Monday, April 23, 2007

Kyoto, Day 7: Nishijin and the Katsura Imperial Villa

On our seventh day in Kyoto, GPG and I split up in the morning. I wanted to go to the Nishijin Textile Center, which was having an open house, and he wanted to go back to some places like Ginkakuji to see if he could get some better photographs. Plus, he wasn't so interested in textiles, whereas I had read up on how famed Kyoto is for its traditional handicrafts, so I really wanted to go to this open house. So we parted ways and I ran off to Nishijin to feast my eyes on all things crafty.

The textile center certainly didn't disappoint. I spent most of the morning ogling fabric and peering over weavers' shoulders at their work:

Isn't that fabric beautiful? I took a picture just as the weaver pulled some of her bobbins of thread to capture all the different choice she had.

As the fabric and bobbins above suggest, the weaver was handling very thin thread for a very tight weave. Nishijin is famous for "fingernail" weaving, which involves thread so fine that the weaver actually files teeth into his or her fingernails to help compact the threads into fabric once they've been woven. (Although I was quite awed by the weaving, I really know no weaving terminology, so I won't even try to speak technically.) It was really quite impressive.

This older gentleman was working at an even bigger loom:

And his weaving was even more complex. You can see in the picture below all the different bobbins he had. And, to complicate things even more, I discovered that the weavers actually weave with the wrong side of the fabric facing up. If you look in the picture, there's actually a mirror below the weaving that shows the weaver what the right side of the fabric actually looks like. You can see a beautiful golden flower in the mirror towards the left-hand side of the fabric. Incredible!

Even more amazingly, I think the mirror was there primarily for observers, like me, because it was quite apparent that the weaver knew exactly what he was doing and didn't have to hesitate to think about the pattern he was weaving.

Here's a better picture of the wrong side of some woven fabric:

And here is what that fabric looks like on the right side:

Isn't that just absolutely beautiful? I was so amazed to see this fabric getting produced before my very eyes!

The textile center also had a kimono fashion show to display all the latest kimono fashions. This was a treat because the kimonos being modeled were much more fancy and elaborate than most of the kimonos GPG and I saw on the street, either on geishas-for-a-day or regular civilians. I took this picture to show the beautiful bow the obi was tied into in back:

As you can see, the bow is elaborate and the sleeves of the kimono are quite long. The Chairwoman told me an obi bow shaped like a butterfly indicates that the wearer is unmarried! The obi of a married woman is much more sedate and simple--really, just a plain gathering of the fabric into a flat roll. In addition, the sleeves of a kimono correspond inversely to the wearer's age. Younger women's kimono sleeves are almost as long as the kimono itself, while older women's sleeves are shorter.

They displayed all types of kimonos at the fashion show--bright and elaborate for younger women, and more toned-down for older women. If you look closely, you can see that the woman at the very bottom of the frame (in the light blue) is modeling a plain, rolled obi for married women.

And what would be a visit to a weaving center without trying out weaving personally? They gave me a very simple loom:

And I wove with very thick thread:

It was nothing special, but it certainly was interesting just to get an idea of the mechanics of weaving. My little piece of fabric got sealed on the ends with glue and cut with scissors:

Although the fabric was nowhere near as beautiful as what the fingernail weavers were making, it was enough to get me interested in weaving. I can't start any time soon, but I would really like to learn some day.

While I was weaving, I noticed this:

And then THIS:

And before I left Nishijin, I went crazy and bought up loads and loads of beautiful silk yarn. I still haven't properly documented it yet for the blog, and won't be able to for a while (it's in Houston now, and I'm stuck in Austin until finals are over), but I assure you that it's spectacular stuff. I almost felt guilty getting such a good deal, even though I'm sure the textile center felt like it got the better end of the bargain!

After my glorious morning at Nishijin, GPG and I met up in the afternoon to eat lunch and go to the Katsura Imperial Villa. As an Imperial property, Katsura requires visitors to get permission from the Imperial Household Agency for entry. Conveniently, GPG and I were able to do this before we parted ways in the morning.

I didn't take many pictures at Katsura because 1) photography was limited to certain areas, and 2) I was getting a little garden-ed out. (Perhaps you are, too.) But it was a very beautiful property whose gardens are laid out to tell a story to the visitor as the visitor walks through the paths. Each vantage point in the garden provides a unique view of the scenery.

The Katsura gardens are studded with several small teahouses. I took a picture of the most interesting one, which featured blue walls and some blue-and-white checkered panels:

The brochure we received told us that such blue paint, and the checking, were very rare in Japan.

This picture shows the outside of that same teahouse, and you can see the blue-and-white checking inside:

Katsura also features a variety of stone lanterns. Each one is different.

It certainly was a beautiful property. It was the kind of thing that GPG and I had the luxury of seeing as a result of our decision to spend most of our time in Kyoto, because it was quite remote and also provided no English-speaking tour. If we had had less time in the city, we almost certainly would not have gone to see it. But I was glad that we were able to catch it.

Next up: Himeji!


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