BLUE &WHITE TIMES

A CALENDAR AND A FACELIFT

Some traditions go on without end. Our Blue & White calendar is one. We have been creating fresh and original designs every year for nearly 40 years and are already thinking of next year’s theme. The new 2017 calendar is all about patterns. Patterns of Textiles old and new, and the continuum of the Japan textile lexicon/ tradition that Blue & White hopes to perpetuate.

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2017 CALENDAR PATTERNS

To Order
Calendar ¥2360
Cover 100
(Tenugui cover Y200)
Number of calendars:
Name:
Address:
Card company:
Card number:
Expiration date:
Security code:
Send by: EMS Asia ¥1400 US ¥2000 Europe ¥2400
By air mail                 ¥700          ¥800                  ¥900
(shipping fee per 1 calendar)

CHANGE

Some traditions are subject to change. And the change at Blue & White will be a big one. After 41 years, we are being forced to move due to our new next door neighbors, Aeon Supermarket which is remodeling our old building  to comply with earthquake restrictions. Blue & White, though unscathed by the huge earthquake of 2012, apparently does not live up to standards and so must be torn down – can you believe it!?!? We can’t!

In order to remain the same, you must change, our landlord told us . . . so after the initial, and ongoing heart break, we are determined to make the CHANGE a CHANCE to clean up and clear out and upgrade and streamline and make a new statement of good taste in craftsmanship and the handmade excellence of Japan.

CHANCE

As a place of warm welcome and lively center of human exchange, Blue & White will NEVER change! We don’t know where we will move to. Somewhere closeby and in Azabu Juban, of course. But it will be soon.

The new Aeon opens on December 9th, ironically Blue & White’s 41st birthday. We will keep you posted by Blog and directly as well. We will make CHANGE a very exciting CHANCE for Blue & White to grow, though the space may be smaller ! – to redefine ourselves, and to distill the best of 41 years of a shop which is very precious to us all into a stimulating new space.

Look for the new Blue & White in January 2017.

Write it down in your calendar!

Posted in Journal | 4 Comments

A BLUE AND WHITE BIRTHDAY

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Birthdays and trips to Okinawa need to be planned carefully. In order to start the day perfectly, you must avoid arriving on Thursdays or Sunday because that is when OTonariya in Yomitan, not far from the pottery kilns, is closed. They sell out early, so be sure you get there early enough in order to start the day with a slice of their freshly baked rosemary bread. A blueberry bagel, maybe? Some crunchy oatmeal, whole wheat and nut bread . . .

沖縄旅行での特別な一日を完璧にするためには、予定をしっかり立てなければいけ
ません。
沖縄への到着日は木曜と日曜を避けましょう。でないと、読谷村にあるパン屋「おとなりや」が閉まっています。そこのパンはあっという間に売り切れるので、美味しい美味しいパンで一日の始まりを迎えるには、売り切れる前の余裕を持った時間に訪れる事をおすすめします。

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Some birthdays call for less fanfare, more quiet and even unplanned observance with family and friends, in beautiful spaces and favorite places. This year was just that. A spontaneous trip to Okinawa to stay with my dear friend and bask in the glory of her heavenly house was the perfect setting.

An ancient banyan tree inherited from an older friend stands guard at the gate and protects the house and all who enter.

時に誕生日のファンファーレは少なく、静かに予定も立てずに友人や家族と、大好きな美しい場所で過ごす場合もあるでしょう。今年の誕生日がまさにそうでした。タイミングが重なり訪れる事になった今回の沖縄旅行は、親愛なる友人の天国の様な邸宅に滞在し、最高のスケジュールでした。

a-blue-and-white-birthday3Old roof tiles saved by master plasterer and roofer KumamotoTsutomu san crown the stunning architecture and the final touch was a guardian Shiza, or lion dog made of broken pieces of tile and plaster, strategically placed to repel evil spirits.

The house is without equal, in my albeit limited experience, in setting, and architecture, craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail – all the best of Okinawa, an enchanted, if abused southern island of Japan.

古い屋根瓦は左官職人であり屋根職人であるクマモトツトム氏により手入れされており、屋根のてっぺんには最後の仕上げともいうべく魔除けのシーサー、あるいはライオン犬がタイルと石工で作られ、収められています。

私の経験上ではありますが、家というものは、家具の立て付けや職人による細部のこだわりや、建築物それ自体に同じものはありません。魔法がかけられたかのような、かつ取り残されたかのような日本の南の島、沖縄のすばらしさでしょう。

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The garden is a sumptuous mix of lush tropical vegetation deftly marked with old steps of old coral and stone and ancient coral rocks.

To walk outside in the garden to the beach is to be wrapped in voluptuous green as the breath stopping view of the sea below unfolds on your way down to a perfect white beach.

庭には綺麗に植えられた熱帯植物が茂り、階段には贅沢に、古い珊瑚、石、珊瑚岩が敷かれています。

庭から海岸へ抜ける際には官能的な緑に包まれ、そこを抜けると息が止まるほどの真っ白い海辺が広がります。

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Looking back from your swim, the magnificent view of the meeting of green jungle vegetation on steep coral cliffs, and white sand beach with the gentle blue sea begs description.

海水浴から戻り振り返ると、珊瑚の崖の緑のジャングルに出会いその先に白い砂の浜辺と穏やかな青い海が広がります。

The beach itself is studded with otherworldly stands of tall pocked coral that seem like abstract sculptures on the white sand. And a swim in the azure ocean is a soft embrace of the clear water, with a magnificent view of the place where green jungle vegetation meets soft white sand beach and blue green sea.

海辺自体は、白い砂で出来た抽象的な彫刻の様な、穴ぼこだらけのせの高い珊瑚が広がっています。そこに、緑のジャングルと柔らかな白い海辺が出会う空色の海での海水浴。綺麗な水に柔らかく包み込まれます。

The birthday lunch was arranged at Fu-An, one of my favorite restaurants in the world, in an old Okinawan minka with a seemingly unkempt, but in fact artfully arranged aesthetic that captivates me each time I visit. Kinjo Dan is the young owner and chef of Fu An who has been collecting the ceramics of his favorite potter and mine, Omine Jissei, and serves his original  cuisine of mostly Okinawan vegetables on Omine san’s works. We were 5 and Dan san kept serving an endless procession of glorious new cuisine on an amazing array of platters and dishes that were different for each guest.

誕生日のランチは世界中のレストランの中でも最も大好きな一軒。風庵にて。沖縄の古民家で、一見ぼろいようで実は巧みにアレンジされた美学がちりばめられていて、訪れるたびに魅了されます。

若いオーナーシェフの金城男(きんじょうだん)氏は、私も彼も大好きな陶芸家、大嶺實清氏の陶芸を収集しており、彼はそれらを使い、主に沖縄で採れる野菜をふんだんに使った彼独自の料理を出しています。

私たちは5名で店を訪れ、男さんは私たちに信じられない数多くの異なったお皿と、またしても驚くような新しく素晴らしいお料理を、果てしなく続く行列のようにおもてなしてくださいました。

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There was even a sign to declare the occasion. So typically thoughtful of Dan san.

誕生会のサインもあります。本当に思いやりが行き届いている男さん。

a-blue-and-white-birthday7Omine san’s signature Shiza were watching over our feasting.

大嶺氏の代名詞でもあるシーサーが私たちの食事を見守ります。

a-blue-and-white-birthday8Astonishing vegetable sushi.

驚きの野菜寿司。

a-blue-and-white-birthday9The delicious combination of grated local vegetables in a cup and saucer that fused in the firing is a taste and feeling to remember.

ティーセットに入れられた、地元の野菜を混ぜ合わせたソースを使った一品。

味と食感がすぐに思い出せます。

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a-blue-and-white-birthday11One of a kind matching of dish and organic cuisine.

器とオーガニック料理がマッチしているユニークな一品。

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a-blue-and-white-birthday13Food and presentation for all the senses.

お料理も盛りつけにも男さんの光るセンスが溢れています。

a-blue-and-white-birthday14Surprising  swirl of soba!

そばの渦に驚き!

a-blue-and-white-birthday15Birthday cake supreme by Toguchi Kyoko, with blueberry and yoghurt icing on a loopy cut out platter by Omine Jissei.

戸口きょうこ氏が作ってくれた、ブルーベリーとヨーグルトのアイシングがされた誕生日ケーキ。穴が開いたお皿も大嶺實清作。

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The grand finale of a magnificent lunch was the gift of a hauntingly beautiful blue black tea cup from Omine Jissei. Its deeply penetrating luster had a mystery about it, and its sensuous shape was one I will never let go of. Omine san had given me a box of Okinawan vegetables at the beginning of our lunch, so I never dreamed of receiving such a treasure as this…

素晴らしい昼食のフィナーレを飾ったのは、大嶺實清氏からの湯のみでした。

神秘的な深い光沢そして形。生涯手放さない物の一つとなりました。

ランチの前に、彼から箱一杯の沖縄野菜を頂いたのでまさかこんな宝物を頂けるとは夢にも思いませんでした…

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And then to top it off, I returned to small blue and white wonders in Tokyo!

そして東京のBlue&Whiteの世界に戻ってきました!

Original first ever cupcakes made by son Toshi who had never tried his hand at any baking other than chocolate chip cookies. He had hurried home from an important business meeting to make these delicacies for our dinner. They were not only works of art, but also utterly delicious, and made from scratch from an ancient family cookbook. How sweet is that!

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And later still, a possible world first!

その後も続きます、世界には可能性が!

An original innovation of blue dyed eggs wound in swirls of rice and wrapped in seaweed. Blue and white makizushi with blue eggs. A wonderful surprise from young neighbors Shuetsu Udono and his partner, Kumiko.

斬新なアイディアで、卵を着色料で青くし、のりで巻いた Blue&White 巻き寿司です。若いご近所さんの宇土野シュウエツとパートナーのクミコからの素敵なサプライズでした。

A BIRTHDAY SUPREME IN EVERY WAY !

色んなことが、誕生日を最高にします!

Posted in Journal | 3 Comments

BLUE & WHITE HEALING

Nine big boxes of memories arrived at the house last week when I was a captive audience with a broken ankle. My husband Yuichi’s brother was tidying the family closets and came up with round three! of finding places for the massive kimono collection that their Mother and her sister had amassed.

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Upon opening the boxes, the pungent smell of camphor and must filled with room and our throats. My brother‐in‐law had thoughtfully brought masks to prevent inhaling the fumes. But holding my breath as I pulled out the kimono and parts, I could hear the voices of the two sisters nattering together and rejoicing in the patterns and weaves and tones and stitches of the kimono rolls and obis they had found. And saved! No scrap of cloth was too small for them to throw away. Never!

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Two elegant ladies, they were, but they were also hoarders plain   and simple. But they taught me how to appreciate the deep hidden messages that Japanese artisans, textile and others, wove and dyed and sewed into their creations. I hear the voices of the collectors and the creators chatting away in those boxes. And now the textiles have come to our house to live. Is there any better way to heal? And to learn? The two sisters, one born in the Meiji Era, very Japanese aesthetic, the other was born 7 years later in the more modern and western looking Taisho era, taught me so much about Japanese taste and the finer points of Japanese textiles, not to mention Japanese thrift – the philosophy of Mottainai, of saving the very last bit. With my Father‐in-law they came to supper at our house every week and always took great care to dress in the finest of kimono and obi combinations to reflect both season and occasion. The pity I did not have m iphone at the ready to capture those elegant statements of fine taste.

But now the question was How to sort them, sift through them, and give them good place in our lives now?

The first step clearly was to air them and wash them and throw away the pieces that had no future. A painful decision indeed. The yukata were easy. Just a long soak in strong yet gentle detergent and a hang in the breeze and the sun. They came clean easily. The others are more difficult to clean and freshen, but the encounter with all these textiles has brought back beautiful memories of two women who were my patient and brightful – my Mother-in-law’s own expressive word – mentors in my long years in Japan.

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Blues and whites were first to be sorted, of course. Cottons and hemps and silks. All indigo, of course!

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Bold stripes and bold plaids. Juxtaposing patterns makes sparks.

Gentle detergent, warm suds, bright sun, fresh air and good views bring these yukata back to life.

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Nostalgic patterns and soft cottons distinguish these Showa era yakuta sunning in the fresh air and coming back to life.

Sitting at home with these memories was excellent therapy for one forced to be still, never quiet! But after weeks I became restless and ventured out to the nearby Tomioka Hachiman Shrine flea market with my kind and enabling son.

What? How can you possibly need more STUFF! I thought to myself?  But just to see the beautiful creations laid out on the vendors’ mats and be inspired by them was also healing.

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These indigo threads were leftovers from a weaver in Fukushima. What beautiful shades of indigo as a (hemp) thread. I am convinced that it is not the red thread of destiny that connects us all as Japanese romanticists believe, but the indigo thread of connectedness that ties us together.

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A visit to Blue & White, my own shop that I hadn’t seen for weeks, brought strength and healing. This beautiful kasuri handbag of rounds of stenciled and freehand indigo appliques sold immediately after being placed in the window.  No wonder!

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Our  original Genki Tenugui, is guaranteed to bring courage and well being to the long process of healing, be it after earthquakes or falls or sickness, or any other malady needing encouragement.

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A young and satisfied customer who went home with a spotted apron from Ai Kobo, special abilities workshop. He is a florist and the apron works perfectly to hold his scissors and other tools.  It is his second one.

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This young man with blue and white woven scarf by Ishikawa Misuzu reassures me that blue and white is good for all ages, all walks of life.  He is an aspiring chef in a French restaurant.

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Having been out of circulation for a long time, my return to a world of blue and white brings intense nourishment.  There is healing in antique indigo textiles as well. These two bush warblers (uguisu) on a blossoming plum branch are sharing their berries on a 19th century free-hand drawn auspicious futon cover, a tsutsugaki in my own collection.

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Going to the last day of the exhibit of “The Aesthetic Eye of Morita Tadashi in Kooriyama, in Fukushima Prefecture, was the ultimate test of how far my healing had progressed. A two hour train ride plus taxis were worth the effort just to see the extensive collection of Morita san of Morita Antiques on Aoyama’s Koto Dori (antique street). He has been collecting folk textiles for 50 years? and sets the standard of taste.

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And this jaunty fellow at the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine antique market – first, second and 4th Sundays of the month, is dressed for all seasons, all occasions, all tastes. The last word is Blue & White ! The very sight made me want to stand in the sun with him and watch the world go buy.

Posted in Journal | 2 Comments

SURPRISE AND WHIMSY

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Somehow surprises never stop in Japan. Or is it just in my life?
 Sights that surprise. Things never seen before. They keep you on your toes. If you close your eyes, you might miss something!
 A giant flaming Torii clad in brilliant copper in the new Suitengu Shrine compound soon to be opened in downtown Tokyo changes tone in the sunlight. The shrine compound is a miracle in contemporary architecture that preserves the masterful carpentry tradition of shrine architecture of old, built by Takenaka Corporation, a huge construction firm that builds super modern gigantic buildings while upholding its treasured tradition of shrine architecture – the most revered craftsmanship of all.  

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A happy gentleman at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine was delighted to be complimented on his spiraling cap that he had knit himself, his first opus. At the first flea market of the year in Monzen Nakacho.

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A droll red lacquer mail box in the shape of the legendary Kappa, a watery creature who eats cucumbers and lies in waiting for unsuspecting girls. What is the relationship between Kappa and mailboxes, I wonder. Of course I brought it home with me!

Whimsy sightings in the neighborhood are common: Cauliflowers being grown in planters by the Sumida River – will they be served with the fish men are fishing for nearby?

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Or the whimsical bonnet on a passing dog walker dressed in chic Issey Miyake pleated pants with assiduously matching shoelaces – wherever did she find such a perfect color? Or did they come with the pants?
No outfit chic enough for a dog walk!

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Roppongi is full of them. This cool woman, the height of style at Soft Bank, seemed to be just waiting to have her photo taken.


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Kyoto too has its share of whimsy and surprise. My son had sent me this Kyoto photo and on I recent visit to Kyoto, I was determined to find it, though my only information about it was “Face House” and in time I learned that the architect was Yamashita Kazumasa, built in 1974. Was it still standing? I worried, in view of Japan’s system of disposable architecture? With a little help from a young tech savvy friend, I did find it and fittingly, it is now a toy store with only two telephone wires in front of its wide eyes. Whimsy is ageless!

We found a country cousin of Face House at Gungendo in Omori-cho in Shimane. An anthropomorphic outhouse, it sits next to the iconic Hinaya, the idyllic old Japan thatched roof farmhouse moved from Hiroshima and recreated by Tomi and Daikichi Matsuba in their charming village of 500 people that was recently made a World Heritage Site for its 16th century silver mine, Omori Ginzan. Their slow life philosophy is seductive and invites us to put away our microwaves and conbenis (convenience stores) and take time to enjoy life.

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In winter when no flowers dare to bloom, lotus stems do a surprisingly elegant job of filling Abe House, the village chieftain’s house the Matsubas have restored, with wabi and sabi. Abe House welcomes guests all year round. A stay there can be life altering.

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My blue and white heart jumped with surprise when I spotted this line of yuzu, a citron fruit so much more delicious and subtle than lemon, drying in bags of white cloth hanging from strips of yukata material. The Japanese tradition of preserving food relies heavily on miso, fermented bean paste, which in this case has been mixed with mochi rice, nuts and sake to produce a delicious savoury that, when cut into thin slices, marries beautifully with hot tea during the cold of winter.

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Kyoto whimsy and surprise! Though after all these years, I shouldn’t be surprised to find Otafuku, and often her consort Hyottoko, who keeps her fires burning, smiling down from housetops and shelves, I am always filled with wonder when I find them in new places, this one in Uji a tea center, near Byoudoin, the ultimate in 13th century Japanese architecture. Her smiling chubby face reminds us to enjoy life and she blesses us and inspires us with her good humour. This country plaster Kotei, or wall frieze, is in the time-honored tradition of Japanese plasterers to protect a building with an invocation of good fortune as the final touch to their work.

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Tokyo is a capital of surprises.
Chef in the sky! in Kappabashi, the supply area for cooking utensils.

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In his cups! nearby.
Look for surprise! You’ll always find it in Tokyo.

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Chef in the street. Surprise at suppertime, we chanced upon a chef grilling tai, red snapper, on an outdoor grill in an alley in the midst of central Ginza.


Look for the whimsy!
Don’t miss the surprise!

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These small covered dishes were from a new blond lady dealer at the recent Tomioka Hachiman flea market who spoke excellent colloquial Japanese. When I asked her where she was from, she answered Turkey!
Surprise!

Wisely, she didn’t want to split the couple up. I bought the pair for ¥1,000. Surprise again!

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Otafuku is everywhere in Blue & White, her international headquarters. Yesterday, February 3rd, was Setsubun, the beginning of spring in the old lunar calendar. The day marks the confrontation between the forces of good and the forces of evil, represented by red and blue devils who prance around shrines and villages where they celebrate by throwing beans to dispel the evil.

Otafuku dances in with her power of laughter and goodness. Large crowds gathered in Azabu Juban Patio, the small open space near Blue & White, to watch the bean throwing ceremony and jostled to catch the beans being thrown by the village elders.

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Devils can have their charm, particularly these demons of antique cotton appliqued on old indigo by our star quilter Reiko Okunushi. She is particularly fond of Otafuku and portrays her in playful and original ways. Otafuku, our Blue & White heroine is the Goddess of Happiness and Whimsy. She is good fortune itself and never takes things too seriously, She laughs at whatever comes her way reminding us to enjoy life and see the funny bits.

Make sure you have them in your life. Otafuku too. She is whimsy. She brings surprise. She makes you smile. And Blue & White is her center of operations. 

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THE YEAR OF THE RED FIRE MONKEY

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The new Blue & White calendar for 2016 has finally come out – or is it in? Next year is the year of the Red Fire Monkey. Smart, clever, lively, quick witted. Honest, enthusiastic, self-assured, innovative, and social. But also jealous, suspicious, selfish and arrogant.

Hard to believe but Blue & White will soon turn 40!
40 years of discovery and surprise. And more than 30 years of original hand made calendars, each with a new theme. So our 40th birthday calendar is a beauty contest from the best of 30 plus years of calendar covers. We thank our friends who have made it possible and our hard working staff who have helped produce the calendar each year. Hiroko Izumi is our creative angel who continues to come up with heart filled design ideas and witty drawings. Asako Sangai has helped to put together many of the calendar layouts and Kiyoshi Nakatsu, our producer keeps hoping that one year we will meet his printing deadline.

Blue & White would never have reached 40 without each one of you – our precious customers, our staff and our makers, and you dear Readers. Have a look at the months of the Red Fire Monkey, and if you would like to order, instructions are at the end of the months.

Wishing you all the quick wit, the liveliness and the enthusiasm of the Red Fire Monkey in 2016.

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2016 B&W Cal010 2016 B&W Cal011

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2016 B&W Cal022 2016 B&W Cal023

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TO ORDER
Calendar   ¥2360
Number of calendars:
Name:
Address:
Card company:
Card number:
Expiration date:
Security code:
Send by: EMS  Asia ¥1100  US ¥1500  Europe  ¥1800
By air mail               ¥650         ¥800                ¥800

 

 

 

 

 

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THE ANIMA OF STONES

May the reign of the Emperor continue for a thousand, nay 8,000 generations
And for the eternity that it takes for small pebbles
To grow into a great rock and be covered with moss.

Japanese national anthem taken from 10th c anthology of poems

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Stones are objects of worship in Japan.
Stones and water, trees and mountains are all thought to posses the same spirit of ANIMA as people. They share a divine force that gives them vitality and humanity according to Shinto beliefs.
Stones in nature are sometimes marked, sometimes stacked, and sometimes quietly honored for the spirit they possess.

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Stones are sometimes incised like this tribute to the great 17th century haiku poet Matsuo Basho, (named after our black dog?!) who walked through the deep north and wrote the poems included in his classic The Narrow Road to Oku.

This handsome rock sits above the old village of Karuizawa incised with his beautiful calligraphy.

In the morning
The snow lies thick on the ground
Not only people
But horses seem to be elegant

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Not far away, these classic sages stand guard by a graceful river and invite meditation, contemplation and the peaceful thought that rivers inspire.

 

 

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Stones inspire deep thought. This Jizo san in the garden welcomes people to the house and invites them to share his gentle calm.

 

 

 

 

 

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Another saintly stone kneels in prayer in his bamboo nest and wears the changes of seasons in silent acceptance.

 

 

 

 

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A new green cape of moss has grown around this saint in prayer.
I hope it will keep him warm in the cold snowy winter.

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Receiving thought filled inspiration from above.

 

 

 

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If stones could talk
What would they teach us?

 

 

 

 

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Silent meditation

Contemplation
Ecstasy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What are they thinking?

 

 

 

 

 

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Stone mystery deep in thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nature has its way with lava stone walls giving them rich
green coats of moss in the rainy days of summer.

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Beautiful moss! Nature’s own design.

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Stones can be playful.
Children try their hand at rock painting – an old tradition in Japan. In Kyoto the stone gods in roadside shrines are repainted every year and given bright new faces and make-up.

This bug seems to enjoy the brilliant fresh colors.

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Stones point the way to our house in the woods.

 

 

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Stones provide a shapely canvas for young people with rich imagination and the free thinking lively colors can encourage.

 

 

 

 

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The clever artists finished the day off with some wonderful body painting.
I was not spared!

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Small stones seem to have a character within that can be drawn out with paint.

 

 

 

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Sometimes small stones serve as chopstick rests, sometimes they are simply for smiling.

 

 

 

 

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Stone statues dot the land and provide places for farmers and townspeople, mountain men and seamen to press their hands together to pray.

Yesterday as we were driving to Saku in Nagano Prefecture for supper, we passed by a stately triad of tall stone Shinto saints. They gave out an aura of godliness that I couldn’t miss in passing. After centuries of standing there, they still have power and protection to give to passersby.

Ta No Kamisama, are Gods of the Field who overlook the wellbeing of the crops and those who grow them. They used to be seen everywhere, but have steadily disappeared into the trucks of antique dealers, no doubt, as the fields are no longer farmed as religiously as they were.

In Kyushu, Ta No Kamisama, above, often hold rice paddles invoking a fertile harvest. Other stones are not so easily identifiable. I simply treasure them for their warmth, their compassion, their humanity. Although in the Shinto religion, human images are not frequently represented, when they are they have a vitality and compassion to them that I for one can easily relate to. Their presence gives reassurance of eternity and peace in a world of endless change turmoil.

 

 

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100 FUKU EXHIBIT

100 Fuku

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BLUE TOHOKU

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The sea is calmer now – but still not calm enough for the fishermen to take us out for a boat ride along the spectacular rocky coast of Goishi Kaigan on the Sanriku Coast of Iwate. Back to its normal ebb and flow now, but one look at it brings back the cataclysmic nightmare of March 11, 2011 when the coastal towns of Tohoku were turned upside down and totally destroyed. But not forever.! The Spirit of Tohoku has reasserted itself, and people have gotten back on their feet, picked up the pieces, cleaned them off, and gotten back to business. Quite a bit of blue & white business.

With the experienced planning of two financial expert friends, we visited a number of towns that had been hard hit in Miyagi and Iwate. Minami Sanriku where a Silver Center had just been completed with the help of Planet Finance, formerly run by our leader Kazuo Tanaka who has visited Minami Sanriku countless times since the disaster to find out how to make the most difference in supporting small business recovery. He screened numbers of people to find small pop-up restaurants to support, silver centers needing financing for new buildings, food production companies.

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On a brilliant blue Saturday afternoon, Hideko Oikawa greeted us humbly, repeatedly thanking us for having come such a long distance. Her Oikawa Denim Company, set on top of a steep hill commanded a spectacular view of the houses below and the peaceful bay beyond ringed with poplars and a tall keyaki tree.

The entrance was spacious and well appointed. The guest room where we sat was decorated with lace doilies on the table, pictures on the wall, and a corner filled with Zero jeans, her company’s own brand, as well as other products made by Oikawa Denim. The view in front of us was so stunning that you could hardly keep your eyes off of it.

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But then her chilling tale flooded out in a torrent of images of the earthquake and its aftermath. Like this blue and white imari soba cup we were given later by Masatoshi Shishido of MAST, a canvas bag maker also in Kesennuma, – which will exhibit its bags at Blue & White from September 5th to the 15th – 18 meter walls of water rushed onto the shore and swallowed houses and warehouses and everything in its path.

Mrs. Oikawa showed a series of laminated photos to illustrate the progress and impact of the tsunami that followed the 9.0 earthquake that shook Iwate, Miyagi and nearby Fukushima. The tsunami was the. It ripped through the towns we visited and flattened them, rearranging them in macabre ways leaving huge fishing boats up ended in the middle of towns and railroads bent and twisted in amusement park contortions. It left families searching for days, mourning for their lost.

Oikawa san told her tale of how people had fled in terror to her factory on higher ground and together 150 people spent the next week watching in horror and huddling together for warmth and courage , sleeping on the ground covered with cardboard and denim.

Miraculously 2 7/11 delivery trucks had been stranded near her company and so the 150 people shared Conbeni onigiri (rice balls) and bottles of water, cans of juice. In time they ventured down the hill to inspect the damage. Miraculously none of the Oikawas’ 20 employees lost any members of their family, though houses were lost and ruined, so they pluckily returned to work as soon as water and electricity were restored.

Now, 4 1/2 years later, we are chilled by their story, ad and impressed by their determination to make the most of what they are given. Using the fibers of sword fish tusks to strengthen their jeans, seaweed from the sea perhaps. Today 15 employees have stayed working late on a Saturday afternoon to show us how they make Zero jeans, as well as other jeans for other well known brands. The meticulous piles of watch pocket patches, and left legs and right legs, belts and loops, are the picture of system and organization. The key ingredient lavished on the production is the care and energy and the skilled craftsmanship that the hands of Tohoku are so famous for is palpable here. We order 3 pairs of Zero Jeans.

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At Mast, a former sale making company that converted to making canvas bags after the Tsunami, we examine their wide selection of bags and order for ourselves and for Blue & White.

 

 

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Also in Kesennuma, a squid fisherman waits to set out to sea.

 

 

 

 

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At the top of a hill overlooking Kesennuma is a simple blue house that is the workshop of Kesennuma Knitting, a beautiful enterprise teaching the dextrous women of Tohoku how to knit classic patterned woolen sweaters in a few basic patterns. The building is purity itself, and the sweaters are irresistible. 

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Our guide was Kazuo Tanaka who has been visiting Tohoku regularly since the Earthquake and Tsunami and finding companies to support with his Planet Finance micro financing small enterprises that need support.

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He studied their needs carefully and wisely chose those whose character was most outstanding and ambitions most worth. A shopping center and restaurant complex in Minami Sanriku, a ramp for the Senior Center.

Even our masterful guide and organizer could not resist. Kazuo Tanaka is a perfect model and proud new owner of a Kesennuma hand knit sweater in classic navy blue.

 

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At BAPPA No DAIDOKORO we met the indomitable Saito family who run a food supplying company and an unforgettable Granny’s Kitchen where food was delicious, fresh and from the heart. The whole family joined in with gusto. The blue and white daughter travels all over Japan explaining about food and Tohoku and her family.

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Imagine our surprise when the first sight that greeted us was a huge white square wall that turned out to be a refrigerator storage container that had been donated by DENSO whose name was written below a round red Japanese flag. Our third member George Olcott just happened to be on the Board of Directors of Denso and was quick to report back to the company, that Denso’s quick generosity had saved the Saito family’s business.

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There was gladness all around!

 

 

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The people we met in Tohoku were courageous and generous. Mrs. Sasaki of Ofunato was quick to thank George Olcott who had come with his family 4 1/2 years ago to help clean out the sludge and debris of the tsunami.

She thanked him with her late evening’s production of Suu momo/apricot jam, and juice.

At 86 plus, her agility in climbing a tree to give us more fruit was impressive – and delicious.

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The fruits of her labors.

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Amya Miller, a huge hearted, bilingual American woman, not only teaches English to preschool children who forget all their concerns with a hot game of DUCK! DUCK! GOOSE! and welcomed us with shouts of delight. Instant communication, instant trust that Amya has been building up in the 4 years she has been commuting to Rikuzen Takata, are clear in the bright faces of the children. They greet us spontaneously and are fearless in using their English.

At the same time she serves as the Director of Global Public Relations to the city of Rikuzen Takata in Iwate. 

Bright rainy season paintings at the pre school where Amya Miller teaches.

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A CBS TV crew had just spent 2 days filming Amya in all her daily activities.

No wonder! She is a gift to Rikuzen Takata.

 

 

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Though we didn’t get to meet Asuka Tazaki, we sat in the family dining room in a temporary prefab structure and enjoyed the morning’s bread baked by his baker Mother. Asuka is in his 30’s and autistic.

His paintings are intense and vibrant and express some of the shock and grief that he and his family have encountered. His powerful paintings are deeply moving and eloquently articulated. 

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While also running a best selling bakery, Mr and Mrs. Tazaki devote themselves to encouraging and exhibiting Asuka’s powerful art and other community projects.

 

 

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One brave, although now reconstituted, pine tree remains of the stands of pines that grew by the river before the earthquake, It symbolizes the courage of the people of Tohoku who won’t give up. The Spirit of Tohoku. From all over Japan and other countries as well, people come to make a pilgrimage here. It symbolizes the Hope of Tohoku – The Hope of Japan to recover from disaster, to rebuild and become strong again. As one of our members remarked, it could be that from this adversity may spring new hope and new energy to lead the way and show for the rest of Japan to prosper and grow. That is the power of Tohoku.

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A banner for soy sauce based ice cream flaps while trucks and conduit pipes move mountains from one side of the river to the other to build walls against future tsunami destruction.

 

 

 

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The pure and simple Hakone Yama terrace is surely one of the most serene and beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in Japan and elsewhere. A hopeful sign of new beginnings in Rikuzen Takata.

 

 

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Ocean Blue is a Community Creche started by Sayaka Fujimura in the spring of 2015, for her family with the intent of providing a place where young Mums can come and bring their children and share their lives, while learning the art of indigo dyeing in a warm environment. It is a gentle open place that not only dyes beautiful baby goods but also stoles and shirts for adults. We nearly bought out the shop and already the indigo clothing is selling quickly at Blue & White. What a beautiful success story born of hard work and dedication.

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Not by chance, we happened to sit next to Sayaka in the beautiful fish restaurant in Kesennuma, the evening before Amya had kindly made an appointment for us to meet her the next day.
The Indigo Thread connects us all!

All hail to Tohoku and their Gutsy People.
We support you all the way.
We shall return and continue to show the world the good things you are doing, the good things you are making!


Blue & White chopstick covers
in a temporary sushi restaurant
in Rikuzen Takata.

 

 

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BLUE & WHITE TO GO

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Blue and white is universal.

A random comment about an earlier blog came from San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s southernmost state—Chiapas, a place I have dreamed of visiting since I first found, and of course bought! some of their magical white on white embroidered textiles at the Hotel Santa Fe in Puerto Escondido many years ago, shot me into action.

Ironically, I only found that enticing message from Chiapas once. (Where did you go, Chiapas? Look what you made me do! Where you made me go!) And how I revelled in it! Thank you!

I had been invited to give a presentation on Japanese crafts at The-Not-To-Miss Portland Japanese Garden. And Portland Oregon and Chiapas Mexico are nearly next door to each other after all! Aren’t they?!

So I persuaded an adventuresome friend to join me on a week’s exploration of San Cristobal and places beyond and we came up gasping for breath.

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A textile lover’s paradise, even if not always blue & white, San Cristobal burst with so much to see and explore! A charming ancient colonial town and textile heaven where women of indigenous tribes, dressed in brilliant colors and intricate weaves and embroideries, plied the streets with babies strapped to their backs and heavy layers of their own handmade creations piled over their arm to sell.
Our eyes couldn’t take it all in!

The extravagant skills of these simple country women creating textiles of universal beauty and wearing what they wore, overwhelmed us. The textiles were their identity. The village they belonged to. The traditions their families had taught them.

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We visited one industrious woman and her cooperative in nearby Chamula, right, and were bowled over by the range and energy of their work.

All made by hand!
Traditional and modern comfortably combined.

She demonstrated her weaving and demonstrated how time-ignoring and labor intensive it was. Color and form and hand were inextricably bound producing intricate and wide ranging creations that were both quaintly traditional and unselfconsciously contemporary.

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Go8We prowled through the market every day always finding new marvels. The color and life! and humanity of the scene brought home the wonder and the message of things made by hand. Such abundant muchness of skill and imagination left us thirsty for more. We simply couldn’t have enough of the vibrant scene.

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Everyday brought new surprises in San Cristobal. We found the market which was only textiles, jewelry, bags, paper wares and all things made by hand – just what I had finished giving a talk on – the power of things made by hand! – at the Portland Japanese Garden! We visited the market everyday and bought all we could. It was overwhelming and irresistible.

And behind it, wonder of wonders!
we found the exquisite Textile Museum, Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya, established in 2012 in a graceful old reconverted 16th century convent that provided the background information for the sources of the crafts at the market. It is an elegant and eloquent home for the marriage of people today and heritage and legacy. It reassures women today of the integrity of their work and the importance of maintaining the traditions..

I went back to the magnificent world class museum again to see the sophisticated displays and videos and educational resources – something Japan would do well to emulate – quickly! before the Olympics in 2020!

In front of the museum was a beautiful shop with the best of the best represented — a cut above the things at the market, a step beyond. My precious adventuresome friend outdid herself and treated me to the over the top blue and white bedspread that I dreamed about after first seeing. ALL HAND MADE! I couldn’t believe that I would bring it home to Japan with me.

It is an indescribable wonder, and treasure.

And at the airport on our way home, more blue and white.
Chiapas! Textile heaven. Handmade paradise.

Everyday brought new surprises in San Cristobal. We found the market which was only textiles, jewelry, bags, paper wares and all things made by hand – just what I had finished giving a talk on – the power of things made by hand! – at the Portland Japanese Garden! We visited the market everyday and bought all we could. It was overwhelming! Irresistible!

And behind it, wonder of wonders!
we found the exquisite Textile Museum (proper name?) established in 2012 in a graceful old reconverted 16th century convent that provided the background information for the sources of the crafts at the market. Such a perfect marriage of people today and heritage and legacy, grounding women today in the past, reassuring them of the authenticity, the integrity of their work.

I went back to the magnificent museum again to see the sophisticated displays and videos and educational resources – something Japan would do well to emulate – quickly! before the Olympics in 2020!

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Not really by chance, behind the handsome ornate church at the back of the market, we found what we had been looking for – the MayanTextile Museum: Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya! An exquisite collection in a faithfully restored 16 century convent,. Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzman. Fully converted to house a world class textile museum in 2012, the marriage was made in heaven as each colonnaded section of the 2nd floor of the convent now houses a video room, a study center, a research lab, and finally the glorious Mayan textiles themselves, burning in intensity and intricacy, Elegant lacquer red drawer upon wooden drawer boasted one perfect example after another of costume and weave from the Mayan culture from Mexico, the Yukatan, and Guatemala to the south.

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Textiles so intricate and alive, that I had to forgive them for not being blue and white.

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And wait! It didn’t stop there. Blue and white appeared in crisp, sharp form in the museum shop, an architectural marvel in itself.

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Sensitively conceived and rendered, the shop was filled  with the height of the craftsman’s/woman’s art and bested the best of the market offerings. It was also conceived as a place of reference for weavers and dyers and embroiderers as well as visitors.

The staff was helpful in a gentle way and in their free time they stitched their own clothing like this beautiful blouse worn by the woman who helped us with my bedspread which my generous friend presented me with to take home and remember an unforgettable trip! On my bed, it makes me dream of Chiapas and its magnificent world class Textile Museum which I hope can be an inspiration for a similar institution in Japan whose lack of a textile museum is an astonishing oversight in a country where its textile tradition is so fundamental to its culture.

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Dashing men wore the marvelous Chiapas textiles as well.

Blue and white all around summed up in a magazine we found that said it all in any language.

 

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The journey continued on to New Yorkwhere we visited the just opened New Whitney Museum by Renzo Piano where old paintings were given new space and freedom and rapt attention.

Walking Man by Bill Traylor 1932 Montgomery Alabama in the glorious new gallery shone through with vigor unnoticed in its former bunker like quarters on the east side.

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And China through the Looking Glass at the Metropolitan Museum was an incredible blast of energy from the past reconfigured in fashion and styleof today.

This reconstructed dress of blue & white shards made everyone stop and oooh!

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What life can come from blue and white shards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Visitors’ stickers stuck to a board upon leaving the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan.

 

The elegant glass pavilion at the New York Botanical Society in the Bronx, where the Frida Kahlo Diego Rivera exhibit attracted crowds of people. The transplanted house and garden from Mexico City and vibrant color sense were beautifully recaptured.

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The heavenly BLUE of Frida Kahlo, faithfully reconstructed at the New York Botanical Garden.

 

 

 

 

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          Blue and white stripes at the iconic wabi sabi shop in Noho of
Paula Rubenstein.  Japan indigo!

The blue bird is an irresistible piece of early American folk art.
I was so tempted

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Blue skies on Bond Street New York above in North Carolina below.

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Wherever I travel, wherever I go, the blue and white message is waiting for me. My eyes are programmed for blue & white. I first found it in Japanese and Chinese ceramics brought back to houses in Massachusetts by early ships captains when I was growing up in indigo jeans, and then enjoyed its full symphony in Japan where I have lived most of my life. But beyond Massachusetts and Japan, Blue & White is the message of the world. The message of the universe. It is a message of clarity, and purity teaching us that simple is the best and most beautiful.

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I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR BLUE (AND WHITE)

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Far too soon to be posting again, but I must share the glorious indigo that has been pouring into my life this week. Today is Boys’ Day, the 5th day of the 5th month when families celebrate their sons. Colorful carp banners fly in all the skies of Japan, signifying only3courage and bravery. The sight of lines of brilliant carp banners strung over rooftops and even rivers gives great joy.

 At Blue & White our banners are indigo, cotton dyed blue and sewn by Ai Kobo, a workshop for people with special abilities. And needs. And one of their needs is to not only make things, but share what they have made with the outside world. They get plenty of this at Blue & White. The whole world comes to see what they have made.

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Indigo is happening elsewhere in Tokyo this week through May 18. Above, a brilliant composition of small indigo squares with points of light collaged together into an indigo universe by Fukumoto Shihoko of Kyoto.

Below Fukumoto san’s Indigo Space within a gossamer Tea House. Photos cannot capture the magic of space or the intensity of the indigo.

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Fukumoto Shoko’s multilayered lengths of diaphanous open weave cotton at Takashimaya Art Gallery, Nihonbashi, 6th floor.

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Above Flying Birds. Weaving by Samiro Yunoki at the Iwatate Folk Textile Museum in Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka

 

 

Details of Afghan Jacket show the subtlety of white on white.

 

 

 

 

 

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The incredible Hiroko Iwatate in her Museum of Folk Textiles office in Jiyugaoka. Her remarkable museum is filled with treasures she has single mindedly collected in Asia and Africa for the last 50 years. Exhibits change 4 times a year. This season features White on White (blue is hiding) – brilliant!

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Textile collage of pockets of intriguing mostly white textiles on indigo kasuri by Ayako Takakuwa 30 years ago, hangs in the office of Hiroko Iwatate atthe Iwatate Museum of Folk Textiles in Jiyugaoka.

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Which one to choose?
Blue & White shirts at Plantation in Jiyugaoka.

Of course I chose the blue.

Indigo shibori and clamp dyed T shirt at Blue & White

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Indigo Incandescence
Neighborhood Night Patrol

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 Eye swabs, glass, early 20th c. OUCH! Recent Flea Market find.

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