image001Do we ever stop to think about what we step on as we walk on our paths?  Magnificent tiny flowers, weeds really, are growing there quite beautiful and hardly noticed or appreciated.  Stop before you step and you will discover a whole unnoticed kingdom blooming underfoot.  Stop and you will find what our flower loving Sayoko Hayasawa looks for as she takes walks in any neighborhood, any vacant lot, any cemetery to see the unplanted gardens blooming there.

image004A customer kindly remarked recently that Blue & White is a museum.  No higher praise, I thought.  But to add to this, I hope it can also be seen as a nature walk.  On her days off Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, our very talented  chief of staff, Sayoko Hayasawa spends her days walking and plucking flowers in Kamakura, in Aoyama Cemetery, in Daikanyama and other unsuspected places where weeds and wild flowers grow, and comes in to work  the next day with little wet towels filled with blossoms and leaves and berries that she proceeds to arrange in perfectly mundane and unnoticed containers.  The result is tiny miniature imitations of the natural world.  As someone noticed yesterday, Blue & White products on display come alive with her flowers. Hayasawa san brings the outside into the shop and it breathes life into otherwise inanimate things. For anyone interested, the flowers are also for sale – a sweet and thoughtful birthday present or hostess gift.  They are always my first choice as something to bring someone who is sick or has invited me to supper.

IMG_2857.jpgWho would have thought that these simple no big deal flowers that we often step on thinking they are just weeds would become such eloquent syntheses of nature itself?  The glory usually goes to the roses and the chrysanthemums and the carnations.  But who ever notices these tiny no big deal flowers that peak their heads out in their season?  Hayasawa san does, and she gingerly picks them with her pristine Chanel polished nails (no gloves for her!) and brings them to the shop to give them new life.  A life that she orchestrates with other leaves and sprigs and berries in a jar or pot that can be as mundane as the glass pudding container that she buys at her fancy Meidi-ya market, as much for itself as for the sweet pudding it contains.

image006Not all of the containers are even visible, but the textiles on which they are perched are enhanced by their beauty.  This one a gossamer hemp stole of two or three times dipped indigo and white.

image008Who knows the names or the genus of these anonymous flowers?
Anonymity can be beguiling.

image010Plucky purple stitches on a white dust cloth are a perfect partner for this plucky arrangement of rust colored leaves and a lavender aster.

image012It’s true.  Everything in Blue & White comes alive in the company of natural arrangements of flowers picked from the roadside. A colorful sashiko pin from Tamagawa Special Abilities Center, and some small Otafuku amulets.

image014Stripes loud and clear lead to a joyful arrangement of tiny pink and white flowers in a small blue and white cup.

image016Subtle stripes of hemp kimono material run diagonally under this equally natural arrangement of nejiriso – sometimes we know the names! – and wild asters and leaves and seed pods?    Anonymous or no, the effect is stunning.

image018The glass pudding jar again with an assortment of wild asters and leaves and no name flowers on a crossing of different indigo carp banners by Factory Ai.

image020A spikey arrangement of ferns and leaves and berries in a tea cup or large blue and white sake cup on an indigo and white striped stole by Factory Ai.

image022Two complimentary arrangements swim in a stream of an indigo and white stole dyed by Factory Ai.

image024On an elegant background of charcoal dyed table cloth or bedspread, hand stitched with a wandering sashiko pattern and windmill motifs on the edges, a whole woodland of flowers and leaves and berries can be displayed to bring the peace and quiet of nature inside.  Here Hayasawa san has arranged a number of pots and containers with the silent beauties she finds on her long walks in the city, mind you! and has put them together in original and delicate portraits of nature itself.

(Like the other textiles pictured in this blog, the background bedspread/table cloth is for sale upon request)

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Life has been INDIGO for the past weeks.  Nothing but indigo encounters and enrichments.  It is addictive, not to mention incurable!  And empowering! the hard work of cultivating, drying, dyeing skills and devotion produce an integrity and honesty that infuse indigo works with protection and  well being.

image001Starting with our own Indigo fashions created for Latona Whittaker, the irresistable and charismatic owner of SOUL FOOD HOUSE across the street from Blue & White.  (She will be a television star soon on NHK, with her own weekly cooking show featuring her original cuisine, and wants indigo to help get her message across.)  Stretchy knit Indigo threads were dyed and woven by our special indigo factory, Tsujimura, Japan Blue, in Hamamatsu in Shizuoka.

But Latona was just the beginning.  A house guest was all I needed to venture to Mashiko in Tochigi Prefecture to visit the pottery making village where the special attraction is the Indigo House of Tadashi Higeta, the 9th Generation indigo dyer and scholar of color. Higeta Sensei’s amazing workshop boasts 72 steaming vats of indigo where the master dyer dips and dips and dips and dyes the rich deep shades of indigo stencil dyed cloth, shibori, tsutsugaki, and gradated indigo with admirable grace and agility.  The building is a 230 year old thatched treasure house recalling the glory days of Mashiko and indigo.  Higeta san spends his days researching and teaching the constant stream of visitors who come to him to learn his art.  His indigo dye master patiently shows and explains his work as he goes along.  His glorious blue products are displayed and sold at the entrance of the house.  The compound itself is surrounded by rows of potted indigo plants from various parts of Japan, Okinawa and other countries as well


Meanwhile in Tokyo, at The Spiral Building in Aoyama, there was a magnificent installation of one ton!  unbelievable! of heavy cotton rope dyed in 204, was it? shades of Indigo  cultivated, fermented and dyed by BUAISO, a young indigo cooperative from Tokushima.

The powerful installation took your breath away as it captured the infinite shades of pure indigo gradated into nuances of green and yellow and beyond, that Indigo morphs into with the addition of Kihada, the brilliant yellow inner skin of the Kihada tree that grows in Tokushima.

image007image009image011image013Countless hands, countless processes go into the cultivation and dyeing of indigo!  And dyers are easy to spot by their  blue hands.  These are the 8 hands of BUAISO.

And as if that weren’t enough, we took a day trip to KOSOEN in Ome in western Tokyo, to visit the splendid workplace of the Murata family who dye and experiment and teach and share their indigo skills with those who visit.  To see their work is an inspiration to me every time I go.  This time Murata Noriyuki was just finishing his large scale paste resist Koi no Bori banners that he has been working on for months now.

image015We were lucky enough to have him show the process, long and painstaking, from stencil cutting to paste resisting, to indigo dyeing that he goes through to produce these magnificent boys’ day banners.
And the sight of the morning’s dyeing drying outside on the lines is always a thrill!

image017Indigo pots and the straw bags that the brown clumps of dried bright green indigo leaves, tsukumo, arrive in from Tokushima.  Who would imagine the long, arduous process of fermentation would produce such glorious tones of blue?

image019Gradated  shades of indigo in skeins of threads are the beginning of sweaters that KOSOEN will create.

Shimmering silk stoles dry on the line at Kosoen.  You want to have all of them!

image023Small puckered  scarves are tempting too!


Speaking of Boys Day Carp banners, yesterday at Blue & White we had an unforgettable visit from 8 members of FACTORY AI , a special abilities indigo workshop in Wakabayashi, in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.  They were delivering the last of their Indigo Carp banners that they have been dyeing and sewing for us for the past 8 months.  This may be the 13th or 14th year that they have brought their multifarious indigo banners to Blue & White. This time they came to see this year’s installation for themselves. Each year we display it differently! and also share their stories and tea and brownies.  This special abilities center is developed with the goal of using indigo dyeing as therapy for people with disabilities.  Their newly acquired skills give confidence and an ability to be self-reliant.  They were a jolly lot of young people who have become friends and members of the Blue & White group of artisans who fill the shop with treasures.  People who work with their hands.

image029Hard to choose which  size, which one!

And this does not even include our very special corner in the shop of the work of Shindo Hiroyuki, the master indigo artist and teacher, who lives in Miyamacho in the hills of Kyoto.  His lordly thatched roof house is some 300 years old, in a thatched village, where he works diligently daily and receives visitors to his Little Indigo Museum tucked under the eaves of the graceful structure.

Shindo san has generously lent us his creations for the duration of the winter when it is too cold for people to visit him in Kyoto.
He is a generous teacher, an experimenter, a preserver, and even translated my Otafuku Joy of Japan book for me, but wound up in hospital exhausted by trying to make Japanese sense of my convoluted, quirky writing.  A true blue friend!

image033Place mats and coasters by Hiuroyuki Shindo and his supportive wife Chikako.

image035Though this does not begin to tell the story of indigo, Blue & White is proud to do all it can to spread INDIGO FEVER ! And the INDIGO REVOLUTION that is taking place.

Don’t miss the stunning exhibit of Indigo Shibori of Motohiko Katano at the Japan Folk Craft Museum in Komaba in Tokyo until June 16, 2019


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Blue & White Curiosities

image002A customer from the UK, a quilting teacher, came into the shop yesterday and told how amazed her husband was that she had found the shop.  How did she know about it he asked? She replied smugly that she just knew. Blue & White has a cult following, she explained.  I was taken aback by her remark at first, but the more I thought about it, the more pleased I was.  Why should we have a cult following? I wondered, but then I looked around the shop, having only recently been investigating other out of the ordinary, quirky shops, and realized that yes, we were a bit odd, out of the ordinary, HEN as they say in Japanese.   So I took out my iphone to photograph the possible candidates that may have earned us a “cult following”.
Some of the best oddities come from friends

image004Mittens by my SCRUNCH potter friend jill Hall, made out of her old bathrobe and sweater. Nothing wasted! Warm all over!
Below:  SCRUNCH ITSELF!  My favorite SCRUNCH sake cup, though the sake doesn’t always arrive at its intended destination.


Other friends add curiosities as well.

image008A letter from clever Nancy Ukai Russell amazed me even more when I realized that the attention grabbing envelope was from an old Blue & White calendar page!
It all only serves to show that in these times of mass-produced sameness, a little odd, a little jolt of surprise, adds spice and amusement to an otherwise bland and unexciting horizon.

image010Have a look at some of the curious inhabitants of Blue & White

image012image014Selvedge edges of indigo fabric become magical balls of ribbon just waiting to be put to use by some imaginative sewer.  Here they support Washi necklaces of  random indigo patterns.  Part of the curiosity comes from not knowing what it is you are looking  at!

image016Small pins of indigo wih innocent little spectacles embroidered on by of As It Is Museum.
When I first met her at As It Is,  and complimented her on the one she had on, she gave it to me – a true Japanese trait of generosity.  Now she makes them for Blue & White.  Lucky!

image018In a cardboard whirl.  Splendiid  sculpted cardboard pin by Colleen Sakurai, The Cardboard Whisperer!

image020Amazing find at the Flea Market at Tomioka Hachiman  Shrine,(1st, 2ndnd and 4th Sundays in Monzen Nakacho on the Oedo subway line).  A contemporary BORO quilt of raggedy squares pieced together in a giant and enchanting and heavy whole!  The maker kindly lent it to me so I could show all who come to Blue & White the marvels and resourcefulness of Japanese artisans.  She didn’t know me.  She didn’t know the shop. But still she let me bring it to the shop for 2 weeks!  Curious and beautiful!  And uncommonly trusting.
Now in the window and for sale at the shop.

image022Colorful, fanciful bag by Special Ability artisans of Aomori prefecture introduced by Consummate weaver from Aomori, Osonae Nori san.

image024Close up of the BORO QUILT in the window for all the International Quilt Show visitors to enjoy.

image026Charming Otafuku creation from cut ends of tenugui, becomes a star player at Blue & White. With ingenuity, Susanna Wellenberg of Munich, puts to use whatever she finds and makes it into something charming and unexpected. Susanna is a long time faithful follower of the Blue & White cult.  Her inventive Sashiko transcends everything that is normal.  She takes it to a higher place.

image028Small Boro note books with pages of inverted copy paper mistakes.  Mottainai: Nothing wasted!  Everything has a use.

image031Voluptuous bag by NONOICHI SAN.  She takes stips of Tenugui and Yukata and knits them into a charming all purpose hand or shoulder bag.

image033Baby socks by NONOICHI san/  Every time she comes she brings a new surprise!  Something made with whimsy and love.

image035A perfect fit for BLUE & WHITE

Flower surprise!  Our irrepressible Hayasawa san works hard arranging and displaying the shop, entertaining customers. but on her days off, she takes long walks in cemeteries and abadoned lots and picks the unwanted weeds and flowers growing by the wayside.  Her arrangements are spontaneous collages of what she has found.  Finds that no flower shop could ever match.  For sale at the shop as a from the heart gift to a friend, or to bring home to brighten up your life.

image037Indigo swirls of the cut  selvedge edges  of material woven by Tsujimura Japan Blue Indigo workshop.

image039The end of our story of Blue & White Curiosities.  Otafuku from the rear? Mrs. Santa Claus?  Or simply a reminder to keep us from going into the fridge again!

image041That’s BLUE & WHITE.  CURIOUS INDEED!  Look for the BLUE & WHITE sandwich board at the top of the escalator in Azabu Juban.

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