Ohara Kobo Dye Studio

Judy at the dye potWhile we were in Ohara, we got to spend some time at Ohara Kobo Dye Studio. In fact, we got to select a silk scarf and dye it in the dye baths of our choosing. They used only natural dyes in their dye baths. Tannin from the bark of trees turns brown. Yellow flowers contain flavonoid to make the yellows. Blues come from the indigo plants. The stem from the red root makes madder or red.

Scarf - full size - reducedMy orange scarf was reminiscent of the koi that we had just seen at the koi farm, and the dyer said it reminded him of ancient silk fabric. Here’s my sister, Judy, dipping her scarf in the dye pot. Right over the dye pots, there was a nest of swallows sitting on a couple of eggs and taking turns going out to eat. The artists/owners of the dye studio gave us some samples of the threads that they dyed.

Japan Art Tour – Jakko-in Temple

Family FarmOur day in Ohara was such a joy. Seeing the immaculate farms and homes was amazing. There is a lot more room than in a big city like Kyoto, so the family homes are much more spacious and the yards are immaculate, just like in Kyoto. Every farm has a rice paddy on it, too.

In the town of Ohara, we visited a small but beautiful temple called the Jakko-in. It is a temple (nunnery) for women built by women. There is an interesting story about this temple. It is known for harboring Lady Kenrai Mon-in of the Taira clan. In 1185, the Taira were defeated by the Minamoto in a sea battle at Dan-no-ura. The Taira were all slaughtered or drowned, except for Lady Kenrei Mon-in and her infant. Lady Kenrei Mon-in threw herself and her infant into the sea. She was saved by the villagers and returned to Kyoto, where she became a nun and lived in a hut. When her hut collapsed in an earthquake, she decided to leave Kyoto and was accepted into the Jakko-in Temple, where she died 27 years later.

Steps to Jakko-in nunneryJakko-in Temple

Japan Art Tour – Koi Farm

Koi SignI love to paint koi. So when we went on a trip to the quaint country village of Ohara, Japan, I was delighted that we were going to visit a Koi farm. The farm was located on the side of the hill and used the water from the mountain streams. The water was crystal-clear. The fish were the brightest colors I have ever seen in a koi. They were like neon colors, glowing in the sunlight. They can sell for as much as $100,000, depending on the color and size of the fish.

The farmer, who inherited the koi farm from his father, waited to feed his koi until we got there. The fish became a swirling mass of neon. Between December and April, the koi are not fed at all. But between May and November, they are fed 3 times per day. The largest orange and white koi would eat out of the farmer’s hand; his name was Nemo.

When we left the koi farm, the owner, his wife, and young son waved at us until we were out of sight. This is their custom, and all of our Japanese hosts did the same.

Neon NishikigoiSwarming Fish

Trip to Japan – Maruni Karakami Wood Block Printing

Printer at work - reducedThe variety of studios that we got to visit while in Japan was amazing. One place we visited was Maruni Karakami, which was a combination of a studio and retail store. They make wood block designs on washi paper (karakami) and then glue the paper onto sliding door panels. They have been in business for over 100 years. We watched one of their craftsman print a wood block design onto a piece of paper that was over 8 feet long. The wood blocks were much smaller (about 12” x 18”), so he had to align the paper to ensure that the repeats align perfectly. It was impressive to watch him work on this large sheet of paper. He was fast and accurate. This photo shows him applying the paint to the wood block prior to draping the paper over the wood block. Afterwards, the paper is glued to the sliding door panels, using glue that is made from funatori seaweed. Wood Block Print - reduced

Yuzuki Kimono Shop

Fran Skiles being draped in kimono fabric-reducedAnother stop along our tour of Japan was the Yuzuki Kimono Shop in one of the geisha districts of Kyoto. As you probably know, the kimono is the traditional clothing for the Japanese. The shop manager, Kondo-san, gave us a brief history on the fabric used in kimono. She kept pulling out fabric from every drawer in her bureaus, talking about where the silk is from and how it is woven. In Japan, the silk is only made in the Guma Prefecture, but she said the best silk is now coming out of Brazil. She took one of our tour members, Fran Skiles, and demonstrated how she would drape the silk over a potential buyer to show them what a particular fabric would look like. Here is a photo of Fran, who is also an art quilt textile artist, being draped with kimono fabric. It was so much fun to watch the shop ladies work.

Japan Art Tour – Yasushi Noguchi

Yasushi NoguchiAs I mentioned in an earlier blog, my sister Judy, friend Kay, and I were able to go on a 10-day textile art tour of Kyoto, Japan. It was an extraordinary trip run by Esprit Travel Tours. We only had 14 people on the tour plus 2 tour guides/translators. We visited many amazing artists working in textiles and other mediums as well. I feel truly privileged to have been able to visit their homes/studios to see how they work and what inspires them. I will try to provide information on some of them in this and subsequent blogs. Everyone of them was so proud of what they do and was eager to share their knowledge with us. Many were from families where multiple generations created these art forms.

Goldleaf strandsThe first artist I want to introduce is Yasushi Noguchi, a fifth generation gold leaf artist. He explained to us that the gold threads used in fine kimono and obi are actually made from paper. That was a major surprise for me. The first step in the process is to apply lacquer to washi paper. Then the extremely thin gold leaf sheets are applied on top of the lacquer. Then the paper goes to someone who cuts it into thin strips (right). There are approximately 70 cuts made in 2 feet of the gold-leafed washi paper. These strips may be thin, but they are extremely strong and are then used in the weaving of the silks where gold is required.

Textile Tour of Kyoto – Omiyage

I am so excited. My sister Judy, friend Kay, and I are going to Kyoto, Japan for a 10-day textile tour. We leave in the middle of May. We will be visiting the studios of textile artists, as well as other types of artists. We will also visit temples, gardens, palaces, festivals and other sites, including the annual geisha dance performance. This should be an amazing experience.

Cardholders-3One of the customs in Japan is to thank the host by giving small gifts, or omiyage. (Thank you, Emi, for the spelling!) Another important part of their culture is the exchange of business cards to identify who you are and what you do. So I got this idea to make small business card holders out of fabric that I have created through dyeing, painting, silk-screening, stamping or fusing. It just so happens that credit cards are the same size and also fit in these little cardholders. They are heavily quilted and close securely with Velcro dots. Here’s a photo of some the cardholders. I sure hope they will be acceptable.