May 31,2013

i thought you might enjoy this-

i’ve said this before but the Japanese have bathrooms down to a science.  this one was especially good.  lights, music, automation.  everything was motion detector triggered. even the underwater light inside the toilet bowl. mine played classical music while some of the other rooms had bird chirping overhead.

this was the hotel in the Yamanashi 5 lakes region. the view of Mt Fuji was spectacular.  the lake in front of the hotel was Lake Kawaguchi. we moved here from the town of Inaka to be closer to the next day’s visit to the indigo dyer Fumiko Satou and the Ichiku Kubota Museum.  this was also a resort type hotel with baths.  the bath was on the roof of the hotel-indoor and outdoor with stunning views of Fuji san and the lake.  the moon was out above as we bathed outside in the cool night air.  the next morning before leaving, we all walked around the lakeside and many memorable photos were taken-

fuji san upon arriving

fuji san upon arriving

morning view out our windows

morning view out our windows

a couple of the gals taking photos from their balconies. who could resist?

a couple of the gals taking photos from their balconies. who could resist?

old hidden stone staircase

old hidden stone staircase

small shrine appears at the top

small shrine appears at the top

a view for the gods and the ancestors!

a view for the gods and the ancestors!

Have just arrived in Nagoya with Phil and we will meet Richard in a little bit.  He had a quick meeting with a TV show to discuss a rare historical find tht will appear on a program here that is the equivalent of our Antiques Road Show.  Kinda cool!

 

Tomorrow is the Arimatsu Shibori Festival and we set up at 8 AM.  I’m a little nervous about this one!

じゃまた!

May 25, 2013-Sericulture farm visit part one

Today’s first post covers the visit to the silk farmer and sericulturist Koyata san.  Koyata san is in his early to mid 90’s at this point and this is our third visit with him at his house and cocoonery.  Although he is 4 years older now than when I first met him he remains the same- maybe it is the steep uphill climb to his family shrine and graveyard nearby that keeps him so fit in addition to the daily chores of silkworm rearing he continues to do.  These days, he does get some help from the Tama Silk Life 21 group that preserves traditional silk techniques, history and intellectual property through education, practice and exhibitions.  It is difficult and sad to see so much disappearing before our very eyes.

Koyata san and Okonoge sensei

Koyata san and Okonoge sensei

Upon our arrival we were greeted as the bus pulled up by a group of volunteers from the Tama Silk Life 21 group who were here for the day to help educate us on silk sericulture.  We have met them before and they are very happy to see our interest in what they are doing.  It has become increasingly difficult to interest the younger generation in sericulture and it’s important place in the history of Japan.

We began with a visit into the cocoonery- where the kaiko (silkworms) are raised-

cocoon house

cocoon house

 

Noriko explains the process in English

Noriko explains the process in English

The white powder you see is lime- it helps keep the silkworms dry as they shed their skins and move into the next instar.

3rd instar kaiko

3rd instar kaiko

inbetween instars, they take a rest from eating and look like they are in a “praying pose”.

Once they have shed their skins, they will become ravenous and the 4th and 5th instars are a very busy time with all the feeding that takes place.  Much mulberry leaf is eaten!

Moving on- we learn to reel silk cocoons-

Sensei gives us the reeling demonstration

Sensei gives us the reeling demonstration

the whole reeling set up

the whole reeling set up

Sue reels and is amazed! Gambate Sue!

Sue reels and is amazed! Gambate Sue!

hands that know teach hands that learn...

hands that know teach hands that learn…

Here, we begin to learn about the cocoon and the pupae inside.

then we learn to spread the cocoons into mawata-or as we call it silk hankies.

I make mawata- everyone got a turn here.

I make mawata- everyone got a turn here.

then, we learned to take the cocoons and spread them into a lofty quilt bat.  Quite an amazing process.

mawata spreading 1

mawata spreading 1

mawata spreading 2

mawata spreading 2

mawata spreading 3

mawata spreading 3

Repeating this about 100 times a silk quilt bat was made and inserted into a cotton cover which was then tied and stitched closed.

tying and stitching- the finishing touches

tying and stitching- the finishing touches

Seems I will have to conclude this post in part two- my internet connection here is about to end as I have to travel to Shibuya this morning.  Will conclude the visit and also show you the fabulous visit to the Amuse Museum where the boro exhibit is located.

a little preview…

donja

donja

shibori and sashiko

shibori and sashiko

May 20, 2013

gall and cedar materials gathered locally for dyeing

gall and cedar materials gathered locally for dyeing

So back to the studio of Yamazaki sensei and a brief workshop on natural dyeing on Gunma silk.  The two dyes that were prepared for us were  gall nut and cedar.  Both were collected from the immediate area at the height of their season or at the best point of collection for optimal dyeing results. The gall nut results when insects bore into the woody part of the tree (these were oak galls I believe).  The tree responds in defense by extruding a tannin rich nut around the insect eggs.  These galls(nuts) are then collected for use in making a dye liquor after removing insects from inside.  Yamazaki sensei stores these galls in the freezer for later use.  The gall liquor was mordanted with iron to produce a grey/purple color.  The cedar was collected across the road from the studio and steeped in water to extract the  color.  It was then left overnight to oxidize, changing from a yellow to a brownish liquor.  When treated with an aluminum mordant the cedar produced a soft orange color on silk.

A few photos-

Yamazaki sensei explains

Yamazaki sensei explains

The gall nuts are opened and the grey-ish powder inside (insect eggs) is removed.

3 containers-dye, rinse, and mordant

3 containers-dye, rinse, and mordant

It takes many dips into the dye to build the color-rinsing and mordanting each time.

the group at work

the group at work

they were all set up for us and a group of women we had previously worked with came to assist.

drying in the wind

drying in the wind

the resulting colors

cedar dyed and the cedar trees in the background

cedar dyed and the cedar trees in the background

After looking over his work and the opportunity to make a purchase, we were served tea and chestnut sweets followed by a short trip to a local restaurant with a spectacular sweeping rooftop view of the area.  The women who had assisted us came and we were able to talk and see some of their work over a lovely lunch.  Omiyage were exchanged and we said our goodbyes.

rooftop view

rooftop view

 

silk panel

silk panel

 

omiyage- a silk pouch with a sewing kit and silk cocoon flowers

omiyage- a silk pouch with a sewing kit and silk cocoon flowers

We are still on the Ginza but today I will take a group to Asakusa and the Amuse Museum to see their collection of boro, sashiko, and ukiyoe.

じゃまた!

May 19, 2013

Two days ago we visited the Tomioka Silk Mill.  This is the only remaining silk mill of the Meiji period that remains today in almost perfect condition. It has been carefully preserved-not restored.  It was during the Meiji restoration that the Japanese government pioneered the modernization of silk filature in order to improve the quality and production of silk in Japan.  Like I said the other day- silk had a very large role in the modernization of Japan in general and many famous companies can trace their roots to fortunes made in the export of this valued commodity.

tomioka

 

The French who were commissioned to build and supervise the Tomioka Mill brought with them engineers and instructors to teach the Japanese how to operate the modern reeling equipment. The building began in 1871 and was completed in 1872.  This was quite a feat considering the size and number of buildings on the site not to mention the architecture employed.  The site was chosen because of the access to  water (nearby river), coal (to power steam engines), and the ability to produce mass quantities of cocoons locally.

Tomioka Silk Mill-one of two buildings for cocoon storage

Tomioka Silk Mill-one of two buildings for cocoon storage

 

Site Map

Site Map

The site included buildings for cocoon storage, cocoon drying, reeling, dormitories for the workers as well as housing for the French.  The reeling mill employed girls in vast numbers-

mill workers

mill workers

Working conditions for the women were quite good- they worked for 7 hours and 45 minutes per day and had Sundays off.  Their housing was provided and they had access to an on site doctor and health clinic.  In the beginning, the story goes that they had a hard time recruiting workers as it was thought that the foreigners drank blood -the French men had been seen drinking wine and the Japanese had not ever seen wine before.  Eventually though, the Japanese head manager hired his daughter to work in the mill to encourage more workers to apply and the issue resolved itself.

It is a fascinating site in near perfect condition that has withstood many earthquakes in the over 140 years of it’s existence. They are trying to establish it as a World Heritage Site but have yet to achieve this goal.  As one of the participants noted however, this status is not all it’s cracked up to be as many restrictions and rules are applied that have become problematic at other WH sites.

A few more photos-

Cocoon storage at Usui

Cocoon storage at Usui

We next visited the Kiryu Textiles Weavers Cooperative Association.  This was a first time for the tour to visit here as it is a new facility.  Mainly, it houses offices in support of the local weaving and associated textile trades but they have a fantastic display here of examples of very high quality local textiles both new and old. The displays were some of the best I have seen.  Photographs were not allowed but we were allowed to photograph some sample textiles on one wall.  Two in particular caught my attention- you saw one already and it still has me wondering-

again, how this was achieved i don't know or understand.

again, how this was achieved i don’t know or understand.

 

combined shibori techniques

combined shibori techniques

As is customary, often small gifts are given as a thank you for any small kindness.  I had prepared the tour participants in advance and they came well prepared.  Even on the airplane one of the gals was seated next to a Japanese woman who had very limited English but almost immediately gave a small gift to Lisa.  Lisa then rushed up to where I was sitting and was asking how to say something in Japanese to explain the gift she was giving in return.  Later she told me that she was glad I had prepared them so well.  She hardly expected to need omiyage on the plane ride over! But that is how it is- you just don’t know and it’s best to be prepared.

Upon leaving the Usui filature mill and giving the manager a gift as a thank you for his time he in return gave me this:

white chocolate silkworm on a green tea chocolate mulberry leaf!!

white chocolate silkworm on a green tea chocolate mulberry leaf!!

now how cool is that? Only at a filature mill will you find this….

next post- a visit to the studio of the younger Yamazaki sensei- his father is considered a living master of kusaki zome and the tradition continues in his studio today.  He is not only an accomplished kusaki zome dyer but also is well known for his katazome- all dyed with natural local seasonal plant materials.

Yamazaki Sensei and his katazome

Yamazaki Sensei and his katazome

 

May 17, 2013

wow. what busy past couple of days here. yesterday’s visit to the filature mill was quite amazing. like one of the gals told me ” I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it and even though I have I still don’t quite believe it!”

the process of automatic filature (silk cocoon reeling) is quite a feat of mechanical engineering. many of todays Japanese car makers got their start designing, manufacturing and exporting filature machinery.
here is a small view of the process:

I think I will have to add to this later as I am fading out. midnight here and must get some sleep.

20130517-233702.jpg
this silk is from the outside of the cocoons and reeled off into a very rough yarn. it will be further processed before it can be used. I love the way it looks here.

20130517-234224.jpg
a lovely lunch of cold buckwheat noodles.

20130517-234549.jpg

silk factory workers doing morning exercises ( mid 1800’s) -over time, automatic reeling machines increased silk production one hundred fold in addition to raising the quality and consistency of the raw silk. many important Japanese companies can trace their beginnings back to fortunes made in the silk industry.