her stories still ring in the shop.


At the time of OHigan, the autumn equinox when Buddhist ceremonies are held to remember the dead, Higan bana (flowers) bloom everywhere as a reminder. Spikey flames of enlightenment, they bloom in the park now, around the rice fields, and along the river. They remind us of members of Team Blue & White who reached enlightenment before us and encourage us to follow their inspiration. Their spirits keep us company in Blue & White.

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Blue&White circles1

Spirals, spots, bubbles, splotches, the song of Blue & White is sung in circles. Designs are often round and spotty and go round in circles – like the world we live in, like the movement of our minds.

Above is a random collage of spiraled pieces of recycled flyers, wound and arranged by Katsutoshi Yoshikae, an 85 year old man in Kagoshima, Kyushu who sees the beauty of recycled flyers that he rescues and rearranges into spirals and circles.  A collage that he made caught my eye in the studio of Takashi Tokunaga, artist husband of our incredible Sashiko artist, Tokunaga Miyoko, and he kindly made another for Blue & White.

Though I had never thought of it, his spirals made me realize how much of Blue & White is circles going round and round. Ten large round and heavy glass fishing floats now sit in the window and take my breath away with their simplicity and beauty.

Blue&White circles2

Captivated when I found them, I bought two or three boxes of the glass balls, each one slightly different in tone and size, many wrapped in fascinating structures of knotted twine. They reflect the light of the shop as they must have reflected the undulations of the ocean and the activities above and below.

Blue&White circles3

Here, the glass fishing floats nestle on a bed of round paper punches that are thrown out as trash in our paper processing neighborhood at home. For me they speak of the preciousness of things. Mottainai! Everything can be used and reused. Too good to be thrown away. I rescue them regularly from the trash and put them to new uses in Blue & White.

Blue&White circles

The floats go well with the Shobu Gakuen washi bags that have hand drawn circles on them. Everything going round and round! It’s summer!

Blue&White circles4

I found a whole cache of them in Nagano near our summer house and I couldn’t believe their purity of form and material. Huge reflecting bubbles frozen in glass!  Bubbles have always intrigued me. From the wonderful bubbles that our children blew gleefully in the bath tub when they were little, to the bubbles the man from the sports goods shop on Patio Juban near Blue & White, creates by waving his large plastic wand, enchanting all passing children. Bubbles make us all children again.

Blue&White circles5

Suds seem to be pouring out of the 100 Otafuku in the wooden ofuro. The joy of the bath! This is Blue & White’s newest whimsical tenugui, hand towel.

Blue&White circles6

Materials too echo the circles of Blue and White, though they are not always blue.  The green spirals of the child’s jimbei salute the energy of summer with their fresh stencil dyed whirls. The wonderful freehand dyed spots of gauze tenugui are the work of Abe san on Asahi Dyeworks who is always ready to try new ways of dyeing, in this case pouring dyes from dye watering cans through holes he has punched randomly through plastic sheeting, in response to our requests for softer and less rigid stencil lines.

Blue&White circles7

Tea Time at Blue & White is served in circles

Blue&White circles8

Spotted window filled with the free hand dishes and bowls of Yu Kobayashi, self reliant wonder woman who built her own house, and everything in it – furniture, paintings, mailbox, even a swing. She runs marathons, swims every morning in the ocean nearby and travels to Africa each year making friends and painting the life scenes that she meets. The circles and spots and spirals of her ceramics reflect her free life and free mind.

Blue&White circles9

A 12 meter length of spotted gossamer gauze sends its cool message to the neighborhood. It is perfect used as a tablecloth, a stole, or a sundress, and we have even used them as a canopy over the deck on bright sun beaten days in the country.

Blue&White circles10

Our Smiling necklace, made of recycled cuts of old calendars, reflects just how round in circles we go. We will use it for our 2014 Mottainai calendar next year.

Blue&White circles11

But the ultimate spots before my eyes were parked in front of the newly renovated and magnificent Tokyo Station last week as I hurried to the O Edo flea market, held on the first and third Sundays of the month. I had to stop and photograph the 4-wheeled piece of art lest it be gone when I was done.

Here was the last word in circles.

Circles are forever.
“And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you’ll find
In the windmills of your mind”
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Each item at Blue & White has a history.

In the beginning we found each product. Researched it. Traced its provenance, its maker and persuaded the maker to produce it for Blue & White. The two colored things on the shelves of Blue & White have all taken time and perseverance to create…

But once in a Blue Moon, a blue & white wonder lands on our doorstep uninvited, unexpected. We only need to reach out and grab it and share it with the world. Such is the case of the miraculous Weather Station by Fujii Tatsunori that he and his sidekick installed for 5 days, just outside our living room window across the lane at Bansho Gallery in Tokiwa, Koto ku, Tokyo. The exhibit, both outside and inside of Bansho Gallery opened on May 1 for one month.

The preparations took time. 4 macho men in flaring jodhpurs set up scaffolding around the 80 year old two storey building across the lane from our house, next to O Deki Shrine.

One week later two handsome men in white helmets climbed the wobbly scaffolds and started stretching row upon row of white ropes spliced with narrow strips of white cloth. Mesmerized, I watched and photographed them as they strung their fluttering banners, wondering where they were going.

May 1, the exhibit Weather Station opened at Bansho Gallery, at the confluence of the Sumida River and the Onagi River, a place of spirit and history where Basho once lived and wrote his endearing haiku. 15 rows of waving banners flapped from the ropes tied to the scaffolding creating energy and motion and Blue & White excitement to our neighborhood.

Because I can’t bring this exhibit to Blue & White, let me bring it to you digitally and hope that you will absorb the marvel that Fujii Tatsunori has conjured up at Bansho Gallery. Christo would be impressed!


BLUE & WHITE WEATHER STATION on Basho’s iconic Sumida River by Tatsunori Fujii, at Bansho Gallery, Koto ku, Tokyo.





Tatsunori Fujii and his side kick laying out the lines of prespliced strips of cloth.


Flags on the Sumida River or could they be prayers?


Remarkably, Tatsunori Fujii’s Weather Station Exhibit at Bansho Gallery takes place both inside and outside of the old building.



The artist and his assistant come to the bottom of the installation.


View from the bottom.



Cosmic Blue & White

Fukagawa Bansho Gallery      1-1-1 Tokiwa, Koto-ku     03-6666-9862

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Art1 Blue and White

Anything can happen at Shobu Gakuen care facility in Kagoshima for special abilities people.

There can be dancing in the soba shop, Bonta, singing in the sewing center, shouting in the ceramics workshop. The atmosphere of freedom and purpose creates a remarkable happiness that seeps down to all members and visitors as well.  Most of the 140 members of Shobu Gakuen are residents, but 40 or so commute daily to take part in the art centered daily activities that Shobu Gakuen offers, be it embroidery in the grass roofed sewing center above, or woodcraft in an airy wood center filled with light and tools most carpenters only dream of, paper making in spacious work rooms, painting, clay work, food or music. Each member finds his own niche that he practices and hones every day from 9:30 til 4. I want to join!  There is a bakery, a café with the wonderful name – Otafuku – a soba shop plus 3 galleries. One gallery houses a rotating exhibit of the permanent collection of Shobu Gakuen Art in the Shobu Style building housing offices, conference center and a light laced gallery with windows opening on the lily pond outside.

Art2 Blue and White

Shobu Style is a philosophy of setting people free to follow their bliss despite or perhaps because of their differing disabilities. Who is normal? What is normal? asks Shin Fukumori, the inspired and humor-driven director who also conducts concert happenings with his musicians dressed in wild and whimsical handmade costumes designed and made by his multi-talented wife, Noriko in charge of Nui Project, Shobu’s Sewing Center. Most recently the musicians of  Shobu Gakuen performed OTTO & ORABU in Nagoya at IMS Hall on March 9.

Art3 Blue and White

Beaded object by an autistic woman who expresses herself with her hands.

Another building houses an exhibit space of alternating large art pieces and wall hangings, wood carvings filled with whimsy – large painted canvases and woodcarvings when we were there.

Art5 Blue and White

A friend called her The Goddess of Everything – quite right.

She wanted to come home with me.

I said YES!

Art6 Blue and White

Wonder wall of characters made of paper and tape, all figments of a rich imagination and dexterous fingers, welcomes visitors to the two galleries.

He has been concentrating on making these figures for years.

On the left is a delicious gallery of small crafts for sale – a feast for the eyes, candy to take away with you.

Art7 Blue and White

Art8 Blue and White

Bags and buttons to take home and give to friends.

Art9 Blue and White

Painted postcards aka art for the walls reflect Shobu’s strong sense of home within its insistence on recycling and honoring the excellence of art created.

In bags, in calendars, in book covers, in postcards, the art is used in charming and fanciful ways. Nothing is wasted or ignored.

Art10 Blue and White

They even do it in Blue & White as in a recent exhibit at Shibuya’s Parco celebrating the publication of their new book of a blackboard diary of one of their members. Each of the 3,000 covers was stamped by hand using cuts of bamboo!

Art11 Blue and White

Small dishes are art in themselves, but also excellent for soy sauce or salt or wasabi.

Art4 Blue and White

Shobu Gakuen is a place of joy and purpose and contentedness. People welcome you when you come. Friendships blossom quickly. The happiness that one encounters at Shobu Gakuen lights a flame in the spirit that continues to warm body and heart. The feeling of empowerment that you encounter there gives everyone-residents and visitors alike-a new sense of wanting to give life A TRY.

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Rainy Season Blues1

The rainy season that I used to dread as a mother of 4 wild children and a huge dog because they had to stay indoors and be entertained and kept occupied while burning off their inexhaustible energies.  It was cold and dark and the humidity palpable.

But here it is again and I now look at it from a different vantage point.  With grown children who happily entertain themselves, it is a time when flowers rejoice in their daily showers and bloom with gay abandon.  The queen of them all in June and July is the glorious hydrangea.  How can there be so many shades of blue! It may be Blue & White’s favorite, though we admit to having many.  But its range of blues and purples and nearly blacks, its variations of whites and pinks even challenge any artist to match their colorful splendor.


They come in many shapes and sizes as well.  There is even an Otafuku Ajisai, fluffy with round cheeks.  Perfect reflection of Blue & White’s own chubby Goddess of Joy.


Hydrangeas, or Ajisai in Japanese are the perfect foil to our speciality blue and white pots by Yu Kobayashi above.  And our own signature Tenugui.

TENUGUI, 90 centimeter- 27 inch lengths of hand dyed cotton used as hand towels to mop the brow, tie around the head as a sweat band, wipe the slate clean, or just as a table runner or a dish cloth or a towel to wipe your hands.  They are quick spontaneous shouts of color and design, and the dyer has just sent us a delicious array of fresh–from-the-dye-pots blue and white Tenugui.



A quaint old Mt. Fuji image – the shape that used to be the classic form of the sacred mountain, was among some old tenugui I found at a flea market years ago and took to the stencil maker to have him replicate it.  Its stylized clouds may show a moment of clearing during the rainy season.


This charming spotted tenugui is another flea market find.  It is a probably a 19th century child’s yukata that once again we had a new stencil cut for.  Never quite as rough and heart filled as the old ones, but still a far cry from the designer computer engineered spots that are so in vogue.


Checks, spots, stripes, the ever lasting Karakusa pattern, or endless vine, and a beautiful rising sun tenugui – one of my all time favorites taken from an old boys’ day banner.  Bringing the old and new together.  Finding the ultimate modern in the old and infusing it into the new, giving it a depth and a meaning that are somehow missing in today’s empty designs, that is one of the challenges of Blue & White.  That and trying to capture these brilliant blue and white moments that nature blesses us with, especially beautiful during rainy season.

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Tokyo Jinja’s Post on Blue & White

Shop Talk…Amy Katoh’s Iconic Blue & White

March 19, 2013 by Tokyo Jinja

TJ1So it occurred to me in writing last post on LuRu Home that Claire and Liza are possibly at the beginning of a similar journey to that started some time ago by Amy Katoh, author, shop owner and flame keeper of all Japanese things handcrafted, indigo and folk art. When Amy Katoh moved to Japan in the 1960s, the local mood was to jettison everything Japanese and traditional in favor of things western and modern. This wasn’t a new trend – it had been happening since the Meiji Restoration – where seemingly overnight Japan went from an agrarian culture to an industrial one. But pockets of the old ways remained for those who sought them out and at the forefront of this group was Amy and her perfectly named shop Blue & White.


It seems ironic that it takes an outsider to shine the light into the corners of a culture, pulling out and saving the pieces that are about to be discarded, both figuratively and literally. Amy went to markets and bought up old indigo work clothes, almost warm from their former owners backs, tools considered defunct and pottery no longer wanted. She started out by saving things and went on to re-invent and help create new things from the old. She has been instrumental in bringing outside interest to the folk arts of Japan and it is that very outside interest that has helped the Japanese see the magic of their traditional arts culture themselves.


It is not just her knowledge that makes her so compelling, but also her very personality. She is never still, never bored and always interested in seeing and learning more. Whenever I am with her she is engaged and excited about something – a new exhibition or experience – and her vibrancy is infectious. Many a new expat wanders into her shop only to be seduced by the charm of the goods and their proprietor. In fact, I’ve head from numerous people that they chose their neighborhood and apartment because it was near Blue & White.

Lately Amy has been very involved in working with handicrafts fashioned by the handicapped, a group that can often be overlooked. Her committment to numerous groups is strong and the wares in the store reflect that. In May, after Golden Week an exhibition featuring handcraft by the handicapped from Tohoku will be on display. The regions hit by the tsunami were known for their traditional arts and much was destroyed. It has been hard to get those small industries up and running and particularly so for handicapped artists. Money raised from the sale of the genki tenugui (written about here) will also be put towards this cause.


The Blue & White shop is an atmospheric hodge-podge and has bits of everything, from antiques and modern ceramics…


…to charming little chopstick rests. Do I spy Otafuku?


It’s the kind of place where at any moment, an itinerant indigo peddler may show up and stark unpacking his wares. I’ve been lucky enough to be there on one of those days. He should be coming back quite soon, perhaps in the next week or two.


Kasuri slippers anyone? Not to jump the gun, but you’ll be hearing a lot about kasuri from me in the coming days.


While there is no formal lesson schedule posted, Kazuko Yoshiura does teach sashiko there…


as does Akiko Ike, who teaches the rough and primitive form called chiku chiku, which is the sound a sewing needle makes when going thru cloth. I can’t imagine actually using these charming dust cloths for their said purpose.


And Amy has almost single-handedly kept traditionally dyed yukata fabric from Tokyo Honzome (a consortium of dyers) in production.  No one can afford to buy the handmade rolls anymore for making yukata, but she sells it by the meter, perfect for projects like quilting.  You all know how often we have turned to her for the fabric in the ASIJ quilt borders. These days the dyers are surviving by making tenugui – the Japanese equivalent of a dish cloth – with the traditional techniques and stencils and Blue & White has a large selection of those too.


One of the most beloved things sold at Blue & White are the small quilts and hangings by Reiko Inaba. She uses vintage mosquito netting, kasuri and other fabrics to turn out her charming kimono and fish quilts, something she started doing as cancer therapy.


For those of you who can’t just pop in and visit, Amy’s books have been reprinted a million times and still feel as fresh as ever.  She is currently working on a fifth – I’m not sure that I can give away any details on it!

tj books

For me personally, Amy has been an inspiration, a teacher and a wonderful example of how to live a life full of constant discovery. She sees the wow! in everything.

Put Blue & White on your bucket list….

Blue & White2-9-2 Azabu Juban.Telephone: 03-3451-0537


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Fluffy white clouds stripe a blue Tokyo sky in the new year and set off the cold and steely Sky Tree, Tokyo’s newest quest for greatness:  the tallest, sleekest,  techiest tower of all.   The New Year has been long in coming – traditional preparations have been happening everywhere.

At the local bamboo merchant’s, they have been polishing and cutting and matching trunks of bamboo by the truckload.  The resulting handsome kadomatsu decorations of cut bamboo and pine tied with decorative knots of rice straw rope are New Years’ works of art placed at the entrances of sumo stables and restaurants and other prosperous establishments.

Inside too, preparations are underway for the New Year, including the last festivities of the year just finishing.


Pounding rice to make O Mochi, a sticky rice cake eaten at the New Year, at a local Sumo Stable near our house.

Despite the discouraging news that continues to emanate from Japan – slap dash cleanup of Tohoku, constant political musical chairs, collapsing highway tunnels, docks washing up on foreign shores, a more steady cultural heart beat continues to generate the country and keep it moving to older, deeper and less volatile rhythms.  The deepest set of these is the New Year with its rituals of farewell to the old and beginning of the new.


New beginnings, fresh starts, purification, all give heart and hope despite disappointments of the year that has passed.

In Japan the New Year is a time for cleaning, beginning afresh, and purification.

The first calligraphy of the year is celebrated along with the first mochi, the first flower, and the first tea.


In the New Year window of Blue & White, 10 year old artist and student of Japanese in New York, granddaughter Ruby Momo brushed her own calligraphy images together with her grandfather on a swath of washi cloth.  She helped hang them in the window of Blue & White on poles of new green bamboo with yuzu and pine and nandina from Wajima in Ishikaway Prefecture, under Shinto paper cuttings from Saitama Prefecture.

Later she will hang her New Year’s calligraphy written on squares of old washi in the Blue & White window at the Hotel Okura.


She was a perfect size to squeeze into the window to hang the Shime Nawa New Year’s decoration of twisted rice straw and sigzags of folded paper.


Job well done !


At home the New Year is taken more frivolously with 2013 glasses on the beaded African Yoruban Prince who welcomes guests.


Tokyo Tower, graceful Grande dame, that she is, changes her outfit for every occasion.  The New Year finds her lit in luminous orangey gold on some nights, and on others in an impossibly chic outfit of bright vermillion legs with sparky white lights on blue.  She far out dresses the lackluster overnight sensation Sky Tree whose lighting is so subtle as not to be noticeable at all.  Tokyo Tower knows what it means to go all out to celebrate the New Year.



And for all of it, there is gratitude.  ARIGATO sign at the tiny O Deki Jinja across the road from our house reminds us to be ever grateful for blessings past and still to come.


Some take time to play out, but all preserve an indwelling spirit of hope and reassurance of renewal of the Japanese New Year, the very CORE of Japanese culture.

All are part of our Blue & White mindset.  They inspire and give insight into the psyche of Japan – sometimes mysterious and ineffable, sometimes bold and playful – and its steadfast and unmoving core of culture.

While the images above are not necessarily blue and white, they reflect the eternal wellspring of culture that flows up from deep within Japan.  Some customs have changed and adapted to the present, some are inviolate. They all feed the Japanese spirit. They are the inspiration for Blue & White.

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