Do we ever stop to think about what we step on as we walk on our paths? Magnificent tiny flowers, weeds really, are growing there quite beautiful and hardly noticed or appreciated. Stop before you step and you will discover a whole unnoticed kingdom blooming underfoot. Stop and you will find what our flower loving Sayoko Hayasawa looks for as she takes walks in any neighborhood, any vacant lot, any cemetery to see the unplanted gardens blooming there.
A customer kindly remarked recently that Blue & White is a museum. No higher praise, I thought. But to add to this, I hope it can also be seen as a nature walk. On her days off Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, our very talented chief of staff, Sayoko Hayasawa spends her days walking and plucking flowers in Kamakura, in Aoyama Cemetery, in Daikanyama and other unsuspected places where weeds and wild flowers grow, and comes in to work the next day with little wet towels filled with blossoms and leaves and berries that she proceeds to arrange in perfectly mundane and unnoticed containers. The result is tiny miniature imitations of the natural world. As someone noticed yesterday, Blue & White products on display come alive with her flowers. Hayasawa san brings the outside into the shop and it breathes life into otherwise inanimate things. For anyone interested, the flowers are also for sale – a sweet and thoughtful birthday present or hostess gift. They are always my first choice as something to bring someone who is sick or has invited me to supper.
Who would have thought that these simple no big deal flowers that we often step on thinking they are just weeds would become such eloquent syntheses of nature itself? The glory usually goes to the roses and the chrysanthemums and the carnations. But who ever notices these tiny no big deal flowers that peak their heads out in their season? Hayasawa san does, and she gingerly picks them with her pristine Chanel polished nails (no gloves for her!) and brings them to the shop to give them new life. A life that she orchestrates with other leaves and sprigs and berries in a jar or pot that can be as mundane as the glass pudding container that she buys at her fancy Meidi-ya market, as much for itself as for the sweet pudding it contains.
Not all of the containers are even visible, but the textiles on which they are perched are enhanced by their beauty. This one a gossamer hemp stole of two or three times dipped indigo and white
Who knows the names or the genus of these anonymous flowers?
Anonymity can be beguiling.
Plucky purple stitches on a white dust cloth are a perfect partner for this plucky arrangement of rust colored leaves and a lavender aster.
It’s true. Everything in Blue & White comes alive in the company of natural arrangements of flowers picked from the roadside. A colorful sashiko pin from Tamagawa Special Abilities Center, and some small Otafuku amulets.
Stripes loud and clear lead to a joyful arrangement of tiny pink and white flowers in a small blue and white cup.
Subtle stripes of hemp kimono material run diagonally under this equally natural arrangement of nejiriso – sometimes we know the names! – and wild asters and leaves and seed pods? Anonymous or no, the effect is stunning.
The glass pudding jar again with an assortment of wild asters and leaves and no name flowers on a crossing of different indigo carp banners by Factory Ai.
A spikey arrangement of ferns and leaves and berries in a tea cup or large blue and white sake cup on an indigo and white striped stole by Factory Ai
Two complimentary arrangements swim in a stream of an indigo and white stole dyed by Factory Ai.
On an elegant background of charcoal dyed table cloth or bedspread, hand stitched with a wandering sashiko pattern and windmill motifs on the edges, a whole woodland of flowers and leaves and berries can be displayed to bring the peace and quiet of nature inside. Here Hayasawa san has arranged a number of pots and containers with the silent beauties she finds on her long walks in the city, mind you! and has put them together in original and delicate portraits of nature itself.
(Like the other textiles pictured in this blog, the background bedspread/table cloth is for sale upon request)
Blue & White
A customer from the UK, a quilting teacher, came into the shop yesterday and told how amazed her husband was that she had found the shop. How did she know about it he asked? She replied smugly that she just knew. Blue & White has a cult following, she explained. I was taken aback by her remark at first, but the more I thought about it, the more pleased I was. Why should we have a cult following? I wondered, but then I looked around the shop, having only recently been investigating other out of the ordinary, quirky shops, and realized that yes, we were a bit odd, out of the ordinary, HEN as they say in Japanese. So I took out my iphone to photograph the possible candidates that may have earned us a “cult following”.
Some of the best oddities come from friends
Mittens by my SCRUNCH potter friend jill Hall, made out of her old bathrobe and sweater. Nothing wasted! Warm all over!
Below: SCRUNCH ITSELF! My favorite SCRUNCH sake cup, though the sake doesn’t always arrive at its intended destination.
Other friends add curiosities as well.
A letter from clever Nancy Ukai Russell amazed me even more when I realized that the attention grabbing envelope was from an old Blue & White calendar page!
It all only serves to show that in these times of mass-produced sameness, a little odd, a little jolt of surprise, adds spice and amusement to an otherwise bland and unexciting horizon.
Have a look at some of the curious inhabitants of Blue & White
Selvedge edges of indigo fabric become magical balls of ribbon just wairing to be put to use by some imaginative sewer. Here they
support Washi necklaes of random indigo patterns. Part of the curiosity comes from not knowing what it is you are looking at!
Small pins of indigo wtih innocent little spectacles embroidered on by of As It Is Museum.
When I first met her at As It Is, and complimented her on the one she had on, she gave it to me – a true Japanese trait of generosity. Now she makes them for Blue & White. Lucky!
In a cardboard whirl. Splendiid sculpted cardboard pin by Colleen Sakurai, The Cardboard Whisperer!
Amazing find at the Flea Market at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine,(1st, 2ndnd and 4th Sundays in Monzen Nakacho on the Oedo subway line). A contemporary BORO quilt of raggedy squares pieced together in a giant and enchanting and heavy whole! The maker kindly lent it to me so I could show all who come to Blue & White the marvels and resourcefulness of Japanese artisans. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know the shop. But still she let me bring it to the shop for 2 weeks! Curious and beautiful! And uncommonly trusting.
Now in the window and for sale at the shop.
Colorful, fanciful bag by Special Ability artisans of Aomori prefecture introduced by
Consummate weaver from Aomori, Osonae Nori san.
Close up of the BORO QUILT in the window for all the International Quilt Show visitors to enjoy.
Charming Otafuku creation from cut ends of tenugui, becomes a star player at Blue & White. With ingenuity, Susanna Wellenberg of Munich, puts to use whatever she finds and makes it into something charming and unexpected.
Susanna is a long time faithful follower of the Blue & White cult. Her inventive Sashiko transcends everything that is normal. She takes it to a higher place.
Small Boro note books with pages of inverted copy paper mistakes. Mottainai:
Nothing wasted! Everything has a use.
Voluptuous bag by NONOICHI SAN. She takes stips of Tenugui and Yukata and knits them into a charming all purpose hand or shoulder bag.
Baby socks by NONOICHI san/ Every time she comes she brings a new surprise! Something made with whimsy and love.
A perfect fit for BLUE & WHITE
Flower surprise! Our irrepressible Hayasawa san works hard arranging and displaying the shop, entertaining customers. but on her days off, she takes long walks in cemeteries and abadoned lots and picks the unwanted weeds and flowers growing by the wayside. Her arrangements are spontaneous collages of what she has found. Finds that no flower shop could ever match. For sale at the shop as a from the heart gift to a friend, or to bring home to brighten up your life.
The end of our story of Blue & White Curiosities. Otafuku from the rear? Mrs. Santa Claus? Or simply a reminder to keep us from going into the fridge again!
That’s BLUE & WHITE. CURIOUS INDEED! Look for the BLUE & WHITE sandwich board at the top of the escalator in Azabu Juban.
ONI WA SOTO ! OUT WITH THE BAD!
FUKU WA UCHI ! IN WITH THE GOOD!
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3RD AT 4PM
AT BLUE & WHITE
CELEBRATING THE BEGINNING OF SPRING
WITH SETSUBUN BEAN THROWING EVENT.
CHASE OUT THE DEMONS! WELCOME GOOD FORTUNE!
OTAFUKU REIGNS SUPREME AT BLUE & WHITE!
After 43 years of Blue & White, my eyes only see BLUE. And it may well be that BLUE is taking over the color spectrum. From the skies, to the rivers to the bridges, and even the netting that surrounds them under repair, BLUE is the reigning color
The autumn skies in Japan and in winter are especially blue and vibrant against autumn leaves and snow.
Blue skies of summer are brush work paintings in themselves. August clouds are like no others. Of course, clouds are the best counterpoint to brilliant blue skies.
The blues of the sky meet the blue pacific ocean at Enoura, an enchanted sanctuary near Odawara built by photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto from an old mikan plantation, for solstice viewing and to be home to his astounding collection of centuries old stones and bridges, cobblestones and a 14th century gates. A new must visit for travellers to Japan.
A massive torii of ancient stone pillars and lintels is the gate between the blue sea below and the Tea House that Sugimoto has designed after Sen no Rikyu
But blue’s not all skies and clouds. People are blue too. This celebrant in blue at the July Kumano Nachi Fire Festival was in strong contrast to the whites of the standard bearers who carried flaming red standards up and down these ancient steps. An incredibly dangerous and thrilling sight
A joyful young fisherman in Naoshima not only just in blue, but in blue karakusa, a favorite scrolling vine design.
A carpenter in Tokushima wrapped in an indigo dyed towel surveys the extensive damage done by a recent typhoon to a large old walled chieftain’s house in Tokushima that is fortunately a protected cultural property so that some government assistance will help with repairs.
Blue helps him smile, though he has his work cut out for him.
True blue believer at the ultimate Flea Market in Yamato, outside of Tokyo. Everything and anything is there, from junk to treasure, and everything in between.
A beguiling shibori dress in indigo dyed washi at a recent Washi exhibit at Awagami Factory in Tokushima
Home dyed swatches of indigo shibori made as Christmas presents for a large family, sit photogenically in the kitchen of multifaceted Dorie Vollum in Portland.
Acrylic painting by Mina Katsuki, a Kyoto artist who only sees and paints blue – flaming cobalt blue.
A quiet beach scene at Naoshima, near the bus stop on the way home
The majestic shape of the roof of the Naoshima Hall was recently designed and built by Hiroshi Sambuichi of Hiroshima whose designs evolve slowly from long consideration of the confluence of the essential elements: sun, wind and water. A magnificent counterpoint to blue.
The buildings of the beautifully restored !8th century town of Mima in Tokushima, Japan’s indigo capital, are architectural masteries of carpentry and plasterwork where even the skies are indigo.
Below the Udatsu walls between houses are elegant firewalls of plaster and tile, built to prevent fire from spreading.
Uncommonly beautiful craftsmanship against blue skies in the restored town of Mima. Everything looks better against a blue background.
Demon roof tiles, Onigawara, keep bad spirits away, under a glorious blue sky.
Of all the blues my eyes keep focusing on, one humble one was on a seat cushion of Zuisenji temple in the craftsmen’s town of Inami in Toyama. The ladies of the temple had put their hands to crocheting cushions of all colors in crysanthemum shapes for long prayer services on the spartan chairs in the main hall, but I ONLY HAD EYES FOR BLUE.
But then again, each time I think I have found The Ultimate Blue, something new/old keeps appearing. And here was a Glorious Blue Boro at the OEdo Antique Market on Sunday December 19 that brought joy to my indigo heart.
The response to our ECOBAG exhibit has been enthusiastic and in thanks Blue & White prepared a small wooden sewing box for all the things that participants will need for their next project. Scissors, blue threads, white threads, a pin cushion, needles and pins with a tenugui to wipe their brow when it’s hot. Which it certainly is! All in a lidded hinoki box.
Thank you one and all for putting needle and thread to tenugui to come up with some wonderfully original ideas. We hope to keep a line of handmade ECOBAGS in the shop at all times to encourage everyone to give up the insidious plastic shopping bag habit, and give color and character to our shopping bags.
What made us happiest of all was the number of people who responded to our invitation and joined in and went to great troubles to enter the ECOBAG exhibit. The array of new ideas for shapes and sizes and uses was inspiring. People all put their heads to making useful new designs for shopping bags they could keep with them at all times and say no thank you when offered yet another plastic bag at the supermarket.
Have a look at a few of the bags we received.
An inviting line up of new shapes made with tenugui we had in the shop sewn by our industrious and imaginative Sayoko Hayasawa.
Asako Sangai used her own silk screen designs to make her ECO BAG. She is a Blue & White graduate and is inspired by the children she now works with.
Noriko Mitsuya is intrigued with the infinite variety of tenugui designs she keeps discovering, and makes different shaped bags to match them.
She was eager to find new tenugui and designed bags for all uses that you can see behind her. The smashing one she is holding will be her next ECOBAG.
A happy match. This customer came in and immediately spotted a strong graphic ECOBAG that worked well with her fresh Liberty print dress.
These embroidered whales on a black on black spotted tenugui was a favorite.
ECOBAGS are FOREVER.
No end of shapes or patterns or sizes.
They brighten our lives and make shopping fun while helping us do our small part to Save the Seas.
Every time we use an EcoBag we put 3 or 4 plastic bags out of business!
Join the Blue & White EcoBag campaign and make one for each day. What a smart thing to do !
Wild geese on a hand sewn shopping bag for small things.
It’s a matter of priorities. Minato Ward has its right! Unbeknownst to me, the powers that are in Tokyo’s Minato ward, where many Embassies are located, and many international residents of Tokyo live, decided that the venerable camphor tree in the historic Arisugawa Park needed to be moved. By chance or no, I happened by on moving day and was astonished by the large group of helmets assembled around the mammoth tree which had been shorn of its foliage, its roots wrapped in straw bunting, as I drove by.
Not unlike many traditional festival machinations that I have witnessed over the years, moving the giant Mikoshi for Kyoto’s Gion festival and Chichibu’s night festival outside of Tokyo, the tree had been hoisted and tethered and set on stout horizontal wooden beams with rollers on wooden tracks to guide its movement 10 meters back into the park. There were even traditional words for the front rollers – Kanzashi – and the back rollers Okagura!
A tall square mound of earth had been carefully prepared to be its new home. Workers diligently swept away any stray stones or dirt that could impede the forward movement.
Ancient engineering which, though used infrequently, still has professionals who guard the secret. 10 or 15 had been assembled for the great move, along with 60 or so other gardeners, engineers and technicians who helped.
I rushed by later to see what was happening and found that the tree was moving.
A sign had been posted to inform the neighborhood of moving day, yesterday, July 26 at 10 am. The 70 ton tree was to be moved 10 meters. By chance I had driven by the great assembly and the straw wrapped tree, so I walked back later just in time for the move. I had lived in Azabu for 35 years, and feel a particular love for the neighborhood and the park and its trees where I have walked many dogs many days and many nights.
The retention of ancient wisdom, the reverence for ancient trees, the respect for nature, the persistence of ancient values rang out in the claps of the 70 workers who rejoiced at their success in moving the old tree and the joy of by standers who had watched the slow process, which had started months earlier.
And the tears that fell from my eyes as I watched yesterday and today as I tell the story of the tree that moved, are all a part of why I love Japan.
Fumiko Kikuchi, the soon to be 97 year old Mother of my dear friend, Yuri, has been making delicious marmalade from the fruitful natsu mikan tree in her magical Tokyo garden for years. It was what Yuichi, my sweets-loving husband, lived for each year. (She should open a shop in Paris and sell it, he always told her!) We planted our own natsu mikan tree at home, which grew quickly and bore fruit generously. But I never dreamed of trying to emulate Kikuchi san’s natsu mikan marmalade.
Instead, I opted for candied peels that I never tire of cutting and simmering, because I adore them myself, and am proud to give to friends something I have made myself. I too often rely on giving what others have made!
This year, we didn’t have enough natsu mikan, so I foolishly asked my friend whose tree had borne 100 fruits last year, if she had any extras. Sadly she said that there were only 30 on her tree this year, so I forgot about my request. But she didn’t and last week, true to her thoughtful ways, she arrived in Blue & White with a huge shopping bag so heavy she could barely lift it. And herein lies the tale.
Yuri had felt badly that she couldn’t spare any fruit, so she mustered up her courage and went to an adjoining and unknown neighbor’s house whose tree was large and laden with fruit. Her heart pounding, she rang his door bell and a very old man with a slightly grumpy look on his face, appeared and asked her what she wanted. In all those years of living next door to each other, they had never met. She explained that her friend wanted to make natsu mikan peels and she wondered if he was going to use his fruit. She had waited til late in the season to make sure that he wasn’t. The garden was a jungle and clearly hadn’t been touched for years!
He said help yourself. And just come in to the garden freely. You don’t need to ring the bell, he said as he teetered unsteadily on his wooden geta to show her the tree.
She waited to go until Sunday when her husband could help her, and give courage. He carried the ladder. She climbed it! And like monkeys, she said – not such young ones at that! – they picked every mikan they could reach ! There were many more than 20 big fat natsu mikan in the heavy bag she brought.
When I heard the story and the dangers my friend and her husband had subjected themselves to for love of a friend and love of natsu mikan, the fruit tasted that much sweeter, and the old old friendship that much deeper.
RECIPE FOR CANDIED NATSU MIKAN PEELS
4 or 5 Natsu Mikan
2 ½ cups sugar
Cut the natsu mikan peels into thin slivers with a sharp knife.
Place in a thick pan filled with cold water.
Bring to a boil over high heat and blanch for 5 minutes.
Drain the water, cool and repeat three times
Save the fruit inside for jelly or marmalade
In the same pan, combine 1½ cups of sugar and 1 cup water
Bring to a boil over high heat. Let it become slightly syrupy then add the peels.
Simmer very gently until peels become translucent and they have absorbed the syrup. Stir frequently to keep from burning.
Drain the peels, and let them cool.
When cool roll them in the remaining cup of sugar – you may need more – on a flattish plate – and spread them to dry on a rack with parchment paper underneath
Let them dry for 4 or 5 hours, or overnight.
Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.
It works for yuzu, grapefruit or other thick skinned citrus fruit.
But there is no recipe for a friendship like that.
Just great good fortune!
Above is the recipe for these golden peels.