22 June 2013

Shoyeido Incense Workshop Tour

Craftsman preparing jinkoh wood for incense.
Incense has a long history in Japan.  At the ancient court, men and women alike scented their kimono, their rooms, and even their writing paper with signature blends of incense that admirers were sure to mention later in their love poems.  - Kiyoko Morita, The Book of Incense.
(Click on any image to enlarge)
During a 2012 textile study tour one of our fellow participants named Francine, from Switzerland, arranged a special treat for us - a tour of the Kyoto headquarters of the venerable Shoyeido incense company, founded in 1705.

In the video above, the craftsman is chopping  and grading pieces of jinkoh wood. This rare and costly material can be burned separately or used in blends.

The Way of Incense, or Koh-Do, is the enjoyment of incense, and is somewhat analogous to the tea ceremony, and to other structured esthetic experiences, such as flower arranging or even wine tasting.
Incense in many shapes - sticks, cones, coils and fancies.
While Japanese courtiers once had to make their own incense, Shoyeido employs an ultra-modern production facility near Kyoto to produce all types of blended incense. The Kyoto corporate headquarters, with a shop on the ground floor, has enthusiastic English-speaking guides  explaining the ingredients and the process of making incense.

The uniform logo perfectly captures the drift of fragrant smoke.

Map with sources of raw materials for incense.
First, the ingredients, whose names conjure a travelogue of exotic locales - myrrh from Arabia, sandalwood from India, camphor from Sumatra. Almost none of the ingredients come from Japan, evidence of global trade well before the G8. 

From top left, clockwise: Sandalwood logs, ingredients, myrrh, benzoin.



Although some materials, such as costly jinkoh (aloeswood) might be burned singly, most incense is blended.  The materials to be mixed are crushed in a grinder;  the resulting paste is then pressed into a cake.

Press - incense is compacted in the metal cylinder.

Incense sticks extruded onto a wooden board.

The cake of incense is then put into the extruder, which pushes out spaghetti-like strands of moist incense. The craftsman catches the strands on a wooden board and trims the strands to size.

Trimming the incense.

Incense trimmings fall into the hopper under the extruder.

Trimmed sticks.
After leaving the extruding station the sticks  of incense are transferred from the wooden boards onto larger shelves and trimmed once more.  The shelves are stacked for drying.

Sticks given final trim.

Our guide explains the process.

Bundles of incense sticks.
Finally, once dry, the sticks are bundled for shipping. I assume the factory which handles the bulk of production is automated but it was nice to get a glimpse of an older tradition.

Many fragrances and shapes from which to choose.
When compared to Shoyeido's incense, American scented candles seem crude and blunt, so for home fragrance we now order incense, as Shoyeido offers mail-order (the company has a branch in Boulder, Colorado.) The assortment packs we like come with a small holder for the sticks.

Beautiful packaging.

Sticks and round holder.

To learn more, consider The Book of Incense, by Kiyoko Morita, ISBN 978-4-7700-3050-4. The Metropolitan Museum in New York also provides information on  Japanese incense, with a slide show of lovely incense burners.

16 June 2013

Tammis Keefe website - new textiles added!

Linen towels, from the 1950's.
Click to enlarge image.
The website team - myself and my DH - just added six more examples of Keefe's output to our website, www.tammiskeefe.com  One of my favorites is the large towel on the left, above, with the motto Rare - Medium - Well.  Keefe created a heraldic blazon for all the backyard Escoffier's firing up the bar-b-que. Particularly fitting for today's celebration of Father's Day.

04 June 2013

Nagoya Castle

Nagoya Castle.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
On the anniversary of our 2012 trip to Japan, I am finally blogging about that adventure. Well, better late than never...  DH and I spent nearly 3 weeks in Japan on a textile study tour with 14 other textile fans from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Switzerland and Canada, not to mention the US.  At times we were joined by Japanese textile scholars and artists as well as two American ex-pats.  A big group!

On one of our few unprogrammed afternoons we were given the opportunity to select from two trips, one to visit Nagoya Castle, the other to a town know for pottery. DH and I opted for the Castle, and, led by local volunteer guides, had a wonderful time.

Nagoya Castle was finished in 1612, but the site was long fortified as a key location on the road between Osaka and Tokyo.  Nagoya, in the southwest corner of Central Honshu province, remains a major transportation hub and industrial center and was heavily bombed in World War II, when the castle was destroyed.  The reconstruction dates from 1959.

c. 1880. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nagoya_Castle_1979.1.48P01B.jpg

Happy samurai greeter at entrance to Castle.

We were led by two volunteer guides from the Aichi Goodwill Guides Network named Chise and Mikari, both friendly women with excellent English skills. The Guides are volunteers; tourist pay the guides' expenses and a small gift or tip is appreciated.

Kiyomasa Kato.

The visitor crosses a dry moat, inhabited by Sitka deer, to access the castle's entrance. Along the route is a statue, pictured above, of someone we might call the head engineer for much of the work, Kiyomasa Kato, vassal lord to the first Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. In charge of moving enormous stones for the base of the castle towers, when transporting a huge boulder he stood on it, exhorting the workmen pulling the cart to ever greater efforts. He carries a staff and a fan, a reminder that fans were a masculine accessory and signalling device at one time.

Rocks with "inventory" markings.

The stone base of the castle survived the fire bombing of World War II.  During the original construction vassal lords were ordered to supply a certain quantity of stone. To ensure their contributions were correctly recorded, some of the stones were incised with a special mark and many of these crude but evocative carvings can be seen today.

Rocks with scorch marks from WWII fires.

Inward curving wall resists outward movement.

The donjon, or castle keep, is raised on an artificial mound of sand and earth fill material. The stone foundation walls retaining the sand and earth must resist the outward thrust of tons of material. To counter the outward push of all this fill, the foundation walls lean inward, in a tapering curve.  A sign at the castle states that this slope wall technique is called "ogi kobai" or "fan sloping," and is also know as a Kiyomasa-style Crescent Stone Wall, after the military leader and engineer we met earlier. This technique also proved very earth-quake resistant. To me, the curve looks like an upside down catenary, a logarithmic function which is the most efficient load-bearing arch shape. 

Two golden dolphins surmount each end of the ridge beam.

The famous golden dolphins which look so tiny in the image above are actually more than six feet tall and are covered in 44 kilograms, roughly 97 pounds, of 18-carat gold. The dolphin at the north end of the ridge is male and he protects the female dolphin at the south end from the North wind.

Onsite map of reconstruction area, shown in brown.

We were extremely lucky in our timing, as the palace compound is being reconstructed and the work is open to the public. DH and I, and our friend Pat, donned hard hats and went into the covered construction area.

Authentic roof materials and framing.

Concessions are made to a modern foundation.

View up the facade of the main castle keep, or donjon.

Sectional view of castle keep.

Copper roofs and dolphin statue.

Roof of smaller castle keep, looking down from donjon, or main castle keep.

Say cheese - visitor with samurai and attendant.

After enjoying the view from the top of the castle we headed to the nearby Tokugawa Art Museum, which has some beautiful artifacts, including a 12th illustrated hand-scroll of the Tale of Genji, sometimes called the world's first novel. Replicas of the delicate and priceless original are on view.

Banners at entrance to museum.

Tokugawa Art Museum.

The Museum has a good gift shop, but the best part for me was the garden, and we had just enough time to visit it.

 Garden path, Tokugawa Museum garden.

Upper left: Judy petting the colorful koi. Views of reflecting pond.

After soaking up a little carefully tended nature, we headed back to the Meitetsu Inn, a businessman's hotel near Kanayama station and our home base in Nagoya.  For you New Yorkers, note the subway station name.

Our group with guides Chise and Mikari (in hat.)

Our cheery band included ( back row, from left to right) Judy, Pat, my tall DH, Carolina and Pauline. Liz is in front of our two guides, Chise and Mikari.