Monday, August 24, 2009

Stashoholism Confessional: Tokyo Edition

The last stop on my trip to Asia was Tokyo. I have wanted to visit this city since I was a little girl and we learned about it in Social Studies (do they still have this?). It seemed a city with such a mix of tradition and modernism and a culture so completely new to me yet accessible to an outsider (to some degree) because of the tradition of politeness and hospitality.

I definitely ended up loving the city, though I was surprised by how hard it was. My stereotype of the Japanese as orderly and logical made me think the city would be laid out on a perfect grid and everything would be easy to find. But of course this was a silly preconception on my part. Tokyo is an ancient city that grew organically and in a different way than a Western city. The value is on knowing your neighbors and your neighborhood, not on creating an anonymous planned city. So, many of the streets don't have names, and the ones that do don't have signs, and the ones that do don't match up to your map. Street numbers are not sequential, but are based on when the building was built. But the subway system is excellent and for major sites signs inside the subway station tell you which exit to take and once you get outside you only need to scan the area and you'll usually spot what you're looking for.

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum, TokyoLesser sites take more patience. I finally learned, on my last morning, the art of patience. You just have to accept that it will take you an hour to find whatever you're looking for, even if it is only a few blocks from the train station. (Of course, you can always take a cab, but to me that is cheating.) The Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum is about three or four blocks from the Shinjuku station, but it definitely took me a full hour to find it (this is the building it's in, if that helps). I will concede that partly this is because I have no sense of direction (and it was cloudy the whole time I was there).

However, I eventually found it. It is a small museum, somewhere along the lines of DC's Textile Museum. It doesn't display a permanent collection; rather, it is a series of special exhibits from its large collection. While I visited (and thank goodness there was an exhibition on after I finally found it!!!!) it was "Red Clothing From Around the World." Asia was heavily represented, of course, but there were also pieces from Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The focus was on traditional, but not necessarily historical, clothing--most of the pieces from Africa and the Americas were from the 1980s and showed how modern synthetic fabrics have been incorporated into traditional modes of dress. For the US, there was a piece from Halston and from Europe some Victorian pieces and a dress from Madame Gres. It was a good visit, and worth the hour it took to find.

Tokyo Fabric District Map

All right, I'm sure you're eager for me to get to the good stuff--my visit to the Nippori Fabric District. I didn't have to figure out how to find it, thank goodness. I met up with a friend of a friend who is an expat living and working in Tokyo (speaks *and* reads Japanese). All I can tell you is to take the Yamanote Line (it's a JR Line that circles the city) to Nippori Station, which is shown at the bottom of the map. The first fabric store we visited handed me the map at right. It is very cute and in English. If you find yourself heading to Japan, I'll see if I can PDF it and email it to you (not sure my scanner can handle odd sizes).

Tokyo Fabric District Once you're in the fabric district it's really easy for once--you just walk up and down the street in a straight line! I'm afraid at this point in my trip I was dazed and exhausted and only thought to take one picture while I was there (and none of me in Nippori, boo). The shops are, for the most part, little storefronts not too dissimilar to the NYC garment district. Tomato, of course, is an exception--three different stores and 7 floors of fabric. I would say in terms of selection it is a little less comprehensive than the NYC garment district or the Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar in Hong Kong. But this makes it a little easier on a very hot day when you are very tired.

There is a lot of cotton, which is what I ended up with. I didn't run into too much silk and virtually no knits. In Tomato there was a floor of special occasion fabric that had some jaw-dropping laces and other fancy fabrics. The prices were similarly jaw-dropping, but certainly no more than you would pay in the States for such fine fabrics. Cidell asked if there were so many adorable juvenile prints, but actually I didn't run across that many. Tomato has a floor of quilting cottons in lots of colorful prints, and some of those were in juvenile motifs, but mostly the garment fabrics were in more adult (or uni-lifecycle) prints.

Knowing that my suitcase was already full to bursting, I restrained myself:

Tokyo 8-09

The print on the left is a heavyish textured cotton. I don't normally go in for ethnic motifs because it can be disrespectful (in my opinion) if not done well. But something about the print really spoke to me and it is already made up. The navy print was so Japanese I just had to get it! It is a heavy cotton and I am thinking it will be a great fall piece in Vogue 7693 (now out of print, apparently) with the straight skirt and a 3/4 sleeve with a cuff. The middle print I just had to have; it's a lightweight cotton lawn--very reminiscent of Liberty both in print and fabric. The selvage calls it "swiss cotton" made in Japan. I have no idea what that will be. Of course I want it to be a dress but I think it is too lightweight, so I have to find the perfect blouse pattern.

Of course, I had to make room for some Japanese publications!

Drape Drape and Mrs. Stylebooks

For these we visited Okadaya in Shinjuku, which has 7 floors of craft supplies, including a floor of books and magazines. Earlier in the trip I had visited Tokyu Hands on my own, another craft store that had come well-recommended. However, in the area of craft stores I will say that you don't need to feel too deprived if you can't get to Tokyo. The stores were very large and had a wide variety of goods; however, to me it was kind of like a Joann minus the crap but not plus much. I mean, it was nice not to see hideous faux-wooden, faux-folkcraft, faux-cheery holiday decorations, but I didn't see anything I wanted to buy, either. In Tokyu Hands I bought only a small notepad because I'd forgotten to bring one. At Okadaya I bought the book and magazines (well worth the trip!) but pretty much the only other thing was a random patch from the U.S. style patch section (!) that has my *very* unusual last name on it. It was so bizarre to run into that.

Anyway, the book has 17 patterns for drapey garments, one of which will be making an appearance soon as my birthday dress. It comes with complete patterns in four different sizes; the pattern sheets make BWOF seem like child's play and Patrones (harder than BWOF, I think) a breeze. I bought the Stylebooks in a fit of insanity. They're nice for inspiration, even if I will never sew anything from them since I don't know the first thing about rotating darts and all that.

I checked out Female magazine (whose corporate headquarters were near my hotel, I think; there was a building with posters for three magazines in the window, but it wasn't a shop). The styles were younger and simpler than in Stylebook and I didn't find it very interesting. So that was a consolation for not getting it here.

All my Tokyo photos (the ones I've edited, at least) are here.


So that was my trip! Very whirlwind, very fun, and lots of fabric!


Christina said...

Thanks for taking us fabric shopping with you in Tokyo! I recently saw pictures of that "drape drape" book online and the styles look fab. Can't wait to see your birthday dress.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your Tokyo entry. Its wonderful, the variety of fabrics you have from each of your destinations. Japan has always been a much longed for but intimidating travel destination for me due to the language barrier. So its amazing to me, all that you got done on your first trip there. Have fun sewing with all your new lovelies!

Little Hunting Creek said...

I love those fabrics. You could certainly be my fabric buyer because we have the same tastes.
I espcecially love the middle one
It does want to be a dress, I heard it say so

badmomgoodmom said...

Nice purchases, and very restrained. ;-)

Were you shocked by the lack of children in Japan? I visited my cousins in 2005 (I have 8 in Japan) and was surprised that none of my female cousins with careers were married or even had children. The ones that had married, had to quit work outside the home as soon as they had a baby (some even sooner, depending upon their employer).

No wonder they are an aging society with abysmal birth rates. They have failed their females. Actually, a male cousin says the society as a whole has failed. He'd like to marry a thinking woman, but what thinking woman would want to get married?

Pamela said...

Good info on Tokyo, and you really hit the nail on the head in your reference to Joanne Fabrics. I went there today to add a few fall fabrics to my stash - what a disappointment!! That's why I get most of my fabrics from travel. I've been to Little India in Kuala Lumpur, but not any batik shopping in outer Malaysia. I'll be going to Singapore in January, the rest of the year will be limited to fabric shopping in Europe.

I'd like to get back to Tokyo and get some great prints like those you've shown. The middle print is very similar to a Sanganeer hand block cotton I purchased in India. Thanks for sharing your travel tips - it really is a help!


Sue said...

I had a stop-over in Tokyo last year but did not get to the fabric district (family in tow & not much time!), so I really appreciate reading about your visit. I hope I get there another time. Great haul!

Faye Lewis said...

Such an international stash! Wonderful.

Katharine in Brussels said...

Glad you got to see Tokyo at last, and with a fluent friend no less.

Sherril said...

Trena, I'd love to travel the way you do. In a way, I feel like I went with you because of your blog. Thanks for sharing your trip with us and all the wonderful fabrics to buy. I love the fabric on the right with the bright green/geometric shapes.

cidell said...

I loooove that little map! NYC should consider doing the same thing!

Kathi said...

What wonderful memories you will have as you wear the items you make with your fabric!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic trip. Sorry you were so tired, but it looked like you still had a pleasant time. I love the fabric choices you made.

I hope you get caught up on your rest!

senaSews said...

Wow, fabric shopping on travelling trips is the best! I envy you for the pattern magazines - even though i doubt that i would manage to work with their construction scheme :-)

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

I want to know which fabric buying experience you enjoyed the most? And which of the spots had the best fabric overall?

Miriam in KS said...

Happy Birthday! I hope you've had a great day.

connie b said...

Can you see me rubbing my hands together and cackling "ohhh my pretties..!" Thanks for the virtual trip you took us on!

poplin said...


And thank you for the story and pictures of your trip to Tokyo. I hope to go soon.

Uta said...

The whole trip sounds wonderful! Japanese culture appears to be so incredibly refined, something I'd love to see for myself one day. As for Mrs. Stylebook - I wouldn't dare order a sewing magazine based on slopers, but it must be incredibly interesting. Are you going to make something from it?
I hope you got home all right, and that you have only happy reasons for not blogging recently!

Rachel said...

I was just in Japan a week ago, and we went to some of the same places!

I'm totally with you on the confusing streets--even with a couple of maps it took me forever to finally locate Tokyu Hands in Shibuya. But the Nippori Fabric Town was surprisingly easy to find and navigate, even for someone with no Japanese language abilities. I was kind of disappointed in the area, though--I didn't end up buying anything at all. There was nothing that really jumped out at me as "must-haves," so I showed restraint due to my suitcase limitations.

Even though I didn't buy anything there, either, Tokyu Hands blew me away. I actually went to two of them, I think it was the one in Shibuya which is the largest location of all. They had so many craft supplies I've never seen before--I wish I could transport the whole store to San Francisco. Much better than Joanns, in my opinion.

I've started posting pictures from my trip to Tokyo in installments. Here's the first, with several more to come:
I hope it brings back good memories, and thanks for your inspiring blog!

Marita said...

What a wonderful journey, great places, friendly people and pretty fabrics. I love that Liberty-like fabric you got from Japan and the Drape Drape book is on my to get list too, among a few (about 13)others. The pleatneckline dress is so pretty, fabulous color.