Travelling with a craft addiction: Japan

I unashamedly love Japan. Many years ago, I lived and worked for several years in Tokyo for an American company, and I had a wonderful time. I love Japan’s politeness, its safety, its quirkiness and its traditions. I love its food, its history, its culture, its gardens, its countryside and its cities. I love how taxis have lace curtains and toilets need instruction manuals. I love Japanese customer service. I love how even though I speak the language (enough for everyday life), I still have a lot more to learn about the country.

My husband and I recently spent a fortnight travelling around Japan with a Japan Rail Pass, and I made a few craft-related purchases along the way.

Books

We were walking back to our hotel after dinner in Kobe one night, and I noticed a bookshop still open in the basement of our hotel building. I sent my husband back to our room, and I went browsing until the security guard politely told me it was closing time at 9 pm. I was in my Japanese zone – in Japan, it is acceptable to stand in the convenience store or bookstore reading all the magazines while you decide whether any are worth buying.

Simple Patchwork for Beginners by Kunie Yamazaki(シンプルなパッチワーク、やまざきくにえ)and やさしい和の布こもの、通信社

I bought two Japanese sewing books from the bookstore in the basement of our Kobe hotel.

I had no luck finding copies of Quilts Japan (キルトジャパン) or Patchwork Tsushin (パッチワーク通信), but I found these two books in the clearance section for a fraction more than $5 each. I doubt I will ever need a quilt pattern again, I have so many, but I love making small things, and these books have lots of ideas for small hand-made gifts, such as slippers, bags, book covers and coasters. With these weighing down my suitcase, I stopped looking for the magazines.

やさしい和の布こもの、通信社

This book is full of Japanese-style small projects, perfect for gifts.

Simple Patchwork for Beginners by Kunie Yamazaki(シンプルなパッチワーク、やまざきくにえ)

I bought this book for its beautiful and feminine fabric choices.

Sewing kits

We were in Kanazawa, admiring Kenrokuen (兼六園), one of Japan’s famous beautiful gardens. Within the garden is a museum that displays the region’s traditional products and crafts, the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts. The museum is well worth a visit, and in the little gift shop on the way out I found these: a tiny sewing kit in a wooden box and a well-crafted pair of thread snips. The sewing kit was too dinky and cute to resist!

Japanese sewing kit and thread snips

The paper parcel is sewing needles, and the tiny snips are held in place by a magnet in the lid. The little wooden sewing kit is only 2 inches across! Does that help give a sense of scale?

As Japan is a country famed for its knives, I am confident these snips will be good.

Vintage fabrics and scraps

I never knew that the town of Takayama in Gifu prefecture (also known as Hida-Takayama to avoid confusion with other places named Takayama) had so much crafty temptation. We visited the town as it is famous for its old quarter and because I knew the mountain scenery on the way would be lovely. A section of Takayama retains traditional wooden buildings, and it is a part of Japan I had not previously visited.

In the old part of town, a number of shops sell locally made clothes, bags and other fabric items. They also sell bundles of scraps (hagire or はぎれ). Hurrah!

My first purchase in Takayama was from Odori-ya (小鳥屋 ). These scrap bundles were only ¥800 for the large and ¥300 for the small, the equivalent of roughly $8 and $3. The lovely shopkeeper ran out the back and scooped up a few more scraps for me when I started chatting in Japanese.

Japanese cotton scrap bundles from Odori-ya, Takayama (小鳥屋, 高山市 )

In a corner of a shop in Takayama, I found scrap bundles – the leftovers from making the clothes and bags sold in the shop.

Warabe Mingei (わらべ民芸), also in the old part of Takayama, is a shop in which an elderly chap was working on a loom and weaving strips of old silk kimonos into new fabric. The fabric he made had a lovely texture and beautiful designs. His shop sold a variety of fabric goods, including bags dyed with the natural by-products of sake production. I bought some silk scraps, and I was very excited to see both genuine hand-tied shibori and silk scraps from men’s kimonos. (An Australian website, Mingei Store House, explains well the spirit of mingei, the idea of preserving Japanese traditional crafts.)

"Scrap

Back in Tokyo, I visited an old haunt. My office was near Omotesando-doori, between Harajuku and Omotesando stations, and I used to love browsing in a recycled kimono shop just a few blocks from work, near a few of my favourite lunch spots. Almost two decades later, Gallery Kawano (ギャラリー川野) is still there. If you are on Omotesando-doori, turn down the side street next to the Apple store (on the Harajuku end of the Apple building). Walk straight ahead until the T-junction (good soba restaurant here), turn left and then immediately right, and you will find Gallery Kawano on the right-hand side. This shop sells vintage kimonos. You can buy a kimono to wear or display, or pieces of kimono fabric to use in sewing projects. It is open from 11 am until 6 pm. They also have a store in Yanagawa, Fukuoka.

I had promised my husband I would not linger. I would only have a very quick look. I could have spent all afternoon there, but I just quickly popped my head in, grabbed a business card and a scrap bag and popped out.

silk kimono scraps

This little bag, crammed full of silk kimono scraps, came from Gallery Kawano (ギャラリー川野), in Tokyo, near Omotesando-doori.

If you are in the area and like tonkatsu, look for the signs pointing to Maisen (まい泉), a little further from the main road. Shopping is hungry work.

Across on the other side of Omotesando-doori, towards Harajuku station, is Oriental Bazaar. They also sell recycled kimonos upstairs and are a great one-stop shop for quality souvenirs. They do not sell fabric scraps, however, and I find it next to impossible to cut up an intact kimono.

New fabrics and notions

The reason I could not linger in Gallery Kawano is that the afternoon before I had dragged my husband and a Japanese friend (my bridesmaid) to Yuzawaya (ユザワヤ) on the eleventh floor of the Takashimaya department store in Shinjuku. Yuzawaya has much bigger stores, but this one was conveniently located for us.

Visiting Yuzawaya took a little longer than I expected. Even their small store is packed full of stock. I did not anticipate the choice overload or the queues. I suspect that everyone was shopping that day as it was a Saturday afternoon and heavy rain and a typhoon were forecast for the next few days. The queue to the fabric cutting table was at least 20 people long and then, once the fabric was cut, the queue to pay was just as long again.

I do not think it is normally that hectic, but if you go to Yuzawaya, I suggest you visit on a quieter weekday and leave your husband and other travelling companions somewhere safe, perhaps somewhere with beer or coffee or both. I was stressed about them getting bored, and I rushed. I did not admire the amazing range as it deserved. I know there was stuff in there I did not see. I saw a lady with a beautiful bolt of fabric in her trolley, but I was not prepared to give up my spot in the queue to follow her and find out where she got it from. They do not sort fabric bolts by designer, with a few exceptions such as the impressive Liberty range, so you will have to set aside some time to look for your favourites.

Sewing notions from Yuzawaya

Lace zips and crocheted cherries – you can see I did not have my practical head on when I was shopping in Yuzawaya.

Liberty and Japanese fabric from Yuzawaya

Liberty lawn is sold in solid colours in Japan! Oh, happy days!

I had planned to make only one fabric-shopping stop on my Japanese holiday, and Yuzawaya was it: a one-stop shop. It has everything from yarn to needles. By limiting my fabric-shop visits to one, I thought I could allow my husband to enjoy his holiday without my fabric obsession taking over. The other purchases were stumbled on by accident. However, if you have lots of time to focus on fabric in Tokyo, check out the Tokyo Craft Guide and the Tokyo shopping guide by Alyce of Blossom Heart Quilts. I think a trip to Nippori would be lovely if time allowed.

I did buy some other new fabrics in Japan, apart from those in Yuzawaya. Earlier in the trip, back in Takayama in a shop called Maruni (マルニ), I found indigo-dyed cottons and other Japanese fabrics. Some fabrics are on the bolt and others are pre-cut. When you cannot decide, buy a bundle. And when you cannot decide which bundle, buy two! Well, that is what I did. Each bundle of five fat quarters was only ¥800 .

Japanese indigo fat quarters bought from Maruni, Takayama (マルニ, 高山市)

I bought ten fat quarters in two bundles from a shop called Maruni (マルニ) in Takayama.

I do not know if furoshiki, traditional Japanese wrapping cloths, count as fabric purchases, but I did buy some. I have to find some things around the house to wrap in these beauties.

Furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloths)

I bought two furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloths) and was given two more.

Sashiko

I did not buy anything here, but if you are a fan of sashiko, this is the shop for you! Hida Sashiko (飛騨さしこ) in Takayama sells kits and threads and fabrics and everything sashiko!

Hida Sashiko, Takayama ( (飛騨さしこ, 高山市)

This photo does not do the shop’s range justice. Inside is a huge amount of fabric, thread and kits for sashiko embroidery enthusiasts.

Another shop in Takayama, Sanmachi (さんまち), also sells their products, but the head office has a larger range.

All of the shops I visited in Takayama are in a small, easily walked part of the old town. If you plan a holiday there, let me know and I will send more precise addresses. The old quarter is in such a small area that you will probably accidentally stumble on them as I did. I have written shop names in Japanese to help you spot their signs. (You thought I was just showing off, right?)

Old Takayama shopping street

The old streets of Takayama look like this. My husband (green shirt) walks in front of Odori-ya (小鳥屋). He is probably making a bee-line to a sake brewery.

And finally, just to prove I was in Japan …

Granny Maud's Girl in Japan

Some of our highlights outside of Tokyo included Kyoto, Takayama, Himeji, Kanazawa and Kobe.

Seriously, if you have not visited Japan, put it on your to-do list! How can you resist a country that makes teeny-tiny fabric sushi and vegetables? Go in spring to see the cherry blossoms, in autumn to view the changing leaves or in winter for the skiing, and you will not be disappointed.

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44 thoughts on “Travelling with a craft addiction: Japan

  1. Super-envious…. I’d have had to stop at the sashiko shop. Luckily notions are not really my thing, but I find vintage indigo prints utterly irresistible. The nearest I’ve come is visiting Wafu Works in Tasmania (www.wafuworks.com.au), and buying a large mixed back of scraps from both men’s and women’s kimono. Domo arigato, great post.

  2. I’m in the planning stages of a Sashiko project and am enjoying learning about Japanese textiles – love all your purchases especially the books!

    • One of my friends chose sashiko as her friendship project, and we all made her a block. I had great fun searching online for a design I liked – too many lovely ones to choose from. Her quilt looks amazing now. Enjoy planning your project!

  3. What a wonderful post! I am a bit obsessed with Japanese fabric and food!! I dream of taking a trip like yours one day! I would love to buy a Japanese Boro…in Japan! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • I have not seen a ‘boro’ style quilt in Japan; I had to use Google to find out what one is! However, you could certainly find the materials to make your own.
      The food is well worth getting obsessed about. Outside of Japan, we only see the tip of the delicious iceberg that is Japanese cuisine.

  4. Wow! I’m such a homebody with no sense if adventure…..
    Lovely purchases. Those little crocheted cherries! We had an exchange student from Japan once. I loved him. He was a great student to have around my kids. He gave me his dirty laundry folded ; ) He was from Chiba city
    Perhaps one day……

    • I am looking forward to being a homebody for a while. I told my husband I do not plan to get on an aeroplane in 2015. There is a lot to be said for the comforts of home.
      The crocheted cherries jumped into my basket while I was in the queue! Queues are clever marking.

  5. Why would anyone be ashamed of loving Japan? There is always something so special about visiting a place you use to live. You brought back so many Kawaii sewing goodies!!!

  6. Just “a few ” purchases! All those scrap bundles look great! Are we going to be seeing little projects from your new books with this scraps anytime soon? 😉

  7. Wow, the more I learn about you, the more I’m amazed. That looked like an incredible trip and having the opportunity to work in Tokyo before must have been so exciting. My husband and I both want to go to Japan someday. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later. I love all of your great finds. It’s a wonder you didn’t have to toss some of your own clothes out to get them home!

    • I had a very, very big suitcase. A little old lady commented on its size at a train station, so I explained I was shopping to help the Japanese economy. She laughed.
      Do try to go to Japan. It is safe, clean and vibrant.

  8. Wow Carla. What a great time you had in Japan. So many finds, aided by the fact that you can speak (and read?) Japanese. I went there once when I was 16 years old and would love to return. My son went there on a school exchange two years ago and he loved it too. He stayed in Yokohama, but went to Kyoto and saw that golden temple you have above. You have such cute books and fabrics from your trip – now you can have fun sewing with them.

    • The golden temple is Kinkakuji. I am glad he got to see Kyoto. If you can only make one stop in Japan, that is a good starting point.
      Speaking the language certainly helped. Shop staff there are always extremely helpful, but they go the extra mile when you speak to them in their language.

  9. Thank you for this wonderful post. I have always wanted to visit Japan… maybe one day. Wonderful fabric… how will you use the kimono fabric? I love those zips you bought. I would have been in great difficulty choosing!

  10. Hello, stumbled upon your blog. I like it! And I love Japan too. Thank you for this post!
    You may be interested in the following blogs in English. They are by fellow patchworkers but you also get glimpses of daily life in Japan
    http://bytaniwa.blogspot.jp/
    http://myquiltdiary.blogspot.com
    http://queeniepatch.blogspot.co.uk/
    http://aquilterbynight.blogspot.com and her new blog:
    http://wabisabiquilts.blogspot.fr/
    This one is also worth a look:
    http://blueandwhitetokyo.com/
    It is written by Amy Katoh; check out her books.
    An article about her here:
    http://www.tokyojinja.com/2013/03/19/shop-talk-amy-katohs-iconic-blue-white/
    Beatrice (from France, Europe!)

  11. This is a crafter’s dream! I have a question. I am planning a trip to Tokyo and I would like to swing by Yuzawaya. Do they sell fabric by the yard or do they sell by another measuring unit? I check their website and I am quite confused.

    • Japan, like most of the world, uses the metric system. They sell fabric by the metre. The words for centimetre and metre sound similar to English (senchi and meetoru). I cannot remember the minimum cut, but I suspect it is only 10 or 20 centimetres. The prices are really good, so have fun!

  12. Pingback: Liberty clamshell pouch | Granny Maud's Girl

  13. Pingback: Almost two years in the making | Granny Maud's Girl

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