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Yes! The taxi drivers do wear white gloves.

Day 1 * 初日


Toji Temple Flea Market

Most of the Esprit tour participants had made the choice to arrive in Kyoto a day early in order to attend the city's largest, Flea Market on May 21. Since I had arrived late the night before, this made for a deep end dive into the world of Google Translate, Google Maps, Japanese yen, racks and racks of vintage kimonos, piles of vintage fabric, Japanese street food and the general splendor of the old buildings and gardens to be found at a 380 year old Buddhist Temple.

Let me just say.........this market is huge! Without really knowing the total layout I headed off on a mission to find interesting, and hopefully, vintage fabrics. I was not disappointed. Three hours later I had several bags of goodies. This place was a serious treasure trove!

My best "score" was a large, vintage, indigo Furoshiki, woven in the Kasuri method, and decorated with Sashiko on each of the four corners!

Let me break all of that down for you:

Furoshiki (風呂敷) are Japanese wrapping cloths traditionally used to wrap and/or to transport goods.

Kasuri is a term from the Japanese word kasureru meaning “to blur”. It is a Japanese form of Ikat weaving, whereby patterns are created by resist dying the thread before weaving using several different methods. The warp, the weft or both warp and weft (double ikat) can be dyed to form many intricate patterns.

Sashiko (刺し子?, literally “little stabs”) is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching (or functional embroidery) from Japan. Traditional sashiko was used to reinforce points of wear, or to repair worn places or tears with patches.

Other treasures included:

  • A couple of terrific pieces of clothing, made from vintage, indigo fabric, by this lovely lady.

  • Several packages of small pieces of indigo fabric, a couple of interesting wooden Bento boxes, and a lovely little teapot made of Sue Ware from the Ohmi ceramics research center.

Sue Ware Ceramics:


Private Craft Shopping Tour

I have been interested in, and practicing, Sashiko for a little over a year now. As described in the section above, it is a form of Japanese stitching that is made up of running stitches to create these lovely, decorative patterns. It has become very popular in the world and there is no shortage of info, resources and supplies to be found on-line.

Sashiko,lab is a small business located in Kyoto that is owned and run by Kazue Yoshikawa. She has an on-line store where you can find downloadable patterns, sign up for classes, and purchase some supplies. She also holds workshops in her charming atelier and, for those with some serious supply shopping desires, she does private Craft Shopping Tours of Kyoto.

As soon as I was sure I was going to Kyoto I signed up for a tour with Kazue. Once booked through Airbnb, Kazue sent me a questionnaire asking what types of treasures I would like to find in the narrow streets of Kyoto.

On May 21, after my trip to Toji Market in the morning, I met Kazue back at my hotel. She had a Google Maps route planned out to aid us in our hunt and we set off for a fun afternoon.

  • Our first stop was at the famous, although a little hard to find, Misuyabari Needle shop where sewing needles have been handmade for 400 years. The entrance is located in the busy Sanjo Dori mall and, as you walk along the narrow hallway towards it, you feel like you are passing through a time warp into the past.

Inside the little shop we found the current owner who is the 17th generation of his family to run the business. His choice of needles, tiny sewing kits, and pin cushion decorations were irresistible and I left with a darling little bag of goodies that included sashiko needles that are perfect for my hand size.

  • Next up with Kazue was a couple of antique shops. where I found Japanese style thread spools, a vintage child's Obi, and a very old and rare Obi in the sakiori weaving style.

The Japanese word sakiori comes from "saki," which means to tear or rip up, and "ori," which means weave. The process is the same as in American & European rag weaving.

  • I have been wanting a pair of the Japanese thread clippers that are commonly used when doing Sashiko. Next Kazue took me to her favorite knife sharpener, who also sells a small assortment of knives, sewing scissors and thread clippers. To be honest, I lost track of where we were exactly, but I found myself in this tiny shop meeting this lovely, old gentleman. His shop is so small there is only room for one "pair" of customers in at a time. Outside there is a little bench where people sit and wait patiently if they find him already busy with someone else when they arrive. I chose my set of clippers and then he turned to the back, dark corner of the room and proceeded to sharpen them to perfection on a sharpening wheel! He checked and rechecked how well they cut a little scrap of fabric. Then he handed them to me to try to make sure I was happy with them. I truly was and will treasure them forever.

  • Looking for Sashiko thread in Kyoto? We started with a trip to the 6th floor of the department store Takashimaya. You will find a small, but well stocked, section that contains an Hobbra Hobbre store. They have their own brand of thread in a wide range of colors plus a big selection of Hana Fukin designs.

  • But wait! There is so much more. If you are a fan of Olympus or Dharma thread you can find a terrific selection at VERY reasonable prices at Yamaguchi Chubee

  • Finally, a few minutes before closing time, we arrived at Itoroku. This is a family run business that was founded in 1871 and sells silk and cotton threads. They have a wide range of silk colors, a few cottons dyed in both chemical and natural dyes, and these fabulous little boxed sets of Indigo dyed gradients in both silk and cotton. They have an old thread winding machine in the back that is worth the trip alone. My oh my......... what a wonderful place.

At the end of the afternoon, Kazue tucked me, and all of my treasures, into a taxi and sent me back to my hotel. I didn't drop............but I sure did shop!

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I have always been fascinated by the enchanting allure of Japanese culture and craftsmanship. There is a quality of timelessness that draws me into a world where ancient traditions blend seamlessly with modern innovation. A world where aesthetic expression finds its voice through the handiwork of its craftspeople.

Traditional skills—such as kimono making, lacquerware, porcelain, and blacksmithing—have been passed down for generations. Each region of the country draws upon its own natural resources, resulting in unique craftsmanship that resonates with sustainability-minded consumers.

Ultimately, crafted items, designed with longevity in mind, gain character and quality over time.

Shortly before I retired from my "day job" a year ago I discovered that there where small group traveling experiences to Japan to study textiles. "Say What? Where do I sign up?"

An exhaustive Google search found several options and, in the end, I was fortunate to find an opening with Esprit Travel for this May. The tour was to be based in Kyoto, the undisputed cultural seat of Japan, and was focused on the Textiles of Kyoto. Perfect!

This launched me into a whirlwind of excitement and preparation over the last year. I watched YouTube videos on Japanese craftsmanship, read books, signed up for Japanese on Duolingo, took on-line classes on how to take and edit travel pictures on your phone, and was generally obsessed with preparations.

May 19 I flew from Chicago O'Hare on a 13 hour Japanese Airline flight to Toyko, Haneda airport. From there I had another 1 hour flight to Osaka, Itami airport and, finally, a 45 minute taxi ride to the Cross Hotel in Kyoto. I had arrived.

The following 10 days totally exceeded my expectations. The level of expertise and detail that Esprit and it's staff gave us was remarkable. Workshops, gallery visits, visits to artist's studios, the food, the shopping, the scenery, the people..........amazing.

On the long flight home from Tokyo to Chicago last Friday, I thought a lot about all that I had experienced.

Now, with over a thousand pictures, a head full of new information and ideas, and a heart full of love for this rich culture, I have decided to document it all in this blog.

This is my first attempt at a blog so please bare with me!


I hope you will enjoy what I have to share even a tiny bit as much as I enjoyed my first trip to Japan.

For more information about Esprit Tours please check here:

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