MY BLUE HEAVEN

IMG_4944.jpegHeaven is not easy to get to!

Particularly when it is at the top of Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture – about 6 or 7 transfers from Tokyo by train, by cable car and by bus.  But it is well worth the journey to the mystical mountain founded in 819 by Kobo Daishi, or KUKAI, esoteric priest and poet, the founder of Buddhism.

On the 19th of October, I made the trip, not for the first time, to see the heavenly Shibori exhibit of creations dyed by the Shibori Community, living and working all over Japan.  I first discovered them on Instagram, and my friend Teresa Misagai,, a Shibori artist from Brooklyn told me about the Mt. Koya exhibit.  The group was celebrating their 35th anniversary and decided to share their art in a holy and spectacular place.  As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to go.  Alone.  Me with absolutely no sense of direction! Despite having been to Mt. Koya several times before. This was a pilgrimage of a different kind – a pilgrimage in search of BLUE – heavenly Shibori Indigo! Everything was INDIGO!

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The first venue was in a large two roomed exhibit space in front of Kokubunji, the main temple of Mt. Koya.  It introduced the viewer to some of the marvels ahead.  What I liked about the whole exhibit was the large, free scale of the works.  Often shibori is relegated to bags and scarves and other small things that don’t allow it the freedom it deserves.    In the center of each room were two waist high columns perched with small and imaginative and  sculptural shibori creations mostly by international artists.

IMG_4961.jpegThis cosmic work by Takai Yoshiko of Hashimoto city at the foot of Mt. Koya, on Hashimoto momen/ cotton a coarse and textured, off white cotton, suitable to her suggestive cosmic shibori.  It was one of my favorites on my late afternoon preview when I first arrived, and I wanted to meet the artist but she was not scheduled to be present the next day.  But by chance? I found her standing like a sentinel in front of her work the next morning.  Like her work, she was open and natural, a busy country lady totally given to the exigencies of her art.

IMG_4991.jpegKokubunji itself is the imposing main temple of Mt. Koya, where the Shibori exhibit was held.  I had first been there with Oliver Statler on his Shikoku Pilgrimage tour in 1988!  The memories were clear and strong, if not my recall of the directions!  I was impressed that the temple had given a large, maybe 100 mat, maybe 50, tatami room over to the Shibori exhibit.  There must have been 60 large shibori creations hung against the wall with seats in front of them where we could gaze and marvel and enjoy the tea and biscuits kindly offered by volunteers.  Each was more spectacular and impressive than the last!

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This piece of plaid Shibori, for lack of a better descriptor, stood out for its technique of geometric gradations and linear shadings..  Graphic and modern, I could not help but wonder how it had been created.

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Another arresting one was this felted gradated indigo flames of energy on a sheer silk ground.  Totally captivating, I only wish that it had been shown in the magnificent garden of Kokubunji, or against a blue sky.  The lines of the shoji were distracting. I hope  to display some of my favorites at Blue & White sometime  early next year

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Kokubunji itself, is a national treasure to my mind, with its garden and angular layout of room after room after room, furnished with nothing but fusuma door panels and Edo period screens. No photos allowed, but I was taken by the lotus paintings whose caption wrote that according to ancient Buddhist texts, the lotuses emitted a mysterious blue light

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The last venue was a smaller temple where many of the artists were staying.  In it were hung Shibori kimono and other small chiclet-like panels  of indigo shibori.  Also very arresting and suggesting something larger beyond.

Square panels on the walls gave a taste of the range of the remarkable shibori techniques of the members of the Shibori Community.

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The  double rows of Kimono were elegant blue and white shapes begging to be hugging a human body and to move with it.  I dreamt of seeing them walking down the street nonchalantly, showing the mastery of the artists who dyed them.  I wanted to see them animated and filled with life.

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The journey was long and hard, but the chance to meet the Indigo Shibori artists made it well worthwhile.  As there were not so many visitors, I was glad I could speak with them and hear their stories.   And praise and encourage their tireless work! I hope when they come for their next exhibit scheduled in Tokyo, we can have a side showing of the work in Blue & White.  They are gifted and dedicated and they deserve a wider audience, though they could NEVER have a more heavenly venue!

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A stroll through the village of Koya san is a thrill for all the senses.  The nature, the reverence, the silence, the sanctity leave you spellbound.

IMG_4999.jpegThe Shibori skies

IMG_4998.jpegThe massive and masterful architecture, sacred and secular both – here the Meiji era Police Station!

 

The spiraling straw cushions in the hallway of Sainanin, the temple where I stayed, leading to the early morning’s fire ceremony prayer service.

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And the food!  Heaven itself!

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At trip to Mt. Koya is journey to a higher place.  And Indigo Shibori there was in its right place, along with all the sacred monuments of Japan

 

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BLUE & WHITE GOES WILD

image001Do we ever stop to think about what we step on as we walk on our paths?  Magnificent tiny flowers, weeds really, are growing there quite beautiful and hardly noticed or appreciated.  Stop before you step and you will discover a whole unnoticed kingdom blooming underfoot.  Stop and you will find what our flower loving Sayoko Hayasawa looks for as she takes walks in any neighborhood, any vacant lot, any cemetery to see the unplanted gardens blooming there.

image004A customer kindly remarked recently that Blue & White is a museum.  No higher praise, I thought.  But to add to this, I hope it can also be seen as a nature walk.  On her days off Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, our very talented  chief of staff, Sayoko Hayasawa spends her days walking and plucking flowers in Kamakura, in Aoyama Cemetery, in Daikanyama and other unsuspected places where weeds and wild flowers grow, and comes in to work  the next day with little wet towels filled with blossoms and leaves and berries that she proceeds to arrange in perfectly mundane and unnoticed containers.  The result is tiny miniature imitations of the natural world.  As someone noticed yesterday, Blue & White products on display come alive with her flowers. Hayasawa san brings the outside into the shop and it breathes life into otherwise inanimate things. For anyone interested, the flowers are also for sale – a sweet and thoughtful birthday present or hostess gift.  They are always my first choice as something to bring someone who is sick or has invited me to supper.

IMG_2857.jpgWho would have thought that these simple no big deal flowers that we often step on thinking they are just weeds would become such eloquent syntheses of nature itself?  The glory usually goes to the roses and the chrysanthemums and the carnations.  But who ever notices these tiny no big deal flowers that peak their heads out in their season?  Hayasawa san does, and she gingerly picks them with her pristine Chanel polished nails (no gloves for her!) and brings them to the shop to give them new life.  A life that she orchestrates with other leaves and sprigs and berries in a jar or pot that can be as mundane as the glass pudding container that she buys at her fancy Meidi-ya market, as much for itself as for the sweet pudding it contains.

image006Not all of the containers are even visible, but the textiles on which they are perched are enhanced by their beauty.  This one a gossamer hemp stole of two or three times dipped indigo and white.

image008Who knows the names or the genus of these anonymous flowers?
Anonymity can be beguiling.

image010Plucky purple stitches on a white dust cloth are a perfect partner for this plucky arrangement of rust colored leaves and a lavender aster.

image012It’s true.  Everything in Blue & White comes alive in the company of natural arrangements of flowers picked from the roadside. A colorful sashiko pin from Tamagawa Special Abilities Center, and some small Otafuku amulets.

image014Stripes loud and clear lead to a joyful arrangement of tiny pink and white flowers in a small blue and white cup.

image016Subtle stripes of hemp kimono material run diagonally under this equally natural arrangement of nejiriso – sometimes we know the names! – and wild asters and leaves and seed pods?    Anonymous or no, the effect is stunning.

image018The glass pudding jar again with an assortment of wild asters and leaves and no name flowers on a crossing of different indigo carp banners by Factory Ai.

image020A spikey arrangement of ferns and leaves and berries in a tea cup or large blue and white sake cup on an indigo and white striped stole by Factory Ai.

image022Two complimentary arrangements swim in a stream of an indigo and white stole dyed by Factory Ai.

image024On an elegant background of charcoal dyed table cloth or bedspread, hand stitched with a wandering sashiko pattern and windmill motifs on the edges, a whole woodland of flowers and leaves and berries can be displayed to bring the peace and quiet of nature inside.  Here Hayasawa san has arranged a number of pots and containers with the silent beauties she finds on her long walks in the city, mind you! and has put them together in original and delicate portraits of nature itself.

(Like the other textiles pictured in this blog, the background bedspread/table cloth is for sale upon request)

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INDIGO DAYS

Life has been INDIGO for the past weeks.  Nothing but indigo encounters and enrichments.  It is addictive, not to mention incurable!  And empowering! the hard work of cultivating, drying, dyeing skills and devotion produce an integrity and honesty that infuse indigo works with protection and  well being.

image001Starting with our own Indigo fashions created for Latona Whittaker, the irresistable and charismatic owner of SOUL FOOD HOUSE across the street from Blue & White.  (She will be a television star soon on NHK, with her own weekly cooking show featuring her original cuisine, and wants indigo to help get her message across.)  Stretchy knit Indigo threads were dyed and woven by our special indigo factory, Tsujimura, Japan Blue, in Hamamatsu in Shizuoka.

But Latona was just the beginning.  A house guest was all I needed to venture to Mashiko in Tochigi Prefecture to visit the pottery making village where the special attraction is the Indigo House of Tadashi Higeta, the 9th Generation indigo dyer and scholar of color. Higeta Sensei’s amazing workshop boasts 72 steaming vats of indigo where the master dyer dips and dips and dips and dyes the rich deep shades of indigo stencil dyed cloth, shibori, tsutsugaki, and gradated indigo with admirable grace and agility.  The building is a 230 year old thatched treasure house recalling the glory days of Mashiko and indigo.  Higeta san spends his days researching and teaching the constant stream of visitors who come to him to learn his art.  His indigo dye master patiently shows and explains his work as he goes along.  His glorious blue products are displayed and sold at the entrance of the house.  The compound itself is surrounded by rows of potted indigo plants from various parts of Japan, Okinawa and other countries as well

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Meanwhile in Tokyo, at The Spiral Building in Aoyama, there was a magnificent installation of one ton!  unbelievable! of heavy cotton rope dyed in 204, was it? shades of Indigo  cultivated, fermented and dyed by BUAISO, a young indigo cooperative from Tokushima.

The powerful installation took your breath away as it captured the infinite shades of pure indigo gradated into nuances of green and yellow and beyond, that Indigo morphs into with the addition of Kihada, the brilliant yellow inner skin of the Kihada tree that grows in Tokushima.

image007image009image011image013Countless hands, countless processes go into the cultivation and dyeing of indigo!  And dyers are easy to spot by their  blue hands.  These are the 8 hands of BUAISO.

And as if that weren’t enough, we took a day trip to KOSOEN in Ome in western Tokyo, to visit the splendid workplace of the Murata family who dye and experiment and teach and share their indigo skills with those who visit.  To see their work is an inspiration to me every time I go.  This time Murata Noriyuki was just finishing his large scale paste resist Koi no Bori banners that he has been working on for months now.

image015We were lucky enough to have him show the process, long and painstaking, from stencil cutting to paste resisting, to indigo dyeing that he goes through to produce these magnificent boys’ day banners.
And the sight of the morning’s dyeing drying outside on the lines is always a thrill!

image017Indigo pots and the straw bags that the brown clumps of dried bright green indigo leaves, tsukumo, arrive in from Tokushima.  Who would imagine the long, arduous process of fermentation would produce such glorious tones of blue?

image019Gradated  shades of indigo in skeins of threads are the beginning of sweaters that KOSOEN will create.

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Shimmering silk stoles dry on the line at Kosoen.  You want to have all of them!

image023Small puckered  scarves are tempting too!

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Speaking of Boys Day Carp banners, yesterday at Blue & White we had an unforgettable visit from 8 members of FACTORY AI , a special abilities indigo workshop in Wakabayashi, in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.  They were delivering the last of their Indigo Carp banners that they have been dyeing and sewing for us for the past 8 months.  This may be the 13th or 14th year that they have brought their multifarious indigo banners to Blue & White. This time they came to see this year’s installation for themselves. Each year we display it differently! and also share their stories and tea and brownies.  This special abilities center is developed with the goal of using indigo dyeing as therapy for people with disabilities.  Their newly acquired skills give confidence and an ability to be self-reliant.  They were a jolly lot of young people who have become friends and members of the Blue & White group of artisans who fill the shop with treasures.  People who work with their hands.

image029Hard to choose which  size, which one!

And this does not even include our very special corner in the shop of the work of Shindo Hiroyuki, the master indigo artist and teacher, who lives in Miyamacho in the hills of Kyoto.  His lordly thatched roof house is some 300 years old, in a thatched village, where he works diligently daily and receives visitors to his Little Indigo Museum tucked under the eaves of the graceful structure.

Shindo san has generously lent us his creations for the duration of the winter when it is too cold for people to visit him in Kyoto.
He is a generous teacher, an experimenter, a preserver, and even translated my Otafuku Joy of Japan book for me, but wound up in hospital exhausted by trying to make Japanese sense of my convoluted, quirky writing.  A true blue friend!

image033Place mats and coasters by Hiuroyuki Shindo and his supportive wife Chikako.

image035Though this does not begin to tell the story of indigo, Blue & White is proud to do all it can to spread INDIGO FEVER ! And the INDIGO REVOLUTION that is taking place.

Don’t miss the stunning exhibit of Indigo Shibori of Motohiko Katano at the Japan Folk Craft Museum in Komaba in Tokyo until June 16, 2019

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