03 September 2009

Kyoto Day 5, Ohara and Indigo dyeing

My husband and I had the opportunity to spend five days in Kyoto in May, 2009. This blog post continues my attempt to share some of that journey. Unless noted, we took all the photos, which are just our snapshots, minimally processed.

Stone infant and small shrine, Sanzen-in temple

This was the best day overall. Right after breakfast, DH and I joined the Kyoto Kimono travellers, piled into two taxis and were whisked off to the farming town of Ohara, in the Kitayama Mountains, to the northeast of Kyoto. After just about twenty minutes we arrived. The total taxi fare was under $100, for the eight of us, so Nancy was smart to ignore the advice to take the bus, as the bus ride would have taken about an hour and cost about $6 each. While it's fun to take buses in different countries - you really get more of a feel for everyday life - we arrived refreshed, and had more time in Ohara, so it was worth it to take the taxis.

Shorin-in temple, in the rain

Brightly-colored combination map-aerial view, typical guide to temples
Alas, no leaflet or signage in English

In a light rain we walked past the main gate of the major attraction in Ohara, the Sanzen-in temple complex, to a wonderful little temple, Shorin-in. The Lonely Planet guide says "This temple is worth a look...to admire the thatched roof of the main hall." Well, this sells it a bit short - the roof is a wonderful, expansive structure, but the whole place is just a gem, nestled into the hillside, with beautiful carving, a bell, and a pond complete with frog serenading us in the rain. And we were the only people there, apart from the caretaker, an elderly woman who answered questions from Nobuku, the lovely Japanese-American woman in our group.

Nobuku-san, right, and caretaker, left, in front of Buddha

A better look at the Buddha

The caretaker noticed me photographing the roof brackets, which were masterfully carved and pierced, and told us, if I'm remembering correctly, that such work is called basket-style carving. The name suggests that the pierced carving allows light through, like the open weave of a basket.

Carved brackets, Shorin-in temple

We back-tracked to Sanzen-in, entered through the Goten-mon gate, and more or less wandered on our own, keeping one eye out for leader Nancy - the day was a nice combination of structure and freedom, as DH and I balanced the inevitable push-pull of following our interests with the dynamic and needs of the group.

School group posing in front of Goten-mon Gate, Sanzen-in temple

There is a handy leaflet in English and we followed the route for visitors through the Kyakuden (guest hall) and Shinden (main house), viewed various gardens, went around the Amida hall and past the garden statues.

Pocket garden at Sanzen-in

Garden, viewed from veranda

Detail, drip edge of temple structure
Pebbles prevent erosion as water drops off gutter-less roof

Umbrella-toting vistors circle Amida hall. For more images, including beautiful seasonal color: http://www.taleofgenji.org/sanzen-in.html

Up the steps, lined with bright red banners, to the orange-and-white Kannon-do, and the odd (to us) sight of the Sho-Kannon-zo, rows and rows of miniature bodhisattvas. These small figurines, resting in what DH, rather irreverently, described as Buddhist condos, were dedicated by people whose wishes have been fulfilled.

Banners along path, and statue of bodhisattva

Kannon-do, houses a golden figure of a bodhisattva
credited with the power to grant the wishes of visitors


We also stopped by a small pavilion where Nancy and Christine were sipping an herbal infusion with gold flecks, sold by two nice elderly ladies. We brought a packet of the tea to bring home, although I should also have asked for brewing directions. Well, there's always trial-and-error.

Back down the path

Statues of children, in the garden moss

We didn't have time to see everything in this large, historic complex, as we were due for lunch at a local restaurant. On our walk to the restaurant we passed a pickle merchant - Ohara is known for pickled products. The pickled cucumber on a stick was nice and crunchy and not too tart.

Pickle on a stick - delicious!

Ohara is also known for a tradition of women carrying bundles of firewood, and other items to sell, atop the head. There is still an annual festival with re-enactors: http://www.japan-photo.de/e-ohara.htm

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Figure in traditional pose

We did indeed have a good time at the restaurant - delightful presentation of food - and spent a bit of time in the upstairs boutique.

DH in front of restaurant, main street, Ohara

Close-up of entry to restaurant
, or door curtains, in the boro tradition -
using up scraps of cloth, often indigo

Boro literally means "tattered rags"

Long-suffering DH, in front of yummy lunch

We were really out in the country
Field of purple shiso, the leaf that is found under a serving of sushi

Then on to our dyeing workshop, at a small organic farm run by a man and his family, whose names all remain a mystery, as we simply called the artist Sensei, or teacher. Nancy is a bit casual with names of people and places or perhaps didn't want to overload us with info.

Fields at the organic farm, with misty hills

Postcard of farmhouse, with hand-dyed skeins

The farmhouse was wonderful, with its sweeping gable roof, and, as the workshop evidently grows its own dyestuffs, there were about 4 acres or so (I'm guessing here) of various dye plants, although I did see bags of imported cochineal too.

Herbs drying

Our Sensei

The interior was a mix of display, storage and work space; it's always a treat to visit a busy artist's work space.

Yarn and looms

We clustered around a low table in one room and were shown several types of white scarves or other items we could select to dye. DH chose a silk scarf, shot with gold thread, that we hoped daughter would like, and I selected a sheer window pane weave.

Pots of color

We donned aprons and boots, and moved into a covered area in front of the farmhouse where the dyevats were and, after a bit of an introduction by our sensei, began dipping our scarves into the vats, using lengths of pipe which looked like the same electrical metal tubing I use to hang my quilts. I was on a mission at that point, and followed Lynn to another indigo vat when the first one proved too weak.

Cher and helper dyeing scarf

This vat was in-ground, of undetermined depth - don't drop the scarf - but good and strong. DH used a weak rose madder dyebath, and after 40 minutes had a pale apricot colored scarf. I wasn't going home, though, without a deep, dark indigo pigment, darnit, and at that point would have pushed my grandmother out of the way to get depth of color. Single-mindedness rewarded, my scarf emerged a beautiful dark blue after being mordanted and then processed by one of the sensei's young female helpers.

Finished scarves, drying
My scarf is the dark blue one

We all hung our scarves up to dry, then the sensei's mother, who seemed like a very nice, practical kind of person, ironed them for us and another helper did the inevitable lovely packaging job the visitor receives with every purchase in Japan.

DH's scarf is the pale apricot one in the middle

The dyer does not have a website or even email, so this is another experience that requires a Japanese-speaking intermediary.

Nancy had arranged for more taxis to meet us after the activity, so we returned to Kyoto in style and good time, new accessories in hand. The sensei was quite effusive in his good-byes; maybe it was the gift of Crown Royal Nancy brought him.

Statue of tanuki, translated as raccoon-dog, welcomes diners to a restaurant
He knows how to have a good time