The third day of the third month, 3 March, Girls Day, is coming soon and though it is a time for excited preparation for all families with daughters, few work so hard to prepare for it as our beloved Okunushi san (who in fact has two sons). For close to 40 years, she has been making whimsical princes and princesses and their entourage in colorful silk kimono material and bold kasuri patterns for Blue & White. Reimagining the stately and imposing OHina sama, Okunushi san puts humor and playfulness into her creations. And LOVE too – lots of it!
Whatever she puts her hands to – paper, cotton, silk, even rice in her delicious onigiri and out of this world shrimp and lotus root patties, Okunushi san is a wizard at making things. And she has been creating her joy filled creations for Blue & White and delighting all who visit the shop for years.
With fingers and needle and thread Okunushi san brings life from forgotten cloth and stuffing. – sometimes using bamboo, sometimes cotton batting, sometimes even shells!
The Okunushis have been eating nothing but clams for the last month to empty the shells she planned to use for her original OHina Sama dolls, wrapped in bright vintage silk kimono material.
She even has her way with paper as seen in this washi bag, made of humble shoji paper, she has dyed with tea to dull its whiteness. scrunched and stitched to give me a present of the spiralling pin at the beginning of this article, and a long rope of braided leftover yukata and tenugui material. Nothing wasted!
Bamboo too, hidden beneath the colorful vintage silk kimono of these Sayonara dolls is a wrapping of washi for writing messages, or addresses – love letters even! – all covering a bamboo core. All natural materials worked with painstaking detail in the loving stitches of Okunushi san’s needle.
A covey of fat Hime Daruma. Daruma Princesses sit in the window under peach blossoms waiting for OHina Sama, Girls’ Day. Dressed in vintage indigo kasuri with white kasuri faces, they radiate the freshness of country.
Prince and Princesses of all types are set in small boxes for ready display in the genkan, entranceway for OHina sama season.
Rabbits too can become royalty in Okunushi san’s hands.
Princesses come in all species. These rabbits would make a lovely pair greeting people in an entrance hall in their yukata finery in their private boxes.
Personalities are clearly depicted in needle and thread.
A pleased with herself Princess, and a grumpyish Prince.
Okunushi san also captures the simple innocence of creatures – rabbits have long been a favorite. This one is a popular toy for children in his natty plaid yukata chanchanko, vest.
An open faced beckoning cat welcomes good fortune and happiness in the window. Who doesn’t need these friends! He sits on a rag weave mat of old yukatas.
Okunushi san can make anything: jewelry, pins, and charming necklaces of old leftover indigo fabric.
She recycles old fabrics and gives them new life.
She throws nothing away.
These flexible braided bracelets of old indigo are always popular. They fit everyone!
Our smiling Goddess of mirth Otafuku is her particular favorite. Okunushi san has made quilts of Otafuku in every activity imaginable, this one portraying Setsubun, the bean throwing ceremony chasing out devils, welcoming good fortune – always inviting good spirits and laughter.
She cooks. She sews. She laughs.
She works very hard.
Isshokemmei – she does her very best in whatever she tries.
She always says she only wants to be Katoh san’s hands.
Aren’t I the lucky one!
After travel to Pakistan! And Sri Lanka for several weeks at Christmas time, a return to our 300 year old Minka, Japanese farmhouse in the wilds of Karuizawa, gave me a new perspective on our life there. The beautiful old barebones house was hauled from Gifu 40 plus years ago, all ancient straight beams on flatbed trucks and reconstructed as a gasshozuri, A frame house in the shape of hands in prayer, mostly post and beam construction. Since then, quiet circles have crept into our life there, and soften it with their roundness. A morning with my iphone catalogued a surpising number of circles that have unwittingly taken up residence there.
Words are not necessary here. Only a brief explanation of what the objects are and sometimes where they came from.
Above: a beautiful ball of indigo kasuri/ ikat indigo thread predyed before weaving.
On my desk, three nearly perfect round pebbles picked up on walks in the woods, remind me of the perfect maru ishi, round stones that are objects of worship in some Shinto beliefs. Nearly perfect is fine with me.
Nearby, a round covered dish is encircled with a necklace of circles painted by Yasuko Omine to enhance her husband, Jissei Sensei’s dignified pot.
A pure white orb of white washi, this Akari lamp is the creation of Isamu Noguchi in the 1950’s and still strikingly modern today. Its soft light gives glow to the persimmon stained bamboo reeds that hold the white plaster in place and makes for a texture and design that no wallpaper could ever match.
Translucent red shells picked up on a Bali beach years ago, still spiral on the antique family heirloom red lacquer table.
A sweet oval mirror on the bureau is too low to use really, but still does its part reflecting the beams and rope construction of the ceiling, and the mesmerizing bamboo lattice ceiling.
A round red daruma is for making wishes by filling in one eye when you make a wish. They are a common toy sold at the New Year when everything is possible.
When the wish comes true, you fill in the other eye. Not sure what the state of wishes is here.
A beautiful use of shapes in nature is this fishing tool whose net has long since vanished. A resourceful fisherman a hundred plus years ago found just the right shaped tree branch for his work and bent it to this pure form.
The last role for country textiles is often as lengths of rope made of the last bits of tattered textiles. Who knows what they were used for! Hanging festival banners and curtains, for mosquito netting, for anything that needed hanging or securing in the days before plastic. There were always loops of these ropes made by idle hands with unused material, hanging around waiting for use.
I can never resist their colorful braided compositions and had to slap my own hand from picking up another bundle last week at the Hachiman Shrine flea market. You can still find them occasionally today, but it won’t be long before they disappear completely from the scene.
Big fat ball of old stencil dyed indigo cloth braided into rope.
Last gasp of old materials which, when braided together, still have strength and consummate beauty.
Shy but beautiful muted colors and end-of-the-road materials make a poignant portrait of Mottainai rope – too good to waste. Don’t throw it away. It can still be used!
Bright and striking indigo and white thread intended for Ikat/ Kasuri dyeing.
I am grateful I found it first.
We will be using a similar slender thread to tie around customers’ wrists from this week to make them members of the blue and white club connected by the indigo thread that ties us all together.
Strong indigo rope with a sturdy rice straw core would be used for hanging banners and curtains at Matsuri festivals
A charming circle of blue and white rubber bands made and given to me by our youngest and most creative member of Blue & White, Akiko Morimoto.
Time stands still in the kitchen of our old farmhouse. The hands of time have never moved since we hung it forty years ago.
A pure circle of rice straw meticulously bound a round a base of bamboo or twigs? A perfect trivet that sees much use on our tables.
Minnesota Mingei, folk craft, exclaimed the unforgettable and irrepressible Nucy Meech when she presented it to me probably thirty years ago. These two covered containers were made of dried orange peels by American Indians and are a prize display on our large kuruma dansu that holds special artifacts of spirit.
Bamboo and rice straw – using what was available. An Edo era hunter devised this trap for catching rabbits.
Cracked platter by Omine Jissei of Okinawa was not fit to sell, and so he magnanimously gave it to my husband Yuichi who treasured it so that he carried all the way back to Tokyo and then Karuizawa alternately on his head, and sometimes on his lap. It holds a place of honor in our engawa, veranda in the old Minka.
A rice straw amulet from Futami Okitama Jinja, a tiny shrine near the famous Meoto Iwa, the wedded rocks in the sea bound together by giant rice straw tethers, near Ise Jingu Shrine in Mie Prefecture.
A perfect moon shaped lid of a salt pot from Okinawa, a traditional shape that has been recreated by Omine Jissei.
Round and round. Round teabags of Typhoon tea from the UK under a battered round tin lid of a container originally used for senbei, crackers probably.
Composition of old well used things – a basketball and a zabuton, floor cushion of antique indigo kasuri cloth.
Originally used to hold a hot kettle by the irori, fire pit in the center of old farm houses, this rusted iron trivet is useful for holding hot things when we grill meat and vegetables at the table.
Charming homemade Daruma made of what was available in the house by Sooichiro Izumi nearly 18 years ago. It looks as though his wishes will come true!
Smiling Otafuku sake cups on a footed lacquer tray. On the bottom of the cups are faces of demons which is an insightful observation of the power of sake to change moods.
A stone rubbing of a rabbit jumping in front of charcoal moon is one side of the tall rectangular Meiji era lamp that has been converted from oil burning to electricity.
The oil light was softer and more beautiful.
A large circle of prayer beads roughly carved by a Yamabushi, mountain priest, for his arduous mountain pilgrimages hundreds of years ago.
Matsuri papers decorations inside a circular basket for cultivating silk worms in the 19th century.
Primitive circles of straw bound with bamboo form a basket used for storing and protecting ceramic plates in the 19th century.
Lacquered bird on a beam finial.
Bamboo laundry basket is so large, it is thankfully never full.
Ancient stone prayer wheel from Kumana Jinja in the mountains of Karuizawa
An old stone base for supporting banner poles – I think!
Fires to warm the faithful who come to Kumano Jinja to pay their first respects of the year to the old shrine at the top of the hill.
Round cuts of logs to be used for the fires to heat the line of worshippers.
Round container for Omikuji fortune papers that foresee the fortunes of the year ahead
Round light at Kumano Jinja that reflects the coming moon
Circular Mitsudomoe, triple commas, the crest of Kumano Jinja on the roof tiles.
And finally a papier mache dog of the New Year with his mottainai ball of braided rags, and his Boro collar, wishing everyone the best of all good things in the New Year, the Year of the Loyal and Faithful and Honest Dog!
Blue & White sends you the very best of Japan.
A rising Sun of red chili.
An antiques indigo katazome sleeping futon. 19th century.
A washi Dog of characters for the New Year.
With Best Indigo wishes
And hopes you will come see Blue & White in the New Year.
The thirteenth joy is Blue & White.
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From its humble origins as a cotton boll, its fibers are plucked and stretched and twisted into multi-ply threads that are stripped down to single ply then twisted into strands to make a sturdier thread for weaving and stitching, the cotton thread has been a staple for Japanese cloth for centuries. Studies vary, but the cotton culture has been actively maintained since the 15th century, having been introduced in the late Nara period or early Heian around the 9th century.
Its fortuitous meeting with indigo in about the 15th century and their dance in the dexterous hands and sensitive minds of Japanese craftsmen has produced a tradition of extraordinary indigo textiles that is unparalleled in the world. (this report might be biased!)
It is ongoing today in the workplaces of increasing numbers of dedicated dyers, spinners, and weavers throughout Japan.
Last week I had the excitement of visiting one such enterprise. Japan Blue Textile Company in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, where two brothers maintain their family business in a compound of spinning and dyeing and weaving and rolling and selling their work in a manner not far advanced from their industrial beginnings, working on ancient weaving machines thumping away at their work.
Not afraid to stitch or dye, Shoji Tsujimura enjoys experimenting with his own clothes and devising new variations with indigo.
I was happily surprised to learn that there are a number of weaving and dyeing companies in the surrounding area.
In this hands-on industry, there are never enough hands to man the dye pots and the loom upwarping, the weavings, the overseeing. More people are necessary to perpetuate this tenuous industry. Here a man bends to the somewhat mechanized task of wringing out the indigo dyed fibers.
The aibana, indigo flower in the indigo brew needs stirring and tending to each day to maintain its vitality to produce rich tones of indigo.
Tedious bindings of threads produce striking blue and white threads.
The ultimate blue and white thread is one mysteriously blended in alternating shades of indigo.
In Japan a red thread is thought to connect lovers and is often alluded to at wedding ceremonies. But to my mind, it is an indigo thread that connects people and weaves them together, in Japan and beyond: from blue jeans to uniforms to flags. You find it everywhere, the indigo thread of destiny.
Spools of indigo thread feed into the clackety looms that operate on programmed design cards at Japan Blue Textile Company.
Smooth sailing in the weaving room.
Experienced eyes oversee the looms and check for errors.
Too much to do, too few to do it is an often heard remark in these labor intensive enterprises.
Tall spindly bobbins of various indigo threads are grooved by time and use in the weaving process.
End result! Brilliant blues in varying shades and weaves and textures of indigo cotton and hemp show the infinite variety and hand of the color blue!
Perfect for cushions, clothing for table, for daily living, and clothes to wear.
Indigo brings tranquility and simple elegance to wherever it is used.
Coming soon to Blue & White will be cool indigo jackets and handsome shirts for men. Get with it. Wear something with hand and heart and history.
For centuries indigo threads have been the foundation of Japanese textiles. Here a 19th century Yogi of stenciled karakusa with crane roundels has deepened into a soft shade of indigo with white motifs with a unique family crest on the back. It was probably created as part of a dowry and filled with cotton or silk batting as a sleeping kimono. From Amy Katoh’s collection of antique indigo textiles that she is reluctantly winnowing.
Indigo threads of all kinds are hanging in the window of the shop now and for sale at Blue & White. They brighten life with their endless variations and shades of eternal blue.
After a morning compiling Mottainai images of Boro and old Meiji era patched washi ledgers at home, my head was filled with patches and mends I couldn’t have enough of all the things I had collected over many years. Once you fall in love with Boro and things that have been saved and mended and patched and treasured, you can’t stop. You just want to see more, have more.
Late for work (again!), I rushed to the subway for the 20 minute ride to Blue & White in Azabu Juban . I had missed rush hour, so it shouldn’t be crowded, I thought. I found a seat, and across from me was an older man rifling through his rather large plastic bag of shopping. I saw a banana pass by. He took a pair of chopsticks in his hand and I wondered if he was going to eat lunch on the train. But no, he was just making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. From another bag he took out of large scruffy greenish folder of what seemed to be more Mottainai. Patched and layered, bent with use and constant handling, his bulging album of scraps was clearly a treasure and I watched as he pored through the pages, wetting my curiosity to see what was inside. I couldn’t resist. I went over and sat beside him and asked whether that was a scrapbook. He tentatively said yes, and I told him that I had spent the morning looking at old Japanese Boro papers and cloth and rope and was very interested in scraps. Would he mind showing me what he had assembled.
He forgot his hesitation and was surprised at my interest. He told me he read the Nihon Keizai Shinbun, Japan’s Wall Street Journal every day and cut out articles and pasted them in his album. He underlined, crossed out, highlighted, circled cross hatched, colored in and annotated the important bits.
I was impressed that he only saved articles from The Japan Economic Journal and clearly prized what he read and saved. When I asked whether he ever went back to read what he had saved and pasted, he said “of course it is very important information.”
His album was thick and well worn, well read, well glued. He said he had patched the pages over and over. I asked him how long it took him to compile a scrapbook of this size, and he said he filled it in just a few months. When I remarked that his house must be overflowing with these collages, he sheepishly nodded but said that each volume was a treasure.
A few weeks ago, he told me, he had several of them with him when he put them down to buy a drink on the train, and he forgot them. When he went back to retrieve them, they were gone. He was heart broken and very upset to have lost them. He had put all his reading and thinking and composing into each one.
He soon became used to my nosey questions and when I asked if I could see the cover, he gladly showed me, pointing out the number of mends and additions and overlays. Not unlike the spirit of Boro, a somewhat unconscious work of patching things together to strengthen and fortify, his collages had a new life of their own removed from the original boxy orthodoxy of a newspaper. I asked him if he referred to his collages after he had created them and he said, Oh yes! They are very important to me.
When I told him I was interested in cloth collages, indigo boro, he told me he was from Okayama and his grandmother used to weave Asa or hemp, so he was very familiar with what I told him I collected. He looked at my workman’s pants and recognized them, realizing that we had many, eccentricities in common.
His workmanship had a sense of urgency to it – underlines, circles, blackouts, cross hatches. It must have meant something to him, but I couldn’t even tell which side was up. I couldn’t read it, shame to say, so there was no invasion of privacy – other than brazenly sitting next to him on the train and asking none-of-my-business questions.
He told me he used to work in the oil industry in Texas but said nothing of his current life other than making scrapbooks of admirable heft and girth. I was impressed at the amount of reading that must have precluded them.
After he had recovered from the surprise of having a strange looking old woman across him and start barraging him with questions, he wound up maybe even gratified that he had found a soul mate – fellow hoarder? who could appreciate his obsession with preserving and annotating newspaper clippings.
Time was up. Azabu Juban was the next stop and I asked if I could take a photo of him. He gladly smiled with his scrapbook of treasures on his lap.
AZABU JUBAN MATSURI AUGUST 26,27, 2017
Yukata are HOT this year!
Yukata means summer! And Tokyo summers are HOT!
The long stencil patterned cotton robes for summer have made a come back this summer and everyone was wearing them at Tokyo’s Azabu Juban Matsuri on the last weekend of August. Thousands of people came for the two day summer festival and many were wearing Yukata in big, bold and surprising combinations.
And they weren’t just the cheap multi colored yukata that were popular a few years ago. This year there were bold designs, brilliant colors, and fine quality weaves and dyes. And above all, they were worn with pizazz, and Japanache ! A fan tucked in here or there, a chic obi tie, good looking geta on the feet. Everyone was young ! The thinking was young. (I was by FAR the oldest celebrant, though not in Yukata myself). Everyone seemed at home in their “native dress”, as though they had come back home from long years of experimenting with western fashions. Yukata came naturally to them and the taste was surprising and excellent.
As is the tradition in kimono and yukata, there is a sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle sense of fashion, of knowing what is good, how to put different parts together, of tapping into what is cool. Look at me, the yukata said. What good taste I have! about the parade of people celebrating Juban Matsuri. Juban means number 10 district in Azabu Ward, and this year they added a G to their banners and it became JUBANG. And rightly so ! It was a loud and exciting two days of music and fun.
There was a real bang in the crowd, people came to have a good time, eat well – food was more gourmet than the usual festival fare of tako yaki (grilled octopus) and yaki soba. Apparently the restaurants in the neighborhood were providing the food. I couldn’t stop taking pictures, though when I got back to the shop, the building’s security fellow scolded me for not asking permission when I took photos. But that would have spoiled the spontaneity, I thought to myself as I tried to explain myself. Many shots are from the back anyway, and I hereby apologize to those whose photos I snuck. Some gladly posed.
There are many ways of dressing for the festival. This woman was proud to pose with her dapper showpiece dog and gladly gave me permission to take their photo
I did not ask this woman, but modesty didn’t seem to be her stye!
Tatoos are all over the place this year.
Not everyone wore Yukata. There were other forms of chic as well, enjoying yourself, and other ways of getting attention!
But Yukata style clearly was the popular mode for the festival
IKI, Japanese word for simple sophistication, cool front and back, was in.
People by the thousands came to Jubang Matsuri to have a good time and relax in/show off their summer yukata. It was a style show in good taste and enjoying life. And reassuring to see that the Yukata is still with it and cool and a return to Japanese roots. Tadaima! I’m home, these fashions seemed to be saying, echoing the “MADE IN JAPAN” signs that are popping up on products in shops these days. There is a new pride in things Japanese, along with a realization – finally! – of the excellence of Japanese designs and craftsmanship.
People by the thousands came to Jubang Matsuri to have a good time and relax in/ show off their summer yukata. It was a style show in good taste and enjoying life. And reassuring to see that the Yukata is still with it and cool and ULTIMATE JAPAN.
AZABU JUBANG MATSURI was the place to be.
And Yukata was the way to dress!
Little customers posed in their recently bought jinbei from. The Matsuri spirit was shared by all and as happens at festivals, you chatted with the person next to you, complimented him on what he is wearing, asked where he got what he is eating. Instant friendship were formed. Drinks were free flowing, but Yukata chic was what gave the Matsuri its spark.
At the top of the escalator, the Blue & White landing gave a great view on the festivities below. People came to have a look at the Matsuri below and at the peaceful shop filled with yukata derivatives and accessories.
They also came to check in and catch up.
Yukata naturals. The woman on the right and left below are mother and daughter, 7th and 8th generations of Todaya Shoten, our oldest and most trusted dyer. Perfect models for living Yukata! Yakata in real life!
Inside Blue & White there was still more fashion. People came to see what we had, and also to show us their sense of style, and just to say Hi!
Show us what they had.
Natural Yukata Style.
At home in yukata.
A beautiful shibori yukata.
Kimono came too, natural kimono.
This woman, seemed quite at home in kimono with beautifully orchestrated parts that play and communicate lifestyles.
So free and natural in her kimono, she found the perfect “Tsuno (horned) indigo shibori bag by Hiroyuki Shindo of Kyoto. Her kimonoed friend wanted one too and ordered another.
Ultimate good taste.
The subtle combining of kimono and obi, under layers, and magical kibiso stole made of leftover silk cocoons is a lesson in kimono elegance by a woman who teaches Japanese to fortunate foreigners She is an ambassador of style and craftsmanship and their combining.
Without realizing it, Blue & White has become a destination for people who wear Yukata and Kimono. They are happy to show us and know we appreciate their sharing of their great sense of style. We encourage people to keep leading the way in the renaissance of this quintessential form of Japanese dress and style and carefully choosing all the critical pieces of craftsmanship that make up its totality.
Why do I continue to take photos from the rear? I am not sure why, but maybe it is because that is where the obi blooms in its pattern and weave and the way it is knotted. How it is tied and how it offsets the graceful shoulders and the slim figure and the graceful neck of the wearer. And also maybe so I won’t get in trouble for not asking permission. (Not the case here! I even wrote a letter to confirm her agreement to be used on this blog. She kindly consented.)
BLUES KEEP COMING TO ME
HEART FILLED BLUES, HAND MADE BLUES
OUT OF THE BLUE BLUES
The New Blue & White seems to be a magnet for new blues.
And that is what we feature in Blue & White to show to the world and to all who visit.
The parade of blues is unending and I can NEVER have enough. Nor do I ever cease to be amazed by the NEW BLUES !
Look at what just moved in to the small Palette Gallery next door to Blue& White! The luminous one stroke! Blue paintings of Mina Kazuki, a young artist similarly obsessed with blue. Her group show ended on June 19.
I am asking her to paint a special One Stroke Blue for Blue & White
Blues to wear always draw my eye, but this kimono worn by Mayumi Barakan after her stunning dance performance was Divine.
At last I have seen the PERFECT kimono! Mayumi told me she had had it for 20 years or so, but it was still fresh and lustrous. Silk kasuri in all its glory.
Even from the back it was mesmerizing. I couldn’t stop staring! Or taking photos.
The blue and white washi, Japanese paper necklaces of Kyoko Fujimura bring joy and playfulness to all who try them. This amusing woman who lives in Azabu Juban performed a jig of joy for us inspired by her new necklace. She bought two.
This customer from Seattle was happy to take the washi earrings home with her.
Necklace made from deep indigo washi by Kyoko Fujimura
Blue plates and rag weave rug by artisans of Tamagawa Special Abilities craftsmen sell out as soon as they come in.
When our new visitor, Monica met the artisan who made the rag weave tapestry, she immediately wrapped it around her to wear and take home. Both were thrilled !
Gouged blue plate by Tamagawa Workshop
Even my dearest friend has caught the blue and white bug – and mastered it ! Voila!
Indigo dyeing at Ai Kobo, now named Factory Ai.
Traditional earthenware indigo pots filled with indigo grown and processed in Shikoku.
When I made a sudden visit to Ai Kobo, I found things being dyed, hanging out to dry, and ready for me to take back to Blue & White.
I was overwhelmed by their industry.
Members of Ai Kobo all have specialties.
This woman’s specialty is graduated indigo. A deep clear indigo disappears into white. Not an easy technique!
Mastering one technique is a key to the success of Ai Kobo / Factory Ai. It nurtures pride in one’s own work. This man does pole dyeing shibori.
New best friends. We came across them playing baseball after sumo practice!
A young sumo wrestler
Black dog Basho
True Blue !