Thursday, 30 May 2013

A trip to Kawagoe

A trip to Kawagoe is always fun, and on the 28th of each month, there is an antique market held at a local shrine there, with many juicy items to forage through. On Tuesday a group of us decided to head out there and see what we could find. I have learnt my lesson now and take a suitcase on wheels with me - sad but true! This enables me to stock up on lovely fabrics that I can use for my bags as well as for my design work. Needless to say, I came home with some amazing, inspiring pieces.

In the back streets of Kawagoe. Note the giant lady in red trousers pulling a tatty brown suitcase!

There were many groups of Japanese women dressed in kimono. The colours were beautifully soft.

A break on the main street for ginger ale.

Our bemused waiter.

I bought some lovely old furniture at the antique market and it is now happily ensconced under our hanging kimono. I'm wondering how well it's going to fit into a Victorian house in rainy London!

Monday, 27 May 2013

My super heroes

Ever since arriving in Japan I've been intrigued by the obsession some Japanese people have with dressing up their pets. Dogs are the most likely to get dressed up here (although I've seen a rabbit being pushed along in a buggy!) and I've seen many funny things, from a large Airedale in dungarees, to a small poodle in jeans and sunglasses. 

For a while now I've been meaning to embrace this obsession and get little outfits for Bob and Tom. The other day was their debut, although it didn't go quite as expected. First of all, I wanted super hero outfits for both of them, but all I could find was a Spiderman outfit.... and Pooh Bear! So Tom became Spiderman and Bob was Pooh. Needless to say, they weren't too happy being dressing up and paraded around, so after a quick photo session, the outfits came off.


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Hoki Museum

A trip to the Hoki Museum recently was a rather unique experience. It's a place I have wanted to go to for a while, but not had the opportunity until now. It's quite a hike out of Tokyo in Chiba and is an awesome, modern building, surrounded by suburban sprawl. The museum houses a private collection of realism paintings that seem out of context with their ultra modern surroundings, where many of them take inspiration from the great masters. It's not the type of painting I gravitate towards, but the execution of many of them was stunning and I loved the building!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Paper passion

Yesterday I went on a trip to a gorgeous book shop called Kakimori in Kuramae. It's an area I often go to to get clasps for my bags, but I had no idea there was an array of gorgeous little shops scattered around the neighbourhood. At this shop, you can make up your own notebook, choosing from an overwhelming selection of covers, papers, closures and binding.

This chart at the entrance to the shop shows you the process of how to chose the items to make up your notebook. 

There is an overwhelming selection of covers to choose from, from printed papers, to soft leather pieces, to pleasingly coloured linen covered board and all of them mix and match perfectly.

There is a selection of closures to choose from. These are coloured elastics that wrap around the book.

These closures have a thin leather strap that wraps around them to keep the book closed.

These ones have a popper and an option to have a pen holder in them too.

 I had a lot of fun trying out different combinations, but ended up with a pink leather front cover, sage green linen back cover and a slate blue leather popper closure. I also managed to pick up some inspiring printed papers that are used as envelope inserts. You can see them here.

Shabu shabu

And the feasting continues! On Monday night I went out for shabu shabu in Shibuya. Shabu shabu consists of dunking thinly sliced pieces of meat, along with vegetables etc into flavoured boiling water that sits on a burner at your table. It's a great social way of feasting and very tasty.

At the restaurant we went to, you can concoct your own dipping sauces using a massive array of ingredients that you mix together yourself.

The table is spread with a selection of thinly sliced meat and vegetables that you place into different boiling pots that sit on burners.

We had a selection of beef and pork that is cooked quickly in the boiling broth.

Monday, 20 May 2013


One of the things we have loved attending here in Japan is the twice yearly sumo tournaments. I'm afraid I know very little about the sport and even less about the individual players, but I love going to watch it and on sunday afternoon we trotted off to check it out.

The stadium is built especially for the sumo tournaments that are held twice a year. The audience at the front sit on cushions on the floor. It's a great view, but beware of flying sumo wrestlers!

Before each session, the ring is carefully manicured by a team of sweepers. One guy waters the sand with a watering can and then the sweepers come in and tidy it up.

The sumo wrestlers march single-file into the arena, wearing their special 'aprons'.

Each wrestler has his name called out as he steps up in the ring. It's an amazing sight to see them standing proudly. Once all of them are in the ring, they ceremonially lift their 'apron', clap and raise their hands in the air before filing off. Then the games begin.

There is a lot of drama before each match, with thigh slapping, leg lifting and salt throwing. Note the referee to the right. I love his decorative robes.

The salt is held in a basket in each corner, along with a bucket of water and towel. The wrestlers grab a handful of salt and throw it across the ring. Some of them make it into quite a dramatic gesture, which is a bit of a crowd-pleaser.

I love the leg-lifting and thigh-slapping. We have tried doing this action (in the privacy of our own home), and it's really hard to do!

Once the sumo has done his grand gestures and is ready to go, the fists are placed on the ground to show that they are ready and the match suddenly shoots into action.

The loser is the first one to step outside the ring, or to fall to the ground. Most matches are over with in the first few seconds, but some good ones go on for much longer, which is very exciting.

Morning tea Japanese-style

I'm embarrassed to say that in the four years I have been in Tokyo, I have never been to a Japanese tea ceremony. When I was at the kimono event last tuesday, I was able to watch a woman do a tea ceremony demonstration and I loved it. So I decided to go along to one on sunday morning, held at a special traditional Japanese house used specifically for tea ceremonies.

The charcoal for heating the water is carefully selected and configured in a pre-determined arrangement.

The hot charcoals are then placed in an earthenware pot.

The teapot is placed over the heated charcoal which sits in a bed of ash designed to look like sand dunes. The theme of the month was bamboo, and the water pot to the right depicts a bamboo forest.

As each attendee comes into the room, they kneel at the door of the tea room, bow and then slide forward on their knees, with their fan placed on the mat in front of them. They make their way to the arrangement at the front of the room and bow to it. This month's theme was bamboo, so the flower pot to the left was a bamboo pot.

The attendees kneel on the tatami mat floor in front of the server. 
Note the little red block behind them - that was for me to place my bottom on!

The server then goes through the motions of preparing the tea. It is beautiful to watch. Note the teacher behind, watching what she does. There is so much to remember and the teacher was there to remind her what to do.

Before the tea is served, Japanese sweets are served to counteract the bitterness of the green tea. These were in the shape of leaves with a bean paste centre and dealt out using bamboo chopsticks. We each took it in turn to take a piece and bow to the server as we did, followed by an appreciation to her of the sweet we were eating. This was followed by a thick green tea. We took it in turns to drink from the same bowl. Afterwards, we had to show our appreciation of the tea, the bowl and cloth that the tea was served on.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Monk lunch

Yesterday we went for a rather special lunch out in the country. It was a beautiful day and our friend Tatsuya had arranged for a group of us to go out to a Buddhist temple called Takedera in Saitama, to sample shojin ryouri or monk lunch as I call it! It is a strict vegetarian menu prepared by Buddhist monks who are not allowed to eat meat due to religious beliefs. The temple is only open to visitors in spring and autumn, where seasonal vegetables are prepared and served on utensils made of bamboo.

I have to say, I was not sure what to expect, but it was a really special day! The walk up to the temple is beautiful and surrounded by trees and streams. As you get closer, you wind your way through a bamboo forest, before arriving in a little haven of serenity. We ate our lunch sitting on tatami mats in a room overlooking the grounds and a wonderful old Buddhist priest talked us through each dish, which was prepared using plants, leaves and vegetables found locally.

The walk up to the temple through a bamboo forest.

The grounds of the temple were stunning.

We sat at a long table and the priest explained each dish to us in Japanese.

Each table setting had an amazing array of food and untensils.

Leaf tempura, including dandelion leaves and blossom leaves!

Sake was served in a bamboo spout and then rested against a bamboo trunk in the centre of the table.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Friday night sukiyaki

It is now countdown time to our departure from Japan at the end of June and along with trying kimono dressing and indigo dyeing, we also want to make the most of all the good food on offer. Last night's food adventure involved sukiyaki, a Japanese stew-type dish served in a hot pot.

We each got given a two-tiered wooden box with vegetables on the top and very thinly sliced meat underneath.

A heavy metal pot is brought out with a candy floss-type substance in the middle. It is placed on the burner at your table and slowly heated in soy sauce.

The meat is placed on top of the sugary substance, and as the soy sauce heats up, the sugary substance melts into the soy sauce creating a divinely syrupy mixture.

The meat cooks very quickly and can then be scooped up, dipped in raw egg (yes, I was very dubious about this, but it was very tasty) and then scoffed! It was absolutely divine!

Indigo day

On Wednesday I was very lucky to have the opportunity to learn indigo dyeing from an indigo master! It was organized through a Canadian man called Bryan who has lived in Japan for many years and became passionate about indigo soon after he came here. He has his own classes at his home, but also knows of a sixth generation indigo dyer, and it was his workshop that we went to for the day. 
What an amazing experience!

We met Bryan and some of his pupils at Hachioji station, and then we all got the bus to a very old house, where the guru prints and dyes his kimono lengths.

 Apparently he is only allowed to continue dyeing if he keeps the house in its original state, hence the rather ramshackle feel. But it was so wonderful being there and experiencing a centuries old technique.

 The resist that is used is a yellow paste that is mixed with a red bean paste so that is shows up on the white fabric when printed through the stencil. The cut paper stencil has a thin netting placed over it to enable the paste to go through the stencil more easily. The paper is coated in a black substance to strengthen it. This stencil was beautifully intricate.

The stencil is then placed on the flattened fabric (which is attached to a wooden board with glue) and the mixed paste is then placed on the stencil with the net facing up. The printer then scrapes the paste evenly across the stencil so that it goes through it and onto the fabric. The printer matches up the design perfectly as he works his way down the fabric. What you see here on the right is the red design. This is the paste and it acts as the resist so that when the fabric is dyed, the design will remain white.

 We then had a chance to choose a pre-made stencil and print our own resist, which the guru helped us to do.

I chose a stylised parasol design. You can see the stencil on the left and my printed paste on the right. The stencil has to be wet first, to make applying the paste easier.

The wooden boards are then brought out into the sun to dry.

Once the paste is dry, we removed the fabric from the boards, dipped them in water and then dipped them into the indigo vats (which are made of clay) for two minutes at a time. You can dip the fabric up to four of five times. The more times the fabric is dipped, the darker it becomes.

The fabric is then washed and scrubbed gently with a brush to remove the paste. It is then hung on a line and dried in the sun and here is my finished result! Three pieces which I am really happy with. I am now looking forward to making them into clutch bags.