Friday, October 14, 2016

Wherein we try something new

Wanting to step off the well worn path of Kyoto tourism going from temple to shrine to garden, rinse repeat, we decided to try our hand at some traditional crafts.

While looking thru the activities page in one of the dozens of leaflets, pamphlets and the local tourism magazine we happened across Yamamoto Roketsu dyeing.  Which is painting with liquid wax onto a piece of cloth and then dying it.  The technique sounded intriguing and we made a reservation for the next day.

The studio was within walking distance, so with map in hand we strike out.  We walk by the park, with confidence in our steps we turn left and walk down the street, only to go to the next block and the studio was not in sight.

We turned around and hauled out the map again and stepped into one of the two parking spots of a business to discuss where we went wrong.  And a lady popped out the front door and hurried over.  My first thought was that she was upset we were clogging up her front parking spot, but no she wanted to help.  After showing her what we were wanting, she took off at a RUN! down the block around the corner and then pointing to where we needed to go.  And sure enough, right where she had motioned to us, was the dyeing studio.  Throughout our bumbling wandering trip in Japan everyone has attempted to help us whenever we were lost.  Once without even asking for help a young fella told us we were waiting for the wrong bus number.  He had overheard us trying to remember what the kanji for Kyoto Station was, and pointed it out to us!

So, we get to the studio, go in and sing out, "Konnichiwa!"  Only to realize that we were a full 20 minutes early, eek!  The owner and his mum live above the studio and I know we caught them unawares and unready for us.  But they were delightful and welcoming and the lesson began.

The hardest part for me was choosing a design, Greg had already picked out from the samples on their webpage what he wanted to do, a tiger.  Me?  I faffed about between a boat,  Mt. Fuji, some adorable bunnies, flowers and then I saw the dragons, and settled.

They gave us a practice piece of fabric and explained how to do the outlines and shading using simple English phrases, "one, two, three" "here, here, here".  But even with minimal English and our nearly non-existent Japanese we managed to understand each other.

And the painting began!  The design is lit from beneath by a light under a glass top, then a piece of wax paper is put over the design and then the fabric.  Pick up the brush, dip it in the hot wax and begin to trace over the design.  It took longer than we thought to outline the projects and then go back over areas for shading.  I heard a lot of "koko" while Mum pointed at various spots on my cloth.  Turns out "koko" means here or this place.  Mum took pity upon Greg a few times and took his brush and helped him out on the tricky bits of the tiger.  That tiger was super tricky and had loads of bits and spots to outline and shade and whew!! 

Just when we thought we were done, Mum comes back and turns out cloth pieces over and again points out, "one, two, three, koko".   So we paint some more and more and finally this time for real we are done.  Then Son comes in and leads us to the other part of the studio giving us rubber boots and aprons and gloves with sleeve protectors.  Son dips the clothes into clear cold water and then opens a box that has a very interesting blue top on, and then he picks up a stirring stick and sploosh it wasn't a box but a deep vat of blue dye!  We were amazed.  So in go our masterpieces, Son hands me the "stick that floats" and tells me to stir, "slow, slow" for 10 minutes. 

After the 10 minutes are up he pulls them out of the dye, and puts them in a pot of boiling water, and stirs for a few minutes, and then into a pot of boiling soapy water.  Son pulls them out, lets them dry for a few minutes and then we iron them dry.  We were amazed at our artwork.

On the strength of our dyeing success I decided to try weaving.  Greg didn't want to, but was happy to tag along.    Nishijin neighborhood traditionally housed the weavers that clothed the royal court, the courtiers and noblemen.  When Tokugawa moved the capital to what is now Tokyo the area shrank and many of them packed up and followed the court.  But enough of them stayed and through the ages they modernized their equipment and the weaving continued.  At the Nishijin Textile Center you can see a 10 minute kimono fashion show,

look at unbelievable pieces of woven fabric that we weren't allowed to take photos of, damn it!  And two shopping areas, one featuring silk ties of the most amazing beauty, and many silk items for women, at prices to enormous to believe.  A wee coin purse for 300!  One floor up were items more within our price point and the weaving studio.

I was the only one taking the class that day, and its on the edge of the sales floor, so when folks browse the merchandise they can stop and watch the students.  Shoes off to work the pedals and the shuttle was firmly placed into my right hand, a pat on my right knee and class began.  There are 900, 582.6 things to do at once!  Hold the shuttle like this, pull out this amount of yarn, place your thumb over the hole where the exits the shuttle, jerk the shuttle like this, pull the beater handtree three times this hard.  Switch hands and feet and attempt to repeat all previous steps.  Suddenly, I had a new teacher and she had me "unweave" most of what I had done, and walked me through the steps again, and again and again, until finally it slowly began sinking in.  Two hours later I had made a 100% Japanese silk scarf.  And I was exhausted, rather than sitting on me bum for 2 straight hours it felt as if I had climbed a mountain!  Who knew weaving was that much of a work out?

Now I was so focused upon trying to remember all the many steps and get a product that made Sensei happy I turned off my attention to what was going on around me.  Turns out that I was quite the center of attention!  One fella even moved the bamboo divider to come stand behind me so his family could get a photo of him with me weaving!  Sensei chased him out from behind the divider with a flea in his ear!  But even with him being shooed from the loom area and into the watching area, many people asked Greg if they could snap my picture.  I guess seeing someone weave is amazing?  No clue.  

The finished scarf



  1. This is amazing. This is the side of Japan I always thought existed, but that I never saw. Thanks so much for sharing the experience! Was Greg in the fashion show?

  2. Wow - what an amazing day!! I would have chosen the tiger as well - my absolute favorite animal. Your dragons and tiger, and your scarf, are absolutely beautiful!!!
    Do many people speak English? Does Greg stand out, being a tad taller than the average Japanese men, I'm guessing?

  3. I was in desperate need to catch up on your trip posts. Loving the pictures and the recounting + explanations! Please keep them coming and I can't wait to chat with you when you come back from your amazing adventure!

  4. If (when) Corey and I go to Japan, I absolutely want to go and get crafty! These are beautiful!