The sea is calmer now – but still not calm enough for the fishermen to take us out for a boat ride along the spectacular rocky coast of Goishi Kaigan on the Sanriku Coast of Iwate. Back to its normal ebb and flow now, but one look at it brings back the cataclysmic nightmare of March 11, 2011 when the coastal towns of Tohoku were turned upside down and totally destroyed. But not forever.! The Spirit of Tohoku has reasserted itself, and people have gotten back on their feet, picked up the pieces, cleaned them off, and gotten back to business. Quite a bit of blue & white business.
With the experienced planning of two financial expert friends, we visited a number of towns that had been hard hit in Miyagi and Iwate. Minami Sanriku where a Silver Center had just been completed with the help of Planet Finance, formerly run by our leader Kazuo Tanaka who has visited Minami Sanriku countless times since the disaster to find out how to make the most difference in supporting small business recovery. He screened numbers of people to find small pop-up restaurants to support, silver centers needing financing for new buildings, food production companies.
On a brilliant blue Saturday afternoon, Hideko Oikawa greeted us humbly, repeatedly thanking us for having come such a long distance. Her Oikawa Denim Company, set on top of a steep hill commanded a spectacular view of the houses below and the peaceful bay beyond ringed with poplars and a tall keyaki tree.
The entrance was spacious and well appointed. The guest room where we sat was decorated with lace doilies on the table, pictures on the wall, and a corner filled with Zero jeans, her company’s own brand, as well as other products made by Oikawa Denim. The view in front of us was so stunning that you could hardly keep your eyes off of it.
But then her chilling tale flooded out in a torrent of images of the earthquake and its aftermath. Like this blue and white imari soba cup we were given later by Masatoshi Shishido of MAST, a canvas bag maker also in Kesennuma, – which will exhibit its bags at Blue & White from September 5th to the 15th – 18 meter walls of water rushed onto the shore and swallowed houses and warehouses and everything in its path.
Mrs. Oikawa showed a series of laminated photos to illustrate the progress and impact of the tsunami that followed the 9.0 earthquake that shook Iwate, Miyagi and nearby Fukushima. The tsunami was the. It ripped through the towns we visited and flattened them, rearranging them in macabre ways leaving huge fishing boats up ended in the middle of towns and railroads bent and twisted in amusement park contortions. It left families searching for days, mourning for their lost.
Oikawa san told her tale of how people had fled in terror to her factory on higher ground and together 150 people spent the next week watching in horror and huddling together for warmth and courage , sleeping on the ground covered with cardboard and denim.
Miraculously 2 7/11 delivery trucks had been stranded near her company and so the 150 people shared Conbeni onigiri (rice balls) and bottles of water, cans of juice. In time they ventured down the hill to inspect the damage. Miraculously none of the Oikawas’ 20 employees lost any members of their family, though houses were lost and ruined, so they pluckily returned to work as soon as water and electricity were restored.
Now, 4 1/2 years later, we are chilled by their story, ad and impressed by their determination to make the most of what they are given. Using the fibers of sword fish tusks to strengthen their jeans, seaweed from the sea perhaps. Today 15 employees have stayed working late on a Saturday afternoon to show us how they make Zero jeans, as well as other jeans for other well known brands. The meticulous piles of watch pocket patches, and left legs and right legs, belts and loops, are the picture of system and organization. The key ingredient lavished on the production is the care and energy and the skilled craftsmanship that the hands of Tohoku are so famous for is palpable here. We order 3 pairs of Zero Jeans.
At Mast, a former sale making company that converted to making canvas bags after the Tsunami, we examine their wide selection of bags and order for ourselves and for Blue & White.
Also in Kesennuma, a squid fisherman waits to set out to sea.
At the top of a hill overlooking Kesennuma is a simple blue house that is the workshop of Kesennuma Knitting, a beautiful enterprise teaching the dextrous women of Tohoku how to knit classic patterned woolen sweaters in a few basic patterns. The building is purity itself, and the sweaters are irresistible.
Our guide was Kazuo Tanaka who has been visiting Tohoku regularly since the Earthquake and Tsunami and finding companies to support with his Planet Finance micro financing small enterprises that need support.
He studied their needs carefully and wisely chose those whose character was most outstanding and ambitions most worth. A shopping center and restaurant complex in Minami Sanriku, a ramp for the Senior Center.
Even our masterful guide and organizer could not resist. Kazuo Tanaka is a perfect model and proud new owner of a Kesennuma hand knit sweater in classic navy blue.
At BAPPA No DAIDOKORO we met the indomitable Saito family who run a food supplying company and an unforgettable Granny’s Kitchen where food was delicious, fresh and from the heart. The whole family joined in with gusto. The blue and white daughter travels all over Japan explaining about food and Tohoku and her family.
Imagine our surprise when the first sight that greeted us was a huge white square wall that turned out to be a refrigerator storage container that had been donated by DENSO whose name was written below a round red Japanese flag. Our third member George Olcott just happened to be on the Board of Directors of Denso and was quick to report back to the company, that Denso’s quick generosity had saved the Saito family’s business.
There was gladness all around!
The people we met in Tohoku were courageous and generous. Mrs. Sasaki of Ofunato was quick to thank George Olcott who had come with his family 4 1/2 years ago to help clean out the sludge and debris of the tsunami.
She thanked him with her late evening’s production of Suu momo/apricot jam, and juice.
At 86 plus, her agility in climbing a tree to give us more fruit was impressive – and delicious.
No tree to high for her.
The fruits of her labors.
Amya Miller, a huge hearted, bilingual American woman, not only teaches English to preschool children who forget all their concerns with a hot game of DUCK! DUCK! GOOSE! and welcomed us with shouts of delight. Instant communication, instant trust that Amya has been building up in the 4 years she has been commuting to Rikuzen Takata, are clear in the bright faces of the children. They greet us spontaneously and are fearless in using their English.
At the same time she serves as the Director of Global Public Relations to the city of Rikuzen Takata in Iwate.
Bright rainy season paintings at the pre school where Amya Miller teaches.
A CBS TV crew had just spent 2 days filming Amya in all her daily activities.
No wonder! She is a gift to Rikuzen Takata.
Though we didn’t get to meet Asuka Tazaki, we sat in the family dining room in a temporary prefab structure and enjoyed the morning’s bread baked by his baker Mother. Asuka is in his 30’s and autistic.
His paintings are intense and vibrant and express some of the shock and grief that he and his family have encountered. His powerful paintings are deeply moving and eloquently articulated.
While also running a best selling bakery, Mr and Mrs. Tazaki devote themselves to encouraging and exhibiting Asuka’s powerful art and other community projects.
One brave, although now reconstituted, pine tree remains of the stands of pines that grew by the river before the earthquake, It symbolizes the courage of the people of Tohoku who won’t give up. The Spirit of Tohoku. From all over Japan and other countries as well, people come to make a pilgrimage here. It symbolizes the Hope of Tohoku – The Hope of Japan to recover from disaster, to rebuild and become strong again. As one of our members remarked, it could be that from this adversity may spring new hope and new energy to lead the way and show for the rest of Japan to prosper and grow. That is the power of Tohoku.
A banner for soy sauce based ice cream flaps while trucks and conduit pipes move mountains from one side of the river to the other to build walls against future tsunami destruction.
The pure and simple Hakone Yama terrace is surely one of the most serene and beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in Japan and elsewhere. A hopeful sign of new beginnings in Rikuzen Takata.
Ocean Blue is a Community Creche started by Sayaka Fujimura in the spring of 2015, for her family with the intent of providing a place where young Mums can come and bring their children and share their lives, while learning the art of indigo dyeing in a warm environment. It is a gentle open place that not only dyes beautiful baby goods but also stoles and shirts for adults. We nearly bought out the shop and already the indigo clothing is selling quickly at Blue & White. What a beautiful success story born of hard work and dedication.
Not by chance, we happened to sit next to Sayaka in the beautiful fish restaurant in Kesennuma, the evening before Amya had kindly made an appointment for us to meet her the next day.The Indigo Thread connects us all!
All hail to Tohoku and their Gutsy People.
We support you all the way.
We shall return and continue to show the world the good things you are doing, the good things you are making!
Blue & White chopstick covers
in a temporary sushi restaurant
in Rikuzen Takata.
Blue and white is universal.
A random comment about an earlier blog came from San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s southernmost state—Chiapas, a place I have dreamed of visiting since I first found, and of course bought! some of their magical white on white embroidered textiles at the Hotel Santa Fe in Puerto Escondido many years ago, shot me into action.
Ironically, I only found that enticing message from Chiapas once. (Where did you go, Chiapas? Look what you made me do! Where you made me go!) And how I revelled in it! Thank you!
I had been invited to give a presentation on Japanese crafts at The-Not-To-Miss Portland Japanese Garden. And Portland Oregon and Chiapas Mexico are nearly next door to each other after all! Aren’t they?!
So I persuaded an adventuresome friend to join me on a week’s exploration of San Cristobal and places beyond and we came up gasping for breath.
A textile lover’s paradise, even if not always blue & white, San Cristobal burst with so much to see and explore! A charming ancient colonial town and textile heaven where women of indigenous tribes, dressed in brilliant colors and intricate weaves and embroideries, plied the streets with babies strapped to their backs and heavy layers of their own handmade creations piled over their arm to sell.
Our eyes couldn’t take it all in!
The extravagant skills of these simple country women creating textiles of universal beauty and wearing what they wore, overwhelmed us. The textiles were their identity. The village they belonged to. The traditions their families had taught them.
We visited one industrious woman and her cooperative in nearby Chamula, right, and were bowled over by the range and energy of their work.
All made by hand!
Traditional and modern comfortably combined.
She demonstrated her weaving and demonstrated how time-ignoring and labor intensive it was. Color and form and hand were inextricably bound producing intricate and wide ranging creations that were both quaintly traditional and unselfconsciously contemporary.
We prowled through the market every day always finding new marvels. The color and life! and humanity of the scene brought home the wonder and the message of things made by hand. Such abundant muchness of skill and imagination left us thirsty for more. We simply couldn’t have enough of the vibrant scene.
Everyday brought new surprises in San Cristobal. We found the market which was only textiles, jewelry, bags, paper wares and all things made by hand – just what I had finished giving a talk on – the power of things made by hand! – at the Portland Japanese Garden! We visited the market everyday and bought all we could. It was overwhelming and irresistible.
And behind it, wonder of wonders!
we found the exquisite Textile Museum, Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya, established in 2012 in a graceful old reconverted 16th century convent that provided the background information for the sources of the crafts at the market. It is an elegant and eloquent home for the marriage of people today and heritage and legacy. It reassures women today of the integrity of their work and the importance of maintaining the traditions..
I went back to the magnificent world class museum again to see the sophisticated displays and videos and educational resources – something Japan would do well to emulate – quickly! before the Olympics in 2020!
In front of the museum was a beautiful shop with the best of the best represented — a cut above the things at the market, a step beyond. My precious adventuresome friend outdid herself and treated me to the over the top blue and white bedspread that I dreamed about after first seeing. ALL HAND MADE! I couldn’t believe that I would bring it home to Japan with me.
It is an indescribable wonder, and treasure.
And at the airport on our way home, more blue and white.
Chiapas! Textile heaven. Handmade paradise.
Everyday brought new surprises in San Cristobal. We found the market which was only textiles, jewelry, bags, paper wares and all things made by hand – just what I had finished giving a talk on – the power of things made by hand! – at the Portland Japanese Garden! We visited the market everyday and bought all we could. It was overwhelming! Irresistible!
And behind it, wonder of wonders!
we found the exquisite Textile Museum (proper name?) established in 2012 in a graceful old reconverted 16th century convent that provided the background information for the sources of the crafts at the market. Such a perfect marriage of people today and heritage and legacy, grounding women today in the past, reassuring them of the authenticity, the integrity of their work.
I went back to the magnificent museum again to see the sophisticated displays and videos and educational resources – something Japan would do well to emulate – quickly! before the Olympics in 2020!
Not really by chance, behind the handsome ornate church at the back of the market, we found what we had been looking for – the MayanTextile Museum: Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya! An exquisite collection in a faithfully restored 16 century convent,. Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzman. Fully converted to house a world class textile museum in 2012, the marriage was made in heaven as each colonnaded section of the 2nd floor of the convent now houses a video room, a study center, a research lab, and finally the glorious Mayan textiles themselves, burning in intensity and intricacy, Elegant lacquer red drawer upon wooden drawer boasted one perfect example after another of costume and weave from the Mayan culture from Mexico, the Yukatan, and Guatemala to the south.
Textiles so intricate and alive, that I had to forgive them for not being blue and white.
And wait! It didn’t stop there. Blue and white appeared in crisp, sharp form in the museum shop, an architectural marvel in itself.
Sensitively conceived and rendered, the shop was filled with the height of the craftsman’s/woman’s art and bested the best of the market offerings. It was also conceived as a place of reference for weavers and dyers and embroiderers as well as visitors.
The staff was helpful in a gentle way and in their free time they stitched their own clothing like this beautiful blouse worn by the woman who helped us with my bedspread which my generous friend presented me with to take home and remember an unforgettable trip! On my bed, it makes me dream of Chiapas and its magnificent world class Textile Museum which I hope can be an inspiration for a similar institution in Japan whose lack of a textile museum is an astonishing oversight in a country where its textile tradition is so fundamental to its culture.
Dashing men wore the marvelous Chiapas textiles as well.
Blue and white all around summed up in a magazine we found that said it all in any language.
The journey continued on to New Yorkwhere we visited the just opened New Whitney Museum by Renzo Piano where old paintings were given new space and freedom and rapt attention.
Walking Man by Bill Traylor 1932 Montgomery Alabama in the glorious new gallery shone through with vigor unnoticed in its former bunker like quarters on the east side.
And China through the Looking Glass at the Metropolitan Museum was an incredible blast of energy from the past reconfigured in fashion and styleof today.
This reconstructed dress of blue & white shards made everyone stop and oooh!
What life can come from blue and white shards.
Above: Visitors’ stickers stuck to a board upon leaving the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan.
The elegant glass pavilion at the New York Botanical Society in the Bronx, where the Frida Kahlo Diego Rivera exhibit attracted crowds of people. The transplanted house and garden from Mexico City and vibrant color sense were beautifully recaptured.
The heavenly BLUE of Frida Kahlo, faithfully reconstructed at the New York Botanical Garden.
Blue and white stripes at the iconic wabi sabi shop in Noho of
Paula Rubenstein. Japan indigo!
The blue bird is an irresistible piece of early American folk art.
I was so tempted
Blue skies on Bond Street New York above in North Carolina below.
Wherever I travel, wherever I go, the blue and white message is waiting for me. My eyes are programmed for blue & white. I first found it in Japanese and Chinese ceramics brought back to houses in Massachusetts by early ships captains when I was growing up in indigo jeans, and then enjoyed its full symphony in Japan where I have lived most of my life. But beyond Massachusetts and Japan, Blue & White is the message of the world. The message of the universe. It is a message of clarity, and purity teaching us that simple is the best and most beautiful.
Far too soon to be posting again, but I must share the glorious indigo that has been pouring into my life this week. Today is Boys’ Day, the 5th day of the 5th month when families celebrate their sons. Colorful carp banners fly in all the skies of Japan, signifying courage and bravery. The sight of lines of brilliant carp banners strung over rooftops and even rivers gives great joy.
At Blue & White our banners are indigo, cotton dyed blue and sewn by Ai Kobo, a workshop for people with special abilities. And needs. And one of their needs is to not only make things, but share what they have made with the outside world. They get plenty of this at Blue & White. The whole world comes to see what they have made.
Indigo is happening elsewhere in Tokyo this week through May 18. Above, a brilliant composition of small indigo squares with points of light collaged together into an indigo universe by Fukumoto Shihoko of Kyoto.
Below Fukumoto san’s Indigo Space within a gossamer Tea House. Photos cannot capture the magic of space or the intensity of the indigo.
Fukumoto Shoko’s multilayered lengths of diaphanous open weave cotton at Takashimaya Art Gallery, Nihonbashi, 6th floor.
Above Flying Birds. Weaving by Samiro Yunoki at the Iwatate Folk Textile Museum in Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka
Details of Afghan Jacket show the subtlety of white on white.
The incredible Hiroko Iwatate in her Museum of Folk Textiles office in Jiyugaoka. Her remarkable museum is filled with treasures she has single mindedly collected in Asia and Africa for the last 50 years. Exhibits change 4 times a year. This season features White on White (blue is hiding) – brilliant!
Textile collage of pockets of intriguing mostly white textiles on indigo kasuri by Ayako Takakuwa 30 years ago, hangs in the office of Hiroko Iwatate atthe Iwatate Museum of Folk Textiles in Jiyugaoka.
Which one to choose?
Blue & White shirts at Plantation in Jiyugaoka.
Of course I chose the blue.
Indigo shibori and clamp dyed T shirt at Blue & White
Neighborhood Night Patrol
Eye swabs, glass, early 20th c. OUCH! Recent Flea Market find.
Bringing Home the Daikon –
A long leafy white radish – in a charming Eco bag hand sewn by resourceful daughter Saya from a Sumida River dog scene tenugui, is a quirky presence in the kitchen. Blue & White has a way of making itself heard without raising its voice.
As common as a road sign, a garbage truck, or a policeman’s uniform, as ever present as clouds in the sky, stars too for that matter, waves on the sea, birds on a river, blue and white is always there. It may be the national banner of Japan, the traffic light (it makes people stop, look, and listen), the national colors. Blue and white is soothing, reassuring, safe, and crystal clear. In Japan it is everywhere.
I took photos of a typical day yesterday. Have a look at how blue and white it was. Every day is blue and white for me. But then of course, my eyes, and camera have filters. Be it the clothes I put on in the morning, the ceramics that serve me breakfast, the napkins that wipe my face, the sofa I sit on, the hangings on the wall, blue and white colors my days.
My first cup of morning tea in a chunky blue and white mug by Ai Kobo, a resourceful residential craft center working with cloth and earth and canvas to encourage people with disabilities to express themselves with their hands and win financial independence.
Dreamy scene to drink tea by and think of the day’s adventures, projects, plans.
Blue and white energy.
While tug boats chug by under the graceful Kiyosubashi (bridge) over the Sumida River.
On a dog walk under blue and white skies and the chaotic network of telephone lines and electric wires.
Food and drink along the way.
Drink of the day in an attention grabbing blue and white vending machine.
Try the Calpis! Fermented milk divine?
And sheets of dried konbu, seaweed, packaged in irresistible blue and white with a red kicker, are being unloaded from a van for storage in a nearby warehouse.
The blues and the whites have it!
Blue & white bridges over the ONagi river (canal).
And bicycle speed rules on the sidewalk.
Back at Blue & White Central
Windows filled with flowers and cups and bags and other enticements, invite passersby to press their noses to the window and be inspired, recharged by blue & white energy.
Welcome them to come in and browse through the blue and white treasures within. All handmade. All originals. All ready to help out and add spark to every day life.
Table Settings at Blue & White
Tables are the center of life and sitting around a table covered in blue and white nourishes and stimulates.
Rabbits and waves splash on the table and create bubbles an and swirls of energy, just waiting for leafy salads and other colorful grilled vegetables to perhaps to complete the feast.
Placemat ¥ 3,240
Tea pot ¥10,800
Tea cup ¥ 3,240
Larger plate ¥3,800
Napkin ¥ 540
Anything Goes on the Table.
Twin pentagonal sake cups are edgy containers for sake or soup or whatever needs to be served in style.With it a spotted napkin in gauze, and a Mottainai plate, rescued and revived with repairs in silver.
Yukata kimono quilted place mat by Reiko Okunushi ¥3780
Mended plate ¥3600
Sake cups ¥2160
Napkin ¥540 ¥945
Blue & White Rescue Society.
On an Aimomen, indigo look alike place mat ¥1620 in a variety of patterns a family of repaired blue and white dishes show you care enough to repair them and are proud to serve them and mix their patterns and shapes and ages.
No such thing as matching sets of china in Japan!
Antiques plates, rice bowls, bowls, sake pourers, sake cups from ¥500 – ¥4320
All one of a kind, so subject to being sold.
A special kind of blue and white.
Ai Kobo in Tokyo’s Setagaya, has a certain way with clay. Mainly working in indigo dyeing, this very Special Abilities workshop keeps coming up with new shapes and designs that make a fresh statement of hand made, from the heart, on the table.
Long plate ¥4600 • Cloud plate ¥1730
Half and half mug ¥1730 • Spoon ¥ 380 • Placemat ¥1620
OBento (box lunch wrapped in a snappy blue and white mini furoshiki goes well with a hand stitched indigo sashiko place mat. ¥3780
Tea in a rough cobalt T cup by Ai Kobo.
Spring wild flowers in a karakusa bowl. ¥3240
Nandina chopsticks in a handstitched washi cover.
Tea to choose from one of the washi covered tea cans will stimulate fresh ideas to write on the Otafuku note pad with fresh tea flowers as inspiration.
Tea cup ¥1800
Tea canisters ¥860
Note pad ¥300
Supper at Home
Beautiful dinner created by ever resourceful, ever thoughtful Akiko Morimoto, our newest and youngest staff member who is bilingual and artistic and fun. AND she’s a great cook! With fresh vegetables from her clothing designer Mum in Kanazawa, Takako Nishikawa, she prepared a delicious dinner, made even more appetizing by its presentation on a whole host of blue and white dishes. Of course there is no other color in the cupboard.
Mismatching, spontaneous. free spirited, blue and white encourages freedom to be original in cooking and menu planning and their presentation.
Be it penne with fresh tuna fish, or daikon salad, or japanese mushrooms in cream, blue and white sparks innovation and kindles good taste.
Blue & White in the Woods
Antique spotted teapot from Seto takes the pride of place on the deck at breakfast time.
Served with blueberry muffins, a delicious blue and white breakfast food, yoghurt perhaps, with a topping of blueberry jam on a blue and white cloth makes for a breezy homemade brunch on an every day Sunday.
Blue & White takes everyday out of the ordinary and into the devine.
And a drawer full of blue and white teenage towels makes even the clean up fun.
It’s the time of year in Japan when little boys drop their mittens and kind people, shopkeepers pick them up and hang them in a conspicuous place where they can be easily found.
It is also time for OHina Matsuri, Dolls’ Festival when little girls, and older ones too, dream of emperors and empresses, of princes and princesses and all their retinue. In most houses in Japan, where there are daughters, families set out their OHina dolls for display and celebration. In some houses, when a daughter is born, the grandparents or parents rush out to buy a new set of dolls to celebrate. Some girls take their OHina sama dolls with them when they marry. Peach blossoms are arranged to accompany the dolls, special sweets and foods are set out to celebrate the glad occasion, as has been done for over 1000 years! It is a tradition that first started in the Heian Period when dolls were floated down the river to wash away evil spirits.
But as usual, Blue & White does it differently. Below clamshells have been dressed in regal kimono to symbolize the emperor and empress by Reiko Okunushi, Blue & White’s indefatigable seamstress and magician.
A charming cross between OHina sama and fat cheeked Otafuku, Japan’s Goddess of Mirth, these puckered silken ladies emit smiles and a certain carefreeness that we all respond to.
Reiko Okuniushi’s whimsical Ohinasama quilt made with vintage material by fingers that dance and hands that persuade old silk to do things it never dreamed of doing.
Oh! the patience! Oh the dexterity that these dolls require at the time of year when my own rough and clumsy fingers catch the threads of silk and make runs in my stockings. The antique kimono silk does just what Okunushi san asks it to do. Her dolls are infused with humor and playfulness that reveal her joy of life to all who see them.
Tradition adapted. Emperors and Empresses of silk and clam shells are arranged on an antique wooden frame/tool, a far cry from the usual graduated steps covered with red felt where they are usually displayed.
An array of imperial dolls sits in solemn splendor, resplendent in their antique kimono robes painstakingly stitched by Reiko Okunushi.
And sometimes Blue!
Okunushi san marries the sharp and simple contrasts of blue and white country indigo cotton kasuri with the sophisticated colors and designs of vivid kimono silk and gives them both new impact – and playfulness.
Three Otafuku Ohina Sama Daruma Muses – each in her own world, thinking her own thoughts.
Don’t Forget Blue and White Okunushi san is equally at home in blue and white as she is in silken kimono fabrics.
Tools of her trade.
Okunushi san’s traveling sewing kit has all she needs to create her magic on the road. She expresses herself with needle and thread in a way that most people cannot do with words. Her secret dreams are in her stitches.
Never one to cut up a textile – kimono, yukata or obi that is in wearable condition, Okunushi san works her magic with discards and otherwise unusable textiles. And she uses them to the very end. Here is a spool of her leftover snippets of yukata material knotted to make wonderful twine for presents and other wrappings.
Wound around a recycled bit of decorated cardboard, this length of cotton string is simple alternates of blue and of white. Something I treasure , along with the other only you! creations of Reiko Okunushi.
Reiko Okunushi, Blue & White seamstress divine, and master quilter. takes pieces of cast away material and gives them new life and playfulness with her quilt designs.
Her love of textiles assures their being given new life to the very last bit. Her fanciful creations exude joy and whimsy that is infectious.
These pin wheels make me spin with their energy.
Her silken kokeshi are soft and almost huggable. Okunushi san is with me always in the colorful pinwheels that spin on her bright kimono quilt, and on the many Otafuku images she has sewn for me. She generously says that she want to be my hands, a welcome offer to one who is hopeless with a needle and scissors.
Reiko Okunishi on OHina sama installation day, February 14. The window filled with her creations makes people young and old, men and children stop and admire.
They may just be self-portraits.
The OHina sama follow me everywhere. On a recent trip to Okinawa, they enjoyed basking in the sun on a glorious deck overlooking the East China Sea so much, that they decided to stay there. And bless the house.
Meiji Shrine in all its majesty and Blue surprise is a destination for all in Japan.
But there are other sights and sounds and textures to be found at this season of preparation, decoration, celebration and purification.
One of the many joys of Blue & White is learning from customers. A kind quilter from Australia put me on to this amazing array of blue lanterns at Meiji Shrine and sent me her photos. Of course, I had to go see for myself.
Imagine my delight when the bamboo dealer moved their Kadomatsu making workplace right across the street from our house. Every morning I watch the workmen come to work early.
And every morning! they told me they closed up to go home. I could see how much effort went into their stately New Year decorations.
SHOPPING AT THE BAMBOO YARD.
But for the plastic ties and the snazzy pick up truck, this could almost be a 19th c image of the Morishita bamboo dealers when Hiroshige depicted it in his woodblocks of Edo in the 18th century.
Cleaning the local shrine seems to put a smile on Daikoku sama’s stone face.
The New Year in Japan is a time of purification and renewal. Shrines are flocked with people with prayer and hope and dream. Here shrine maidens offer sweet sake to the reverent at Tomioka Hachiman And next door at Fukagawa Narita Fudou Myou there is a different kind of celebrating.
Bright exuberant shouts of the faces of celebration and colorful invitations to Good Fortune.
Celebrants of all plaids and stripes.
Fluffy blue sheep painted on white washi clouds by our talented Sayoko Hayasawa, puff their way around the windows of Blue & White.
New Year’s sheep?
These whimsical creatures drew lots of attention to yet another one of Hayasawa san’s eye-catching window displays.
The fresh handmade original Shimenawa New Year’s decorations of rice straw and pine and nandina and even garlic! by our ever creative friend, Takako Nishikawa of Ishikawa Prefecture, were sought after by all who saw them. They were the great pride of Blue & White this year.
After all the celebrating and purifying and decorating came The Big Blue & White Clean!
Not at all the usual way of welcoming the New Year, but our two hardworking children spent the first four tireless days of the New Year cleaning and scouring and purging the detritus of 40 years of collecting. Now the shop seems twice as big and 10 times as tidy—A cause for great celebration!
Come have a look.
Getting Genki Calendar 2015
Returning home to Japan after a long journey abroad, I felt the power of the touchstones of GENKI that help give energy and peace of mind and vitality to most Japanese people. GENKI is all these, and it is a vital force in the Japanese sense of well-being. GENKI is a state of being healthy, energetic, vibrant.
Symbols of GENKI, while origins and meanings are lost in the tides of time, are everywhere and even if they are little noticed, somehow they do communicate Energy and Good Fortune. The Tori no Ichi Festival of November features bamboo rakes with symbols of good fortune. The gigantic one hung high from the rafters of Ueno Station greets visitors coming and going. Just making such a huge decoration, and hanging it high over peoples’ heads as they arrived and departed from the station left them with a jolt of GENKI and many stopped to take photos of the gigantic monument to GENKI and Good Fortune.
Matsuri or Festivals abound in the autumn and their shows of super energy reassure people that traditions prevail and give GENKI in full measure.
I feel a surge of GENKI in other places as well. The sight of long bolts of flapping white cotton cloth drying in the autumn sun against a brilliant blue sky mottled with shibori clouds make me rejoice in the work I do.
In the yard below, long stretches of stencil dyed kasuri patterned yukata are strung from one side of the yard to the other at Asahi Senko Dyeworks in Takenozuka in eastern Tokyo. The GENKI of blue and white! The power of the countless pairs of hands that worked together to put pattern to yukata!
Nor can we forget the GENKI that comes from the bath – In this case a wooden tub. A heavenly host of energy splashing Otafuku – 100 at least! – are surely laughing and giggling as they soak. Laughter too is an indispensible source of GENKI! Close up of a Blue & White original tenugui.
The 2015 Calendar is all about GENKI. Celebrating 13 of the many forms it takes. The cover is a 1932 version of crowds celebrating the New Year at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. GENKI is contagious and eternal.
Celebration of the coming of Prussian blue to Japan depicted on a tenugui by Todaya Shoten. A festival that captur d the excitement of a new blue synthetic dye to replace the time-consuming and unpredictable indigo.
On the 3rd day of February, Setsubun is celebrated to mark the end of winter and beginning of spring . Beans are thrown outside to dispel the demons of evil and beans are thrown inside the house to welcome Otafuku, Blue & White’s smiling Goddess of happiness, good nature and jollity. Here her face appears on shell fragments brooches painted by Reiko & Seiichi Hagiya.
Stones are eternal energy captured . Stacked one on top of the other, they are prayers in the Shinto religion. Here painted stones have been stacked and put together with a similar tenugui of circular forms. Nature is a constant inspiration in Japanese design.
Mt. Asama is an active Genki volcano in Nagano. It is always crowned with a halo of smoke spewing from its crater at the top and climbers climb at their risk. 3 toppings of snow at its summit preclude the start of the winter of snow.
A whirling spiral of energy was created by one of the artists of Ai Kobo, an indigo dyeing workshop for Special Abilities artists. Wax resist on an indigo ground gives a power and Genki to both the cloth and the artist.
Different forms and shapes and patterns are brought together by the combustion of blue and white, the cosmic color combination echoed in skies and clouds, seas and waves. Rivers and splash. Blue & White is the eternal color combination powerfully juxtaposed here in a powerful composition of Genki . Kindness of the collaboration of Gen’emon kiln of Arita in Kyushu with Sogo-Isetan partnership and NENDO. Ume-play collection by I n meister.
The ocean is the ultimate source of GENKI and what could be more empowering than Genki Muffins served in a beautiful kitchen by the East China Sea in Okinawa?
Summer matsuri under the swelter of the summer sun have an energy all their own. Courage and dash and bravado / machismo all are part of the Genki of the Mizukake Matsuri of Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in Monzen Nakacho, in Eastern Tokyo. Throngs of people splash water on the valiant young men who shoulder heavy portable shrines and shout encouragement as they parade through thestreets and across the bridges.
Shun is the idea of vegetables pulled and picked fresh from the field and eaten in their moment of glory, bestowing their true flavor and energy. The vegetables that ripen in September have been researched and drawn on our 4 season tenugui calendar that celebrates the Genki of each month on cloth.
Swirls of energy captured on a spiraling Tenugui echo the power of a waterfall spilling down to a racing river in Karuizawa where our black dogs love to swim and retrieve sticks.
Ever elegant Tokyo Tower stands watch over the city, guiding the lost, and giving reassurance with its vibrant vermillion thrust of energy into an indigo sky studded with white shibori clouds.
Basho Inari Jinja in Tokyo’s Tokiwa is a sanctuary for neighbors and haiku lovers as well. The bell pull made of cut ends of tenugui was braided commissioned and contributed by Blue & White.
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To be crazy is far easier for some. Those whose hands are too experienced and too nimble are hard put to feel free and go wild and let themselves go. For many entrants to our recent Crazy Sashiko Contest that was the case. In all modesty, some admitted that their sewing skills were too advanced to try to do something “crazy”. It had to be perfect or they didn’t want to try.
Some reckless souls deigned to try their hand.
Akiko Ike of Niigata Ginka Gallery in Niigata City, is a highly experienced seamstress. Her fingers very agile, but she prefers the rough and random offshoot of sashiko that she calls Chiku-Chiku, the onomatopoeic word for the sound of a needle passing through cloth. By using pieces of old cloth to sew her Chiku Chiku, she applies squares or circles of old cloth to cover up holes while embellishing the decoration. She comes to Blue & White 2 or 3 times a year and gives classes on this meditative and therapeutic stitchery that brings rescued cloth back to life again. Her Chiku Chiku koinobori carp banner was the heads on number one choice of all the visitors to Blue & White who voted for three top entries.
Her thick red stitches bring the worn banner back to life and give it volume and thickness and splash. The relentless stitches that Ike san sews are a monument to her dedication to Chiku Chiku, a magic revitalizer to both cloth and seamstress. She has had exhibits all over Japan, and last year in Nimes, France.
Of course Akiko Ike was the unanimous winner of the contest was Akiko Ike with her Chiku Chiku Koinobori sewn with straight stitches of thick red thread on an old Boys’ Day Banner.
Hayasawa Sayoko, the styley and irrepressible manager of Blue & White is handy with a needle and spends a goodly amount of her time in the shop sewing special bags for Otafuku masks and chop stick covers for the shop and also makes her own skirts out of old shibori and kimono and adapts clothes that make her a stunning fashion plate as she welcomes all who visit Blue & White. Her first entry into a Zokin (dust rag) contest that we held perhaps 8 or 9 years ago, was a never-to-be-forgotten sashiko portrait of her and her dog Tuan and what they think about.
This year she was more restrained, and though beautiful rather than crazy, she won second prize with her BLUE EARTH. All who visited Blue & White were asked to judge their number 1, 2 and 3 favorites.
Other entries were also notable and worth showing here. Hopefully they will encourage others to try their hand at the Crazy Sashiko contest Blue & White will hold the contest at the end of each summer.
Kumi Sasaki is both highly skilled with her hands, and her head is filled with flights of imagination that dexterity sometimes brings. She deservedly won third prize in the completion. Her entry is a needlework sculpture of the form of her own hand cut out of cloth and stitched with random and skillful stitch work forms and colors. A joy to behold, it makes you laugh and gaze in wonder. And it is stuffed with sweet smelling mint leaves and serves as a potpourri.
Reiko Okunushi, whose magic fingers have been creating superb Otafuku quilts, quilted bags, toys and baby blankets for Blue & White for over 30 years, also has a touch of crazy in her. Or, if not crazy, playful and whimsical are qualities that define all her work. Joy and a love of sewing shine out from every unique piece she creates. Her work is distinctive and filled with a perfect combination of deftness of hand and fullness of heart.
Not only cat lovers were taken with these naïf cat portraits that take sashiko beyond the pure graphic and into pictorial realm.
The helter skelter stitchery on this apron is the work of NoNo Ichi san who hides her considerable sewing ability behind these rough rides of thread on cloth, creating marvels that harken back to the antique indigo BORO that are so popular today.
Chiku Chiku Junior by Tomoko Ike, Akiko san’s talented and imaginative daughter and manager of their iconic gallery Niigata Ginka in Niigata.
These pants will surely stand out in any fashion parade while being durable enough to wash floors in when you get home.
Colorful T shirt by Akiko Morimoto shows just some of her energy and spontaneity. She even left the needle and thread in the T shirt for further embellishment.
Uzumaki bag by our own NoNo Ichi San who makes miraculous bags, each one different, each one jaw-dropping. Wild and wonderful seem to come naturally to her.
Lowly and loveable Mermaid! by Hana, 6 year old grand daughter of our dedicated and forever young Megumi Kajikawa.
Wandering sashiko hat by Asako Sangai, our own irreplaceable artist and Blue & White graphics designer of original cards, calendars, catalogues and announcements.
Meandering sashiko, my own unsteady sashiko on left over pieces of wool muslin collected by Sueko Nakazawa, my husband’s beloved Aunt who taught me about the marvels of Japan and the importance of preserving its textiles and culture. She and her elder sister Toshiko, my husband’s irresistible Mother, taught me Mottainai and the spirit of Japan. They live on in their stitches and in their carefully collected textiles.
Fluffy clouds of August puff out their chests in a brilliant blue summer sky.
Constantly changing sculptures of form and volume, they are a sky show that mustn’t be missed.
We planned an early lunch yesterday at Shabusen at Ginza’s major 4 chome intersection in order to get our visiting son to his afternoon flight on time. By luck we found a stage show being set up as we saw a nostalgic Japan returning to its origins with food carts and men walking in straw hats and yukata, tents with beer and soft drinks were being set up where you could drink up and cool down, or simply sit in the shade and enjoy the scene.
The Art of Ice
In times before air conditioning and electric fans, ice was a savior and still is in Ginza’s entertainment area where ice trucks come with their saws and saw big chunks of ice for their customer bars or the ice artistes who form huge objets of ice – fish, rabits, dragons and even encase flowers within the giant transparent blocks of cold.
Organizers of the big
Ginza yukata celebration event.
IKI is Edo chic – the dashing style of people of the Edo period who flaunted their flair in unexpected clothing combinations and accents and splashes of surprise. Subtle textures and materials – this one a gossamer hemp fiber for his yukata instead of the usual cotton – are only seen by a few who appreciate the intricacies and complexities of Japanese textiles and craftsmanship.
This man seemed pleased when I noticed.
IKI Guide Lines
Obi slung low
No apparent restrictions on length.
Air of total insouciance
See the see through!
Wearing Yukata is an opportunity to express your other self – a bright flamboyant and why not self that more conservative western clothes do not encourage. Summer is the time to let go and bloom. Yukata may just be a vehicle for the inner self to stand out and say something.
It is certainly a blue and white light for stepping out and enjoying life!
Starting young, feeling proud, even little boys love to dress up and join the fun of a summer celebration.
Something special for all ages.
Japanese seem to step into their own character when they wear Yukata.
A Yukata Frame of Mind
There is something bright and breezey about Yukata and their patterns and spontaneous color combinations. These days colors are flamboyant and all over the spectrum. Young girls seem to prefer the most colorful and gaudy patterns. Needless to say, we search out the classic blue and white combinations and this Mother and son confirm its staying power. The blue is a coolant and together with white they are crisp and fresh even on the hottest of days.
The ancients knew what they were doing when they chose blue and white as the natural order of things. It is natural. It is grounded and its simple understated dignity is supremely suited to the quiet Japanese state of mind. Blue and white also gives patterns a chance to make their own statement without letting colors take over the show and disturb the honesty and clarity of the design.
Just off Ginza a family is gearing up and taking turns taking photos of eachother. Each one has his own style. Yukata chic in all its various forms. They were all having a grand time getting ready to make their full family debut on the Ginza stage just coming together on Ginza 4 chome, one block away.
Always Look Back!
With Yukata, and Kimono as well of course, it is always best to have a look behind. Not only are there slim and narrow shoulders, but the bottoms are also good! and the way the obis are fastened there is always worth studying.
There are innumerable ways of tying an obi and often the knots and bows and twists that you find are surprising and fun and original.
You find IKI where you are least expecting it.
Ginza is more Ginza when it is wearing Yukata.
Japan is more Japan when it wears Kimono.
All are more beautiful when they are Blue and White.