Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tokyo International Quilt Show 2012

Bossy Explorer and I were on the train platform by 8 a.m. to meet Patient Explorer on the first car of the express train to Tokyo. Patient Explorer is our Japanese friend who patiently and graciously puts up with us and until this past summer Weather Explorer. She is patient when we ask her to translate things or explain things or make phone calls for us – all this she does with a smile. She has gone on many of our outings, helped coordinate some and always, always is the consummate Japanese lady. The date had been on our calendar for months – the Tokyo International Quilt Show was our destination. For the past two years I have attended this spectacular display of quilts and was ready to be wowed and inspired once more.

I purchased my ticket and once down on the floor turned to Bossy and said “I’m hitting the vendors first and will look at the quilts after lunch.” I had two hours to make my way through the jam-packed aisles before our agreed lunch rendevous, time to make notes and jot down ideas as I passed interesting displays and tried in vain to hold on to as much of my Yen as I could until I made the full sweep.

Once again, the Japanese Way with fiber art speaks to me. The asymmetrical designs, the simplicity and elegance of the designs – this is what I’d come back for. I made note of which number vendors I wanted to revisit and wrote down the cost of the items I wished to purchase – there would be some serious decision making during my lunch break because for better (my desire to stock up on all things Japanese) or worse (my financial bottom line) I did not find a single vendor who would take credit cards. Not one to let a small thing like “all the instructions are in Japanese” I found myself purchasing the tatami matt webbing that I’ve made several purses from. These bags are so interesting, I could not resist. A date with my sewing machine is in my future

Post-lunch, Bossy, Patient and I headed off to look at the quilts. Bossy’s camera died after only a few shots and I became her photographer. Looking for inspiration for the momentous occasion this Spring when she becomes a grandmother – Bossy’s take on the quilts were completely different from mine and through her eyes I saw and appreciated quilts I might otherwise have blown right by. That’s not to say that I didn’t have my moments too. A few of my favorites:

• The Japan quilt – this quilt was breathtaking and the craftsmanship … unbelievable. The details – the hand stitching and embellishment, the layers of fabric and organza, questions of technique – Bossy was surprisingly patient with me as I took photo after photo of this quilt. It's a two sided quilt filled with hearts on one side and cherry blossoms on the other.

• Framed Quilts – These quilts take up such a small space and yet what the artists were able to create within the confines – it was like a license for details. I really liked the whimsy of the felt beads but will have to acknowledges Bossy’s point that it’s a loose definition of quilt. Fiber Art definitely but quilt? Not so sure.

• The bags – oooooohhh the bags. I love the Japanese handbags at these shows and apparently the Japanese do too because the vendors who were selling handles to create your own boutique bags had lines (organized of course with a man holding a sign to let you know where the end of the line was – I didn’t have to read Kanji to figure that one out).

• The Original Design category and the ‘Wa’ category sort of melded in my mind one into another although Patient Explorer did explain that ‘Wa’ means things Japanese but then she smiled and went on to say that of course it also means lots of other things too. Of course it does. (photos at the top are from these 2 categories)

There was so much to see – around every corner more beautiful art. This year of course had so much to do with hope, hope for the future, hope for those still suffering the aftermath of the March 11th triple disaster in Tohoku and through this art there is of course … inspiration

Monday, January 9, 2012


In Christian churches the epiphany season marks new beginnings, a new year in the church calendar. A time to move forward.

In the Miriam-Webster Dictionary it can also mean “an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking” or “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.”

2011 certainly offered those of us stationed here in Japan opportunities to have more than one epiphany as we struggled with decisions that we hope our friends and family back home would never face. Like Christmas ornaments. On the surface these are just decorations but when faced with a decision on what to keep vs what to walk away from they become oh so much more. Each one laced with a memory. If someone handed you a box containing all your ornaments collected over the years and said you can only pick twelve – the rest you may never see again – what would you pick? How could you decide? These are the questions our children faced back in March.

Washi Eggs

If you had walked into our living room nine months ago you would have wondered what I was thinking. Amid all the chaos of trying to pull together essentials and throw them in suitcases to leave for an underdetermined amount of time to an as yet to-be-determined-place, sat our Christmas Boxes. All of them – the big kind that can hold boxes within boxes. I did not bring all of our holiday d├ęcor when we embarked on our overseas move, in fact for the tree trimming I only brought the kids Christmas ornaments. I was on a quest for three small boxes.

“Um, mom, what are you doing?” was the question.
I think they were worried … under the pressure of an earthquake, potential radiation fallout and an evacuation I had finally cracked.

“Here’s the deal guys … we don’t know if we’re coming back. The instructions are to pack like we’ll never return. It’s crazy, I know but you all have to decide what is it you want to take. I thought there would be some ornaments in here that were special to you and you’d rather take. You can leave them at Nana and Granddaddy’s when we get there.”

Three faces were looking back at me as this information registered. The suitcases, the dog crate, the paperwork, the passports that were surrounding us … all that was just stuff, replaceable. But the Christmas ornaments? Those are old friends, memories brought out each year and revisited. Sacred territory.

It was only a moment, a few seconds most likely, as my words hung in the air and then like someone throwing a switch they all sprung into action, opening their respective boxes.

The annual ornaments from my parents were apparently a no brainer, as were the ornaments given to my children by close family friends. The others though were harder choices.

“Mom what do we do about the glass ornaments?”

Good question. “I guess we’ll just pack those back up and hope for the best.” Meaning this craziness circulating at the moment about base closures, locking the keys to the front gates and walking away from a nuclear wasteland was over reaction and part of the rumor mill gone viral.

Five months later, in August, when we finally returned to Japan I knew I was going to put a different spin on our holiday tree. What to put on that tree was a bigger question. I did not want the limbs to be bare and so I started working on washi eggs. Beautiful, but time consuming, my visions of a tree covered in nothing but eggs quickly had a reality check. My expectations were reduced to the still Type A goal of a dozen eggs per child – three dozen eggs. Mondays became my craft day and for a couple of months I worked to cover and finish the eggs.

The eggs dangled from the branches and it was a lovely sight. More washi eggs are in my future – I am not ready to let go of my vision of a tree full of these delicate beauties. Sometimes it takes an "illuminating discovery" to realize that two things as simple as an egg and a piece of paper can be joined together to create something entirely new and beautiful. As the new season of the church begins, I chose to mark this time by looking forward and as our 6 month countdown begins search for new ways to be inspired each day here in Japan.

Check back in for pictures and instructions on how to cover eggs with washi paper.