Still welcoming in the New Year…

Entry way to sake bar YoramuIn Japan, there is a lovely tradition of celebrating whenever you meet an old friend for the first time in the new year. Of course, the first celebrations are with family and closest friends, but like ever-widening circles rippling across the surface of a pond, a succession of parties called shinnenkai or New Year’s gatherings continue throughout the month of January.

This weekend I met up with friends at the Asian Studies Group for our annual shinnenkai at Sake Bar Yoramu. The ASG is a wonderful group that has added untold joy to my life in Kyoto. Comprised mainly of university professors, graduate students, and anyone else with a lively curiosity about Asian history, music, art, culture, religion and literature, the group sponsors monthly lectures that have taught me so much on all of these topics as well as many others.

Halle O'Neal supports Obama And given the propensity of this group to revel in the details of history and subtleties of philosophy, it’s no wonder that our annual shinnenkai would be a sake-tasting at Yoram’s Sake Bar.

Catherine Ludvig at sake bar Yoramu

Halle O’Neil, a doctoral candidate from the University of Kansas, came dressed in her “Japanese Art Historians for Obama” t-shirt to celebrate that world-changing event taking place this week on the other side of the planet.

As I was arriving, Reggie Pawle, a doctor of Buddhist psychology, was thoughtfully considering some point being made by Catherine Ludvik, a Buddhist art scholar from Toronto fluent in both sanskrit and Japanese and specialist in Benzaiten, the goddess of art and literature. Later in the evening, Reggie told me of a cosmology discussion group in Kyoto that he’d recently heard of. With so many colleges and universities in Kyoto, there are just countless groups and sub-groups focusing on so many different ways to stimulate the mind.

But for this evening’s party, the agenda was not cosmology but the enjoyment of sake — good sake, sake with a robust range of flavors. And for that purpose, Sake Bar Yoramu is the best place to be. A delightful little vest-pocket bar with limited seating, half the length of the narrow room is taken up by the glorious stepping stone entryway shown in the top photo. This pathway leads you back to Yoram himself and a seat at his bar. An Israeli ex-pat, Yoram is a long-term Kyoto resident and has had this sake bar for the past decade.

Yoram of sake bar Yoramu
Sake is essentially a simple beverage made from rice, water, yeast and koji bacteria — four ingredients and a world of flavors. Or at least it could be, if sake brewing weren’t controlled by a handful of large breweries that have filtered, blended, pasteurized and stifled it into a bland standardized and flavorless alcoholic drink. I was never a great fan of the stuff, until I met Yoram. An expert in the family-run microbreweries of Japan, Yoram has carefully selected each sake he serves for its distinctive character and can recount the details that not only make it different from each other sake but also very different from anything you’ve tried before.

food served at sake bar Yoramu

In previous years, I’ve sampled a wonderful lemon-y flavored sake brewed by a recipe dating back to the Kamakura period (~1200 AD) and milky white nigori sake that still contains bits of the rice it was brewed from.

This night’s tasting started with a genmai (brown rice) sake made in Saitama (near Tokyo). And to complement the sake, we were served a plate with bite-sized pats of cream cheese drizzled with a mix of soy sauce and wasabi, top right. This was definitely non-traditional, but definitely a taste treat.

This was followed by an unpasteurized, undiluted, somewhat sweeter, full-bodied brew from Shiga, the prefecture next to Kyoto. And accompanied by roasted green peppers (fourth picture down).

And then we had Karadahanke, a slightly sour, slightly acidic sake from Chiba (also near Tokyo). This was a natural yeast sake brewed by a multi-stage process, served with nanohana, a green vegetable popular in Japan, flavored with sesame seeds. (second picture from the top).

For our fourth taste treat, we had a slightly sweeter sake accompanied by the most interesting dish of the night (shown as the middle image). A salad of shredded daikon with a rice vinegar dressing topped by salt-preserved cherry blossoms. Simple but amazingly elegant in its presentation and equally amazing to taste.

And then the night was capped by a 10-year-old sake that just rolled across the palate, accompanied by steaming bowls of “wafu risotto”. Yoram’s own recipe for a hearty Japanese-flavored risotto with mushrooms.

Can mere words ever do justice to such a multi-sensory experience? But perhaps the best part of the evening was the way our normally staid and erudite academic group turned into a bubbly, chatty and slightly giggly group of friends renewing our friendships for 2009.

Toka Ebisu Festival — Prayers for the world economy

waiting at the Ebisu shrine —prayers for good business Once again I’ve had a lovely and langourous start to 2009, enjoying many of the Japanese rituals for welcoming each new year. Several were documented in my posts last year, but one that seemed to need particular attention this year is the Toka Ebisu festival on January 10th.

Ebisu is one of the seven lucky spirits, popular in northeast Asian mythology. Each of these seven deities represents a particular virtue and is the patron of one or more occupations. Traditionally, Ebisu was associated with the sea, sailors and fisherman, but became the patron of commerce and business during the Edo period. On the 10th day of the New Year, Kyotoites flock to the Ebisu shrine at Kenninji to say a prayer for good business in the coming year. This year, the shrine was filled to capacity with long lines of people waiting to say prayers for a more prosperous 2009. A limited sense of how crowded it was may be seen in the photo above, although you won’t quite feel the jostling of actually being in the midst of the throng.

giant tuna on the altar of Ebisu shrine The altar was laid with a giant tuna and behind the altar, bottles of sake line the shelves. The crowds wait patiently as each individual takes their turn in ringing the altar bell loudly to attract Ebisu’s attention before saying their prayers and tossing a few coins into the collection bin.

Ebisu - good luck charms for businessBut of course, no shrine pilgrimage would be complete without purchasing an omomori to carry home.

Although loosely translated as “good luck charm”, omomori actually function as a surrogate-self or double. When there is danger, illness, bankruptcy or other problems in the air, these nasties are attracted to the brightly colored omamori rather than to the individual or in this case, their business.

For that reason, the omomori is returned to the shrine the following year, so that omomori and all of the problems it has absorbed during the year can be ritually destroyed. Then of course, a new omomori must be purchased for the coming year.

The circular bamboo platter shown at top is decorated with images of both Ebisu and Daikokuten, the patron of farmers, as well as fish, rice, gold and a crane for longevity.

Below that is a similarly decorated bamboo rake. The rake is a favorite luck symbol for business people, since in Japanese as in English, the implied association is “May you rake it in!”

The red mobiles shown next represent crowds of customers flocking to your business. And then, for those who prefer a customized “charm”, there is a veritable smorgasbord of items to select from. These are attached to a bamboo frond that has been blessed by the dancing shrine maidens shown below.

shrine dance at Ebisu shrine Of course, all of these luck charms carry fees that range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. If the luck can be purchased, you would already have to be fairly lucky to afford some of the larger omomori.

leaving Ebisu shrine
The final ritual before leaving the shrine is to pound the wooden wall along the back route out of the shrine. Ebisu is a prosperous old fellow and variously thought to have grown a bit deaf in his old age, a bit lazy with his success or a bit drunk on his many bottles of sake. Either way, Kyotoites believe it’s necessary to wake up old Ebisu and remind him of their prayers one more time before leaving. And this year the wall rattled thunderously as many hands gave the wall repeated and resounding thuds to wake old Ebisu up.

May 2009 be a better year, bringing prosperity and good fortune to us all.

Cows in Kimono overrun Kyoto

Cow in kimono
It’s New Year’s Eve and the city has spent the last week preparing for this magical night as the Year of the Mouse turns to the Year of the Ox. Everywhere I look, little cow decorations are dressed to the nines ready to celebrate their turn in the Chinese horoscope. According to tradition, the Year of the Ox represents prosperity through fortitude and hard work, but these features are a bit less apparent in the whimsical party favors popping up in the stores this week.

Many people are, of course, familiar with the Chinese Horoscope as a 12-year cycle of animals, but the full cycle actually takes 60 years, as each of the animals cycles through each of the five element/color sequences: Wood/green, Fire/red, Earth/ yellow, Metal/white, Water/black. Thus, 1997, the last Year of the Ox, was a Red Ox (dynamic, volatile, impulsive), while 2009 is a Yellow Ox (stable, grounded, sincere) and will take on a different character. What it becomes will even depend, even more than in other years, on the work we are willing to put into it.

May all of your efforts bring you great rewards! Happy New Year to all.

Über-Amazing and tickled pink

A few weeks ago, I got this amazing award. In fact, it’s called the Über-Amazing Blog award. Just knocked my socks off and I’ve been blushing ever since. It’s taken me a few weeks to make this shy admission in public that I have been so honored.

My nomination for the award came from Nicole who writes the wonderful blog at, which I highly recommend in return. Not only is her own blog a great read, but she’s also led me to many other interesting blogs through the links she’s chosen to list in her sidebar. Thank you, Nicole.

The award does come with some obligations and the rules are as follows:

  • Put the award logo on your blog or post.
  • Nominate at least 1 blog that you consider to be Uber Amazing!
  • Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog.
  • Share the love by linking your post about this award to the person you received your award from.

And so my nominees, if I may also nominate two, are:

Although on hiatus at the moment, the story archives are a wonderful collection of 3 to 5 panel manga stories published one panel per day during the past year. Mulele is a talented artist, for sure, and the tone of his writing is calm, modest, and appealing. I love the philosophical musings told through the life of Elbis the cat, and I’m looking forward to a new set of adventures in 2009. In the meantime, enjoy the archives. They’re so worth reading.

  • A Journey of Machine Embroidery by Sadia Andrews at

Sadia was my first digitizing teacher at the American Embroidery Conference in 2007. Though I haven’t seen her in a few years, I do keep up with her through her blog. For those of us in the digital embroidery world, Sadia is a constant font of information and inspiration.

Isn’t it lovely how blogs make the world go round. Thank you, Nicole, Mulele and Sadia for contributing so much to my world.

Pojagi revisited

pojagiI confess I was a bit surprised that my last post sparked so much interest. I’ve been in love with pojagi since I saw an exhibit called “Patterns and Colors of Joy” at a museum in Osaka around 15 years ago. And since I’m aware of a modern pojagi artist, Chunghie Lee, who is quite active in the international art textile scene, teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design in the US and exhibiting at the Victoria an Albert Museum in London, I had thought that pojagi was better known. Techniques for creating textiles this luscious certainly deserve to be better known. So let me do my best to say a bit more.

These first three examples show traditional pojagi from the Choson dynasty and all three were made from scraps of silk. Ramie, a bast fiber similar to linen, is another fabric commonly used to create pojagi. Fabric scraps were generally rescued from worn out hanbok, which is actually just a contraction for a longer term that translates simply as “Korean clothing”. Many of the elegant white on white pojagi made from ramie had once been petticoats or pantaloons. Some of those lovely white wrapping cloths show delightful variations of cream, ivory and pale yellow, because the garments from which the fabric scraps had been rescued had aged and yellowed at different rates and the seamstress worked those variations into her composition.

pojagiOften silk pojagi, like the one shown at right, include small embroidered designs that had once graced a sleeve or neckline. These treasured tidbits are carefully preserved and recycled into newly beautiful and graceful housewares. Small silk wrapping cloths might be used to wrap jewelry or porcelain, while ramie cloths might be used while serving food. One of the charming customs I observed during my recent trip was that food was initially presented covered with a lovely cloth. In the pojagi picture shown my previous post, you can see the foot of a wooden tray, peeking from beneath the pojagi and a mysterious object hidden beneath the cloth. Most likely that would be a pot of food. After the tray has been carried to the table, the cloth is dramatically removed to reveal the prepared food.

In the Choson period, the availability of scraps used to make pojagi was dictated by sumptuary laws. In the modern period and certainly in the west, there are few limitations on clothing choice. But throughout medieval Asia, many countries had strict regulations limiting the clothing choices of specific classes. In Korea, commoners could only wear muted colors, and the lowest classes wore undyed fabric. The upper classes were able to wear brighter colors, and of course, finer weaves of ramie as well as some silks were available. The brightest colors—red, blue, and yellow— as well as the most refined weaves were worn by the royal family. In particular, commoners were absolutely forbidden to wear yellow, since that color was thought to represent the center of the universe.

The fact that pojagi could and were made from any available fabric became absolutely clear to me during an exhibit I saw last September at the Koryo Museum here in Kyoto. One of the pieces on exhibit was dated from the 1950s and made from khaki green cotton twill. There were numbers stenciled in black on some of the patches. It had been made from old US army uniforms that had been given South Korean refugees during the Korean War. And when those clothes were worn out, they too were recycled as pojagi.

pojagi technique
One of the things that makes pojagi special is the way the patches are stitched together. There are a number of different techniques, and the choice is dictated by the fabric being recycled. Shown above is a close up of a single hairline seam being made Notice on the left how tiny and closely overcast seam is stitched. This technique would be particularly applicable to a fine fabric like silk organza.

pojagi technique

When I took a pojagi-making class here in Kyoto a few years ago, we used cotton embroidery floss to give a boldness to our seam stitch. Often a contrasting color is used, giving even greater strength to the stitch as a design element. In addition to the single hairline seam shown above, there are double and triple hairline seams, a flat fell seam using running stitches and several variant combinations of the two. One such combination of a hairline and running stitch is shown at right.

This kind of seaming technique gives the pojagi finishes the raw edges on the reverse side, leaving the pieced fabric light-weight and highly flexible. When made of sheer fabrics, like handkerchief linen or silk organza, the pojagi appear translucent like stained glass when held to the light.

modern pojagi Pojagi crafts are quite rage in Japan with many centers and galleries offering classes to the public. A friend of a friend has become so enchanted that she even flies to Pusan, South Korea for regular lessons from a true Pojagi master.

Ramie is often a bit more difficult to find, but linen is regularly used as a substitute. And small home decor accessories like the simple basket cover shown at left are a frequent first project. Pojagi that are meant to be used as covers or lids often have a ribbon handle at the center. The ribbon is quite apparent in the picture at left, and can also be seen in the center of the second antique pojagi shown above. Those types of details provide historians with clues to the purposes for which an antique pojagi was made. Coarser fabrics, a larger size and reinforced corners indicate use in wrapping and tying up heavier bundles. Straps at one or more of the corners indicate the various types of cloths that were used for wrapping and storing precious items.

modern pojagi Other beginner projects include coasters and placemats or dresser scarves as well as a variety of small three-dimensional forms, just as it would have been for young Korean girls a century ago. Anything to practice the seaming techniques. Of course many of the works created by modern pojagi artists have moved beyond the traditional categories of usage. The window curtain at right is made of sheer linen in pale blue and white and seems to lean toward an abstract landscape, rather than relying on the traditional non-representational abstractions.

And then again, our hectic modern lives often offer too many distractions for the peaceful rhythms of hand sewing and so, there are some artists who replace the hand-sewn seams of traditional pojagi with incredibly narrow machine-sewn French seams. And as much as I find myself in that latter category, I still admire the fine handwork of traditional piecing techniques.

modern pojagi

At left is a piece in indigo linen with hand embroidery and hand piecing. Even in this distant shot, it is easy to see how the running stitches in white thread accent some of the patchwork seams and add to the overall design.

Perhaps the best known of modern pojagi artists, in the West at least, is still Chunghie Lee. Below is an organza outfit she made in the mid-90s, which is still one of my favorite inspirational pieces. If you look closely, you can see that the model is wearing matching earrings made from three-dimensional balloon-like pojagi structures in the same colors as the skirt. There are a few more pojagi fashion pieces by Chunghie Lee in the archives of the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

modern pojagi Leonie Castelino is another textile artist who incorporates pojagi as well as other East Asian textile processes into her reprertoire. I highly recommend a visit to her web-gallery as another source of pojagi inspiration.

Sadly I wasn’t able to find any English-language books on this topic to suggest further reading. All of the books and catalogues in my collection are in either Japanese or Korean. Although I am aware of a few US magazines such as Ornament and Surface Design that have printed occasional articles on pojagi, it would seem that the internet remains the primary resource at present.

And hopefully, my little bit of blogging on this topic has contributed something to making the beauty of Korean culture a little better known.

Korean Embroidery

Young woman wearing hanbok, the traditional Korean costumeEmbroidery was the real reason for my trip to Korea. Delicate and tasteful, Korean embroidery is some of the most elegant in the world. It is said that in medieval times, one of the Korean rulers owed a debt to the Emperor of China and so as payment, the emperor demanded that the women most skilled in embroidery be gathered and sent to work at the Chinese court at Xian. With that, the debt was paid in full. And it was Korean embroiderers who brought sericulture and silk embroidery to the Japanese archipelago around 300 AD.

By the Choson period, Korean embroidery could be classified into two groups: Gung-su (royal court embroidery) and Min-su (folk embroidery). To supply the demands of royal court, Gung-su embroidery was produced in great variety to adorn large scale screens with grand images of pine trees and cranes, flowers and birds, and hundred-letter compositions featuring the symbols for longevity and happiness. Wooden furniture frequently had embroidered panels inset into cabinet doors, drawer facings and box lids. And the range of pouches is nothing short of amazing — incense pouches, writing brush pouches, spoon cases and a wide variety of women’s accessories.

Young woman wearing ceremonial hanbok, the traditional Korean costume

The traditional dress of Korea is called the hanbok. For women, the basic hanbok features a high-waisted full skirt and a short jacket. An elaborate ceremonial version with an additional over-robe and headdress is shown at right, while a simpler yet beautifully elegant modern version of the hanbok is shown above. Both are richly embroidered.

Sadly (from my perspective), I could not find any second hand market for vintage hanbok. When these beautiful garments are worn out or out grown, they are simply recycled into gorgeous patchwork called pojagi. Traditionally these are used as dust covers or wrapping cloths, but now pojagi are highly valued by art collectors, who have frequently compared these textiles to compositions by European artists Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian. Two samples are shown below, but two samples can’t possibly do justice to the wide range of artistry that goes into these patchwork pieces.

Pojagi, traditional Korean patchwork and embroidery

The other form of Korean embroidery, Min-su was made for common people. Free from standardized rules, the works have a more whimsical naive quality and the bolder color schemes further add to its strength and charm. The introduction of woodblock printing for transferring designs allowed more rapid wide scale production of numerous small articles, even spools and thimbles were covered with small pieces of embroidered silk.

Shown below is a poster for a recent exhibition focused solely on traditional embroidered spools. Looking closely at the flat rectangular object in the lower left corner of the poster, you can see the coral silk thread wound between the yellow and crimson embroidered patches at either end of the spool. traditional Korean embroidery

In recent years, there has been greater interest in honoring Korea’s textile heritage. Several embroidery museums have been founded in Seoul. Indeed, Korean academics were the first to begin seriously investigating and documenting the histories of Asian embroideries. Dr. Yang Young Chung described the needle as a powerful tool that gave women the opportunity to improve their lives at a time when few opportunities existed for women. Using this tool, they enriched their lives. And as we encounter these remnants of their existence, our lives are also enriched.

Seoul’s delight (part 2)

On Sunday, the second day of our trip, we went to the studio of Brian Barry, a Buddhist Temple painter. I must admit that with all of the walking we had done the day before, my feet were still hurting all the way up to my bellybutton. So I was grateful that we hopped into a taxi for the journey across Seoul to Brian’s home and studio. It was a glorious fall day and the trees were flaunting their most perfect colors for us as we drove along the winding roads through some of the wealthiest and most scenic residential areas of northern Seoul.

It’s thought that Seoul’s earliest settlement may have been as long as 6,000 years ago and the geomancy of the mountains that ring the city were considered auspicious by the Chosun dynasty rulers, who chose the site as their capital. Modern Seoul has become home to over 10 million people, forcing an urban spread up the slopes of those surrounding mountains. Despite differences in the architecture and signs in a language I couldn’t read, the topography of our route reminded me of driving through parts of Marin county in California.

Brian Barry, Buddhist painterBrian’s studio is on the third floor of an apartment building nestled against a hillside that has been designated a national park. Thus on the one side he faces the immediate glories of the natural world and on the other the great urban sprawl, a perfect perch from which to reflect on cosmology in the modern world.

Brian Barry, Buddhist painterInitially, Brian came to Korea with the Peace Corps. In 1967, he was assigned to public health work, fighting TB in an underdeveloped country still reeling from the devastation of the Korean Civil war. As his love for the Korean people and culture grew, he stayed to study Buddhism, supporting himself as an interpreter. And decades later, one of those interpreting jobs for an American architect led him to focus on dancheong (colorful cosmic design patterns) painted on Korean temples.

Thereafter, Brian sought out Master Manbong (1910-2006), a dancheong specialist who had been designated transmitter of Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 48 of Korea, and then to this master artist, Brian expressed his ardent desire to learn Buddhist painting.

Although Master Manbong accepted this strange blue-eyed foreigner as one of his students, there was much doubt that a foreigner would ever be able to endure the hardships of the training regimen to learn the intricate skills of temple painting. Indeed, learning Buddhist painting proved to be extremely demanding, but Brian stuck it out for more than 20 years, continuing to learn from and serve Master Manbong until the Master’s death in 2006.

Over the years, Brian’s paintings have come to grace not only Korean temples, but also those in Thailand, Bangladesh, Russia and the U.S. His modern Buddhist paintings are also sold to private collectors. A fantastic story of an amazing life, you can read it in more detail by clicking on the link to his name above or by visiting Brian’s own site:

And to glimpse the world of dancheong that has so inspired Brian Barry for 20 years, I offer below a small collection of images from Buddhist temples in Korea.Korean painted temples Who could fail to be inspired by dancheong? I can foresee that even my humble sewing projects will have a future influence reflected in shades of teal and turquoise, richly punctuated by coral, gold and navy.

Seoul’s delight (part 1)

Last weekend I managed a brief getaway with three of my friends: Wendy Carroll from Australia, Kazuko Horiuchi from Chile and Judith Clancy, who was once upon a time from New Jersey. And our trip was indeed a delight. We flew off for a weekend in Seoul, South Korea.  Although I had been to the Korean port city of Pusan many many long years ago, I wasn’t really prepared for the melange of flavors and textures that greeted us on our arrival. We stayed at a traditional Korean inn called the Tea Guest House in the neighborhood of Insadong, which was a mix of traditional and modern buildings as shown by the images below. architecture in SeoulIt was only an hour and a half flight from Osaka to Seoul, but there was a two-hour trip from Kyoto to the airport early in the day and a two-hour bus-ride from the airport in Seoul to our guest house in Insadong. So we were a pretty weary group of travelers by the time we checked into our lodgings. But we quickly found our way down the street to celebrate our arrival with a feast of Korean sea food at a restaurant that had been recommended by one of Judith’s many friends.boy playing a street-side video game in Seoul

Seoul boasts of having the world’s best Wi-fi access and broadband connections with mind-boggling download speeds ranging up to 100Mbps, so it was amusing to see this young boy playing street-side video games in front of the local grocery store as we scouted out the city the next morning.riverside park in Seoul

In the center of Seoul, there’s a branch of the Han River that had been paved over during the rush to modernize. But with the 21st century preference for green cities, a major reclamation project was initiated to tear down the elevated freeway and restore river as a sunken riverside park for city residents to enjoy.

We spent most of Saturday walking around Dongdaemun Market, one of the major shopping areas in Seoul. When we set out in the morning, we blithely started off to the gold district to buy earrings…and arrived to find block after block after block lined with stores selling every manner of gold adornment. And though we could have easily spent the day there playing with gold till our heart’s content, we decided to press on deeper into the heart of Seoul’s shopping district. Or rather I should say, one of Seoul’s shopping districts. We never made it to Namdaemun Market, Seoul’s other older shopping district.

We walked for hours. There was a lamp district, where all the stores sold lighting, and a plastics section, where you could buy anything made of plastic. Sheet metal fabrication shops were clustered in another area we walked through. An area that seemed to sell only towels for blocks and blocks. And bedding covered another area.

For lunch, we finally stopped to eat at one of the food vending stalls that line the edges of the street. And again, the variety was enormous. The stall in the foreground offered chestnuts: roasted, candied and batter fried. Other stalls offered noodles, tempura or sausages. Still other stands sold bags of traditional sweets made from puffed grains and/or nuts sweetened by honey. These were so reminiscent of granola that we wondered if Korea had provided the original inspiration when that cereal was introduced to America in the 1960s. lunch-time food stalls in Seoulshopping in Seoul

Then finally we came to crafts and fabric. Was I in heaven?

When there was lace, there was lace galore. And ditto with yarns and buttons and ribbons and tassels. Each bit of craft had it’s own area with more choices than I could possible sort through or savor over if I’d had a month of Sundays. All in all, Dongdaemun Market is comprised of 20 shopping malls (with fashion segmented by floors), 30,000 stores, and around 50,000 wholesalers. If you want it, they’ve got it.

Sadly though, there was not enough time to drink it all in. We had barely found the embroidery section when it was time to go. The time allotted to our shopping spree was over. At least for the moment anyway. Having discovered that such delight is so close, I’m sure I’ll go back again.

And that was only Saturday, but it is enough to fill one blog-post for tonight. I’ll have to write about Sunday later.

In a world before Nintendo…

…there were a variety of games to play.  And since my wonderful computerized electronic whizball of a sewing machine had to be sent off for a week in a sewing machine hospital, I was forced spend the weekend trying to remember what I did before that lovely electronic toy entered my life.

Fortunately for me, there was a Genji exhibition at the Museum of Kyoto this week, celebrating the thousand year anniversary since The Tale of Genji was published by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, an 11th century aristocrat. Widely considered the world’s first novel, Genji is a classic of Japanese literature detailing courtly life in ancient Kyoto.Japanese woodblock pictureFor ten centuries The Tale of Genji has been a source of inspiration for the Japanese arts. Bugaku dance and Noh performances have re-enactedJapanese board game and playing pieces the life of Prince Genji, while the games and pastimes described in the story were adapted and expanded to reflect the novel. The playing pieces for the 19th century board game shown at right were painted to represent all the main characters from Genji. The center panel of the woodblock print above shows the same game being enjoyed by a cluster of noblewomen.

Likewise, the kaiawase clam shell matching game with its hexagonal storage box were delicately painted with scenes from the novel. kaiawase clam shell game Kaiawase matching is an ancient game, but quite similar to the card game “concentration”. Pairs of cleaned and polished clam shells are painted with matching images, then multiple sets of clam shells are collected to form a complete game set. To play, the clam shells are placed painted side down and the players take turns trying to find and match the identical pairs. Though I’ve never had a chance to play the game itself, I’ve always been fascinated by the elaborately detailed imagery painted on the shells and storage cases.19th century Japanese manga

And of course, there is manga. Reading manga has always been one of the quintessential forms of Japanese entertainment. The books shown here are examples of a 19th century retelling of Genji. Never having been stigmatized as “mind-rot”, the way western comic books have been, manga have always enjoyed an appreciative audience in Japan. In an earlier time, they were simply called e-hon (picture books) and attracted some of the brightest artistic stars of the day.

There were, of course, vastly more games on display in the exhibition, involving skills as diverse as incense sniffing and poetry reciting — far too many of course for a simple blog entry to recount. But it seemed as though in a simpler world, the goal was to find ways to delight each of the senses rather than just to kill time.

My goodness, it’s been a hectic month

kimono vendor's signI’ve had little time to keep up with my blogging, but at least I have finally been able to begin posting my lovely little collection of haori jackets for sale in my kimono shop. The first five were just listed, so do click the “Buy Vintage Kimono” on the menu above to drop by to take a look. They would make wonderful holiday gifts for yourself or anyone else.  I’ll try to add a few more every couple of days until I’ve gotten my entire stock listed.