JAPAN’S A BIG BLUE PEBBLE                                                        thank you Kathryn


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Blue Mystery

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


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


Our black dog Basho is curious too.


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


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


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


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


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


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

Blue Prayers


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


10,000 folded washi cranes.


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

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



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


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

This entry was posted in Journal. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to HAPPY BLUE YEAR

  1. tokyojojo says:

    body{font-size:10pt;font-family:arial,sans-serif;background-color:#ffffff;color:black;}p{margin:0px;}Hi,Are any of the items shown in this post for sale?I’m especially interested in the “Old Ema prayer plaque”Thank you I look forward to hearing from you.Regards,Jo Sochi

  2. So sorry. That is not for sale. I treasure it at home. thank you for writing. Sorry so slow to respond. b&w amy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s