Like his father before him, Kotaro Kobayashi san drives up to Blue & White twice a year, at unpredictable times, and brings us his cargo of newly dyed and woven indigo. His van is newer now and larger than his Father’s. And like his Father, he sleeps in it when he is on the road. His trail is long and arduous. He has travelled all over Japan save for the islands of Hokkaido and Okinawa. He starts at the weavers’ and dyers’ workshops in the south of the country, and loads up the best of their work. He is fussier, purer perhaps than his father who brought cutesy mice and clowns made of bits of leftover cloth. No tchotchkes for the son. No stuffed cats, or indigo owls. He cuts to the essences and brings strong bolts of blue: lengths of indigo, strong ikats, (kasuri in the vernacular. The threads have been pre-dyed to achieve certain designs. A remarkable feat of the weaver’s trade! ).
Where Father brought in giant and unseemly Tupperware boxes with his treasures inside, cool son packs in plain brown cardboard boxes. Our anxiousness to hurry up and see what is inside is augmented by the allure of the mysterious boxes with no name, no writing. Out pop handsome Ikat/kasuri shirts for men. Straight, pure, simple shirts that will last a lifetime. Washing will only deepen their blues, clarify their whites, and make them soft friends for life.
We gasp when we see the delicate cotton kasuri scarves in ever so slightly varying patterns. They are soft on the neck when wrapped, they set off any blue or white or red, of course, when they are worn. How have their slender supple threads been woven, we wonder?
In this day when everything seems to have been made in China, quiet craftsmen of Japan are weaving their magic in indigo, around Hiroshima largely, but also in other parts of Japan. Theirs is a luminous blue that has the evening sky in it, the ocean depths. To see this unassuming, gentle indigo cloth reassures us that the textile/craft tradition of japan is still alive and vibrant. Despite the thunderous calamities of the year, and the destruction of confidence and sense of well being that they have wrought, these textiles confirm that life is still going on. People are still going about their daily life, doing their daily work with the same quiet virtuosity of their mothers and grandmothers before them.
The peddler son, handsome sportsman like his Father, has edited the work of the weavers. He hasn’t just brought everything. He has carefully chosen the shibui, the cool, the bold indigo. Quiet and elegant, the best of the Japanese indigo ikat/kasuri aesthetic is in his boxes. It is the Japan craft tradition updated and available in smart collarless shirts, cover-all aprons/Kapogi, Samue kimono jackets and pants and 12 meter bolts of indigo to do with as you will. The material fairly begs to be made into slip covers and cushions, table cloths and coats and jackets. Fresh from the indigo vat, fresh from the loom, the handprint of the makers is still in the threads, the pulse of the weaver beats in the weave. When they are used and made into something for the house or something to wear, they bring soul and spirit into daily life that no machine-made thing can do. They last forever and bring an honesty and virtuosity to everyday that consoles and enriches our living.
Kotaro Kobayashi follows in a time-honored tradition of peddling indigo throughout Japan. Since the Edo era, and no doubt before, peddlers have spread indigo dyed and woven cloth throughout the land. They have created a country called Japan Blue as observed by the British scientist William Atkinson in the late 1800’s when he came to teach chemistry.
It always amazes me to see Kobayashi san drive up in his van and begin to disgorge its pristine boxes of newly dyed indigo, newly woven ikats fresh from their makers, like fresh bread hot from the oven. We are honored every time the indigo peddler stops at Blue & White and want to encourage this rich tradition of craftsmanship and time honored system of distribution, and show the world that Japan is still creating and disseminating things of enduring beauty.