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.
Lesser 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.
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).
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:
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!
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!