Japan Indigo Workshop-Stencil Dyeing-Part 1

One morning Bryan gathered the group together and marched us down to the Fujino bus station where we took a bus to the train station and then a train to Hachioji where we took another bus to the home/studio of  Noguchi-san. The eleven of us were a minor curiosity to other riders as we were in a rural part of the country and locals did not often see so many westerners traveling together using the local transportation system.

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At the train station, before boarding the second bus, Bryan directed us to what we would call here the food court, where every kind of Japanese food was available. 90% of the signs  were in Japanese and personnel spoke no English so the two of us opted for salads and a type of chips. Several others were more familiar with the selections and chose differently.

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Mr. Noguchi is a 7th generation katazome or stencil dyer and is a national living treasure. Japan holds its crafts and artists in high esteem and consider many things as art unlike some countries that lump a lot of creativity into the simple category “crafts”. Under the 1950 Law for Protection of Cultural Properties, intangible and tangible cultural areas of high value in terms of Japanese history or art were designated worthing of preserving. The government designates one person in each area as a living treasure once that person has attained a high enough level of mastery to help ensure the continuation of that art. There are currently 59 living treasures in such areas as pottery, textiles, lacquerware and paper making. This bit of history helps to understand what an honor it was to visit Mr. Noguchi.

Seems like this would be a good idea for the U.S. to do as we have certain arts that are specific to our country (granted much of it did originate in other countries but we have put our stamp on them (weaving, quilting, native American beading and certain pottery work and jewelry designs).

There are no signs or advertising to let one know when they have arrived at his studio. Indeed, it is not open to the public and only through Bryan’s carefully cultivated relationship with Mr. Noguchi were we able to visit.

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The above is Bryan, Mr. Noguchi’s daughter in law, Mr. Noguchi and his son who is working as the 8th generation in this family business. The son and his wife share the home with his parents. The daughter in law works outside the home, which is a typical arrangement in Japanese families. There are two grandchildren, a boy and a girl. The boy shows little interest in katazome but the granddaughter may be the 9th generation of this family to continue the business. This continuation of a family business and life is so refreshing and fascinating to many of us from the west.

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In order to prepare us for this learning experience, the day before, Bryan has us pick leaves and flowers from his yard and do some simple stencil dyeing. This gave us the basic concepts of what we were doing and would hopefully keep us from looking like total idiots on our field trip (although as you will see-we all did quite well).

This was some of our work at Bryan’s studio.

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The paste was mixed and ready to spread.

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Before arriving in Japan, Bryan had given us homework assignments; one of which was to cut stencils that we would prepare before going to Noguchi-san’s. Sophie was a last minute student and was working on hers after getting to Bryan’s.

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The table is spread with items from the yard and we are all trying to be very creative, or at least get something recognizable to result.

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After arriving at the studio we were shown the process of applying the stencils and paste to cloth. We each had a piece of cloth to work on. The cloth is the width of kimono cloth and the boards were each the length of a kimono bolt; although our pieces were much smaller. Debbie worked hard applying her stencils just right. We also had a choice of using some of Mr. Naguchi’s inexpensive stencils.

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The paste application was all done in one building, a shed like structure open at one end to the yard where the boards were dried after the paste was applied. The boards Noguchi-san used were very old and sanded/scrubbed down after each use until now they are very thin.

Now that we have you all hyped and ready, we will make you wait until the next posting to see the dye vats and the results of our work. We will give you a glimpse of a couple of the amazing stencils in Noguchi-San’s collection.

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Until next time

Debbie and David

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