02 September 2009

Kyoto Day 4, Flea Market and Yuzen workshop

Shibori shawl, purchased at Kobo-san flea market

Kobo-san flea market, 21 May
Top left: flowers and plants
Top right: pine boughs, used in ceremonies
Bottom left: plants and bonsai
Bottom right: candy

On the fourth day of our stay in Kyoto I was up at 5:30 am, which wasn't so early as I was having trouble sleeping past 3 am anyway, with the jet lag. I met the Kyoto Kimono group in the hotel's Compass Room, a nice amenity with a bar, stools, tables, chairs and shelves of books, mostly in English and Japanese. This is a nice touch for travellers, and the room is also used for functions. We had already discovered this special area in the hotel, as this floor also housed the laundry facilities, and the beverage vending machines. Japanese vending machines are amazing, for choice and variety, and they are everywhere you look.

Japanese vending machine by LHOON.

Japanese vending machine
Photo courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoon/289722629/

Since it was well before breakfast, Nancy and her sister Christine had kindly brought some wrapped, packaged breakfast items from a convenience store. We briefed for our morning at the Kobo-san flea market, then piled ourselves, and our empty suitcases ready to be filled with goodies, into two taxis. Nancy times her trips to coincide with two big flea markets - the Kobo-san, which is held on the 21st of each month, and the Tenjin-san market, held on the 25th of each month, and shops to restock her online store.

We arrived at the north gate of the Kobo market to avoid the crowds, but it wasn't too busy yet, which may have been due to the damp weather or H1N1 flu or both. This market is huge - the sheer size reminded me of Brimfield, the multi-day event with acres of stuff, held in Western Massachusetts three times a year. At Kobo there is quite a variety of stuff - no large items like furniture, but heaps and racks of textiles, small items like dolls, fresh produce, wooden and bamboo items and new merchandise, like socks. Unlike Brimfield however, or the Portobello market in London, for that matter, this market is not organized along a central roadway but fills the space of the Toji temple complex, so the layout is much less cognitively clear. I was quite disoriented, especially as we had entered from a secondary access point. It would have been nice to have had even a rough sketch plan, with some landmarks and our meeting place indicated.

The market is cash and carry; Nancy tried to give us a crash course on bargaining, but what worked best for me was writing my counter-offer in my ever-present notebook, since everyone can read Arabic numerals. According to Nancy, there's not much cheating as the Yakuza is somehow involved in this market, but maybe she was just giving us a bit of a thrill with that tale.

Japanese and American women finding treasures

The scene at the market

Piles of kimono - happy hunting!

For about $20 I purchased an old yukata (cotton summer kimono) that had some minor damage, which meant I could pick it without guilt, to reuse for a future quilt project. A piece of it forms the header for this blog. One yukata yields about 10 yards total of 14" wide fabric. Other purchases include a shibori shawl, which everyone encouraged me to buy as being quite complimentary to my reddish hair, an interlocking wooden puzzle for son Dan, a bag of kasuri (like ikat) scraps and two lucky cat figurines.

Shibori silk shawl, detail
Beads (American) show scale of thousands of small knots

Shibori is a resist technique in which small bundles of fabric are knotted, so that when the fabric is dyed, the tied areas remain white. All textile techniques could be found at the market - embroidered kimono, rolls of e-gasuri, which is kasuri with representational motifs such as cranes or turtles, wonderful woven obi, heaps of cotton yukata, and on and on.

Surprisingly, I didn't see vendors with woodblock prints, or anyone selling old stencils called katagami. There were a number of Western tourists and also the largest number of elderly people I'd yet seen in Kyoto- perhaps with their pensions purchasing even less, older folks find the flea market the best place to stretch their yen. The street food looked interesting and delicious, but it was too awkward to juggle purchases and eat.

I was too shy to haggle, until I started running out of money - I didn't bring enough to begin with - and then I bargained for this pair of lucky cat items, which cost $40. Frankly, for all I know they could have been manufactured in China last year, but they are special to me, and I normally don't go in for totchkes or knick-knacks.

Lucky cat keeps an eye on lucky cats

It was fun to shop with my group, as we could compare purchases and point to vendors we'd found interesting. Nancy and Christine were busy making multiple trips back to the hotel with their major hauls, but intrepid shoppers Ann and Cher helped me find the lucky cat vendor, and in return I lugged some of their purchases back to the hotel with me while they kept on the chase.

I'd had enough of the market, but had to return to prep for my afternoon activity, which Junko, our Japanese liaison, had so kindly set up for me. With my email print-out of the address in hand, a taxi took me a lovely old machiya, a long, narrow wooden row house, or traditional style dwelling. This houses the Marumasu Nishimuraya workshop of Yuzen dyeing, as well as a children's boutique and a cafe. Yuzen is a stencil technque similar to American-style stencilling a la Adele Bishop. Again, the workshop is set up to provide a programmed, no-fail experience for school groups or the occasional American tourist.

Wonderful old machiya, home of Marumasu Nishimuraya

According to the Lonely Planet guide, machiya are now being preserved. High time - these are enchanting buildings.

Entry to workshop

A nice young woman was assigned to this American tourist. I selected my item to stencil, a banner, and my stencil, a fish, and my teacher showed me how to pin down each stencil for correct registration, and how to apply the paint. When done, another helper applies the top and bottom rails for hanging, accounts are settled and my teacher took a photo of me holding my creation. All in all, about $25 and 45 minutes.

My work station
On the right is the banner before stencilling,
on the left the stencils and color chart,
in between the paint pots and brushes

I've just finished stencilling the blue body of the fish
Vertical sticks at 11 and 3 o'clock are special pins to hold the stencil in place

School group having fun stencilling

My finished fish banner, ready to display
Five colors in all - blue, black, purple, yellow and brown

Info on Marumasu Nishimuraya can be found at http://kyo-komachi.com/koubou/english.html
Evidently they do offer workshops in which you can stencil your own original design, but a Japanese liaison is needed to help with communication and really explain your goal.

Even with a liaison, the visitor should go with the flow. When planning this activity, for example, I thought I was signing up for a workshop to do a resist paste stencil on fabric, followed by an indigo dye bath, but ended up with a nice stencilled fish instead. At least I got to visit a machiya.

That night we all went out to eat at Kushi-Hachi, a restaurant where anything that can be skewered on a bamboo stick - chicken, veggies, octopus - is grilled in a method called kushiyaki. Energetic, uniformed young chefs flip the sizzling skewers at long, narrow, and very hot grills, put on quite a show, watched by patrons at the counter, as we sipped our chilled green tea or beer.

Our group gathers outside Kushi Hachi
You wouldn't know these cool, calm, collected ladies
had shopped 'til they dropped that morning

A laminated menu in English makes ordering less random; it was easy to be vegetarian here, and we are only surprised that this concept hasn't made it to the states yet. I'd much rather eat this style of cuisine than sushi, any day. You can get some idea of the eatery here: http://www.kushi-hachi.at/en/philosophy.htm

Kobo-san Flea Market
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