Travelling companions: the Anthropologie team, Mitzie, Aaron and Wendy.
I have a large collection of all things Japanese handmade. Not only textiles, but wooden combs with long stems, paintbrushes made of feathers, carved seals with tiny round red ink pads, woven travelling sake cups, metal letterpress pieces, wrapped stones, tea ceremony ladles, bone and ebony game pieces, hand-thrown ceramic cups & bowls, calligraphy books, brooms & cleaning brushes, mini gardening tools, reed woven slippers, copper tulip-shaped rainchains etc.
My mother was very good at adding to this ever-growing collection of bits & pieces.
All these precious things fit into my very romantic view of Japan: firefly-lit paper lanterns, intricate seasonal kimonos, wooden shoes on cobblestone streets, kingfisher hairpins, sitting cross-legged on a tatami mat practising calligraphy or preparing for the tea ceremony.
While visiting Kyoto, I added to my collection of handmade brooms. Not all things bought on trips need to be souvenirs as such – consider everyday functional objects that look great, & think of the person who made them.
Going to a purpose-built and designed art space on an island in the Seto Inland Sea was such a pure experience. It’s called the Art House Project and is made up of scattered buildings and site-specific sculptures, old and new.
Art museums make up a big part of my travel inspiration and itinerary.
Noguchi, a Japanese-American, is one of my all-time favourite artists. There is an amazing Noguchi museum in Long Island City, new York, that I have visited so many times, and was curious to see how Modern Japan sat with the Edo style I love so much.
One of my true passions is paper: stationery, lanterns, fans, kites, books, packaging, origami, woodblocked sheets, indigo-dyed, stencils, bags, tags of all descriptions, plates & cups, envelopes, notebooks, string, confetti, card – you name it, I love it.
And the Japanese crafters who make all these things: paper lanterns with shop names hand-painted on them; the large, over-sized sheets that look like lace, or have leaves embedded in them; the simplicity of a classic diamond-shaped kite or the complexity of a moving, flying dragon; the festivity of streaming multi-coloured street decorations; lacquered all-weather umbrellas paper-pasted on a bamboo skeleton; the feather-weight of the finest mulberry paper, bound and stitched, for practising calligraphy; the crunchiness of gold leaf-backed ancient scrolls housed in its original balsawood box and the intricate patterned squares for origami. As you can see, I embrace all things paper.
My good friends Karman and Paul who own Edo Arts in Sydney started my love affair of boro many years ago. Boro is well-worn, pre-loved-many-times patched indigo fabric usually found in sheet-like sizes used for covering futons.
It is a peasant fabric and definitely not museum worthy. However, that’s the appeal of it. The mends, the patches, the stitches – the more the merrier! I love the hand-touched, history quality of these pieces and remnants.
Another textile technique that is found in the indigo world is shibori, a tie-dye technique where cotton or silk is expertly and finely wrapped with thread then dipped into indigo vats (several times, depending on the desired colour density). You tend to discover this narrower fabric but it can come in long lengths, especially in cottons.
I was able to visit famous indigo dyer Aizen Kobo in Kyoto and spent an afternoon drinking tea, learning about his craft and having access to his amazing sample books and library.
One of the many things I noticed in Japan was that there was no space too small for a potted garden, whether along the side of a building and curb, guttering of a building, front of a house, even under a chair or hanging.
Throughout Japan you see the copper rainchains that look like flowers and act as downpipes. I have used mine as decoration, waiting for the day I have copper guttering to match. In Japan, they speak of balance in the placement and presentations of objects. It’s a harmony that’s not symmetrical or matching but a simple, quiet considered, understated, less-is-more kind of quality. This is known as wabi-sabi.
There was so much take in as I travelled through the towns and cities, I found myself noting down moments amongst the hustle & bustle:
Went through the busiest intersection in the world. Lots of umbrellas. There is even an umbrella lock-up station.
Everything in Japan has a place to go and something to go in: envelopes, boxes, containers, cloth, chests, drawers, all size bags.
Dr Suess trees sit outside wooden houses with dragon scale roof tiles.
Spiderwebs covered in morning mountain dew build on trees hanging onver the river.
Japanese firemen wear heavy quilt and woven indigo-dyed jackets and helmet hats. The reason for this (as the indigo guy demonstrated) is that indigo does not burn! I try it on a white plate and light a small remnant.
Get thoroughly distracted by long street of brightly coloured streamers, floating decorations. Both sides of street heavily decorated. So festive but got super lost.
Gardens planted so deliberately seasonally.
Such a strong colour palette appeared to me – the hues that thrummed through the places I visited were clearly part of Japan's make up. Here, I detail my Japanese colour palette. See how I brought Japanese style home and check out my tips for places to visit.