Heaven 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!
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.
This 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.
Kokubunji 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!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
The Shibori skies
The 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.
And the food! Heaven itself!
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