Seek Journeys: Unplanned in Tokyo with Yasuko Yamamoto

As a quintessential Capricorn, I am a careful planner and impulsivity is not in my charts, especially when it comes to setting out on an intercontinental trip. This journey changed all of that...

After booking a last minute flight to Tokyo in October I tried to reign in my urge to plan and schedule my day and instead took a deep breath and picked a few “musts” and let the wanderlust take its course.

I travel often but never without a companion. In all the years that I had been going to Japan, this was the first trip that I felt no sense of urgency; no need to run to catch the train or to plan out activities in advance that suited everyone. Of course I love traveling with my friends and family but this trip felt refreshingly freeing with boundless choices just for me.

My first priority was to indulge my sweet tooth for breakfast like a gleeful child at the historic Shiseido Parlour Salon de Cafe, established in 1902, in the posh Ginza district. I ordered the seasonal autumn parfait with layers of perfectly sweetened fluffy chestnut cream topped with glistening pieces of persimmon and pear. That afternoon, I stumbled upon a tiny eatery famous for its stone pot cooked rice. The daily special came out with an array of tiny dishes, like crispy tempura and jewel like salty salmon roe, served in a wicker basket with each fare complimenting the main attraction; a bowl of rice.  To finish, a small helping of charred rice scraped from the stone pot is eaten with hot tea poured over with a side of pickled radishes for the perfectly delicate savory finale.

As a compulsive household goods shopper, I made a beeline to the kitchen district Kappabashi with it’s rows upon rows of specialized stores for all things kitchen related, many which are made in Japan. It was a dizzying experience with countless varieties of unique and niche finds. I walked away (among many items) with a hand made copper pan to make tamagoyaki; a fluffy layered rolled omelette.  The pan, rectangular in shape and about an inch deep, is specialized for rolling the layers of sweet and savory dish into a nice thick log shape .

After winding down from my shopping spree, I realized how close I was to Asakusa and headed over to Sensoji temple. Beyond the famous Kaminari gate lies nakamise, a market street, that has been providing temple visitors with traditional snacks and souvenirs for centuries. After treating myself to a few handmade senbei rice crackers, I snaked my way out of the crowd to offer my prayers at the temple and for a fortune reading called Omikuji. After shaking a metal can until a thin rod fell out, I matched the number on the stick to the corresponding miniature drawer that lined the wall to fish out my fortune.  Even among the crowd of people around me, it felt like a tiny private moment between me and fate.

The highlight of my trip was going to the Kosoen Studio for indigo dyeing, called Aizome.  The studio is nestled in the town of Ome, about an hour and a half train ride from Tokyo with a rich history in textiles, being a weaver town since the 14th century into the 1960’s. I took a quick cab ride from the train station to the studio and was greeted by a sea of blue fabrics of all shades flapping in the wind to dry.

The studio produces beautiful hand dyed natural indigo pieces for their store but also for some high-end clothing brands in Japan. As they offer indigo dye workshops, I signed up to get my hands wet (and blue!). The space itself is a large breezy room with low lights and boasts 8 hand made clay vats of indigo dye, each about 4’ deep that have been lowered into the floor and covered by wooden lids. Kosoen is also one of the very few ateliers left in Japan that uses natural indigo dye as there are only about 25 families left who are harvesting indigo in Japan, a slow and time consuming process as it must be dried, soaked in water, and fermented over time.  As indigo dye is an organic compound and “living”, it’s difficult to maintain consistency but the beauty lies in the wide spectrum of shades and hues due to variables such as weather, temperature, humidity, etc. Each family has a secret recipe for fermentation and one of the special touches at Kosoen was their use of sake to “feed” the indigo dyes.

One of the artisans demonstrated various techniques of shibori tie dye and let us create our own designs using fabric made with natural fibers.  Once the fabric was bound and tied to our liking, we took turns peering over the pitch black liquid of indigo to massage the fabric in the dye bath and taking it out to oxidize to bring out the blue color.  We repeated this over the course of 2 hours to achieve the desired hue and it was beautiful to watch the fabric transform from light aqua to varying shades of purples and to the deep blue that indigo is best known for.  

One tell tale signs of an indigo artisan are their navy blue hands and arms that had been stained over time. We wore gloves but after the end of the day our fingers were tinged with blue and I showed off my Smurf hands proudly as it reminded me of the rich textile history of Japan I was able to part take in even for just an afternoon.

I embarked on this journey with some trepidation and anxiety with no itinerary or companion to turn to but forging my own adventures, from getting lost and answering to my every whim, ultimately left me feeling more present, inspired, and satisfied.

Written by: Yasuko Yamamoto
You can find her on IG here: sukie115


Shiseido Parlour

Okomeya Rice Eatery

Kappabashi Kitchen District

How to make Tamagoyaki

Sensoji Temple

Senbei Rice Cracker

Omikuji Fortune

Kosen Studio

Shibori Tie Dye

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