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