I’ve just returned from a fascinating study tour exploring Japanese textiles as well as having a taste of ancient and modern Japanese culture. We travelled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Arimatsu, and Kanazawa as well as the world heritage site of Miyamachokita and visited the workshops of experts in stencil printing, various types of shibori dyeing, ikat weaving, indigo dyeing, and yuzen fabric painting. Many of these experts have been designated national living treasures and they were all the third or fourth generation of their family to continue their particular traditional technique. Their expertise and attention to detail was astounding.
As well as visiting the ateliers of those master craftsmen, we also visited modern galleries and shops which exhibited and sold contemporary textiles. In Tokyo we visited Reiko Sudo’s stylish Nuno shop. Reiko showed us some beautiful textiles and many of us bought scarves and socks. In Kyoto we were met by Keiko Kawashima who had organised some fascinating opportunities for us including a visit to her own gallery GalleryGallery to see an exhibition of the work of Yasuko Fujino and hear an impromptu talk by Chiyoko Tanaka about her work. It was fascinating to hear how both of them approach their weaving practice.
We also visited an exhibition of student textile work and a stunning display of different textiles in the Hosoo Gallery (image above). It was interesting to see how many of the traditional textile producers are developing new markets for their work as the use of textiles for kimonos is declining. The decline in the use of kimono was evident in the shops selling secondhand kimonos, jackets and obis, but all provided wonderful buying opportunities for those of us interested in textiles. One place where we did see families wearing kimonos was at a the Hiejinja shrine in Tokyo where there was a celebration of children aged 7, 5 and 3 years of age, all dressed traditionally and having their photos taken. That was just one of the lovely shrines and temples we visited during our trip.
We also managed to fit in some interesting museum visits including those dedicated to indigo, shibori, weaving and gold leaf. Visiting the Miho Museum proved to be an experience as its position in the countryside among trees and streams and the fact it is situated on a split site, which involves entering it through a tunnel and walkway, made it seem like a pilgrimage. Once there the exhibits were beautifully displayed in the tranquil contemporary setting and there was an interesting exhibition of Bizen ceramics. In contrast, our final day was spent at the Teamlab digital exhibition in Tokyo (image above) which was an immersive light and sound experience – magical in its own way, which highlighted the combination of ancient and modern that is today’s Japan.