Oh Indigo! part 2

Business card for Indigo shop
After leaving Tokushima I headed back to Shiga Prefecture, which is Michigan's Sister State.  I was still looking for waterfalls so before I had left Michigan I did another search and found www.shiga-ken.com.   It is a website guide "In pictures and English" to Shiga.  It is extensive and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Shiga or traveling there.  (And http://photoguide.jp/ for all parts of Japan.)  But, on the website at least, no waterfalls to be found.
The owner of the website obviously knew all about Shiga so I contacted him and asked him if he knew of  any.  To his surprise, and mine that he admitted it, he replied back that he hadn't even thought about them!  He went to a bookstore and found a book published in 2010 that featured over 40 waterfalls in Shiga!  Bonanza to my way of thinking.
(I will detail the waterfall adventures in another post.)
After much emailing and scheduling I was amazed to find myself meeting Philbert Ono for a day of exploring Konan, St. Johns Michigan's Friendship City.  (St. Johns is 8 miles from Ovid - the nearest city).

Here is a recap of part of the day:
- Left JR Kusatsu Station 8:59 am on the JR Kusatsu Line. 
- Arrived Mikumo Station in Konan at 9:19 am.
- Took a taxi from Mikumo Station to Mikumo 
Fudo-no-taki Waterfall. 
In the waterfall book, this is Waterfall No. 14 
on page 97.
- Took a taxi from the waterfall to Konki Senshoku 
indigo dyeing 
factory for tie-dyeing a handkerchief.
Konki Senshoku Indigo Factory
Shop front with beautiful pot-grown iris
I was still trying to find out about indigo so when he mentioned the possibility of going to a traditional shop and actually dyeing something, I was excited!  I use indigo a lot in my prints and something I really wanted to know more about.
I learned that indigo is a plant.  This photo shows plants only days old.  The proprietor crushed a young leaf in his fingers until his fingers turned blue!
Photos of growing and harvesting indigo.
It is cut when about 18" high and dried.
It is crushed and then "cooked" or fermented.  He told us it took him 9 years to learn about indigo from his father.  He spent the first 3 years just watching.  Only after 9 years was he allowed to be on his own.

I was given a white handkerchief to wrap however I wished with rubber bands and string.  He attached the string that I would hang on to while dipping it.

(There are more pictures and a video I am trying to paste in here.)
The finished product!

A GORGEOUS vat of indigo!
The shop and showroom.
The back story:
As I mentioned, this man apprenticed for 9 years.  He is now 78 and the last traditional indigo maker in the region.  There is no apprentice to him - no one to take over the shop or, more importantly, the knowledge.  What a treasure this man is.  Phil spent quite a bit of time doing a video interview about him and his work. It will be an important work as time goes on and I was happy to be there with him to hear the story.

Oh, Indigo! part 1

After the IMHC I traveled to Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku and then back to the mainland to several cities in Shiga Prefecture.
My going to Tokushima came about because of my quest for waterfalls in Japan.  I contacted Matt after his blog came up in my Google search.  He generously offered to take me to some.  (I will write about the waterfalls and experience with them in another post.)  After many emails it was arranged that I would stay at his girlfriend Jodi's apartment for two days.  Matt and Jodi are both school teachers - he from Australia and she from Ontario, Canada.  They were free on Sunday but had to teach on Monday, leaving me free to explore.  I knew I wanted to find out more about the indigo that Tokushima is very famous for - maybe visit a shop where it is made if possible.
Tokushima is Saginaw Michigan's Sister City.  There is a tea house and Japanese Cultural Center in Saginaw with beautiful gardens.  After attending the 25th anniversary of the Tea House in May, I learned more about Tokushima from visiting dignitaries and that Saginaw had given a gazebo to the city that was in a park on Mt. Bizan.  I was looking forward to my visit.
Saginaw Gazebo
Mt. Bizan in Tokushima is accessed by a cable car - the Bt. Bizan ropeway. The views are stunning on the quick ride up - or down. 

View of Tokoshima

I met a wonderful Japanese family on the way up who asked me why I was there and we took pictures of each other. 

I walked around the park for a couple hours........

........after heeding the warning sign that I really didn't want to know more about but understood perfectly without any interpreter!  
On my way back down I was in the cable car with 2 Japanese women.  One of them, again, asked me where I was from and why I was there. She then told me that she was a Presbyterian Pastor.  I told her that my father has been a church organist for over 60 years - which she found very exciting.  She asked me if I knew the 2 things Tokushima was famous for - the Awa Odori dance and indigo.  I was familiar with both and told her that I was trying to find where I could find out more about indigo besides the gift shop items.  Was there somewhere nearby that made it?  
As we got to the end of the ride down she asked me if I could meet her back there at 3:30 in the afternoon.  I could and so we agreed to meet - with me thinking she was going to tell me more about indigo and point me in the direction of a shop in the area.
At 3:30 Rev. Kimiko Okada pulled up in her car and said, "Get in, get in!"  I don't usually get in strangers cars but I figured:
1. she said she was a pastor, and 
2. I was way bigger than her!
We went to her church where she showed me around and then played the organ for me.

The Church of Christ in Japan - Tokushima

Then she hurried me out and said that as soon as she had left me at Mt. Bizan, she had called a member of her congregation who was a traditional indigo artist - and that we were on our way to her home right now!

I couldn't believe it!  This was very exciting and something I could never have planned or imagined.

Eiko, Me, Rev. Kimiko
I wish I could tell you this wonderful and talented woman's name, which I think was Eiko, but I didn't write it down.  (I have written to Rev. Kimiko and will post it as soon as I find it out.)  She spoke no English so everything had to be interpreted between us.  She showed me wall hangings, purses, screens and more that she had made.  We talked about indigo and her art and how she makes it and then we talked about moku hanga, about how I use indigo a lot in my prints and how I make them.  We found we could understand each other even if we didn't speak each other's language.  Art is a universal language!

Her very happy husband came in and served us tea and as we were drinking, Eiko jumped up and whipped something off the wall and thrust it at me saying, "present, present!".  I had no idea what she was doing and Rev. Kimiko got very somber and quiet as she explained.  Eiko's mother was a traditional koto musician.
Koto performers - Saginaw

She was now in her 90's and in the hospital.  "She had many beautiful kimono's that she wore for performances all over Japan and will never wear them again.  This was an obi from one of her kimono's.  She is giving it to you as a present because God had us meet today and sent you to her."

I have not been told that God had sent me to someone before.  It was a humbling thought, to say the least.  I do know that in preparing for my trip to Japan my prayers were to be fearless.  I was traveling alone, had never flown overseas, didn't know anyone where I was going except by email.  I wanted to be open to new experiences and people.  

This is just one of many times over the course of my time in Japan that having an open and fearless heart led me to an experience I otherwise would have missed.  If I had stuck to a "tourist itinerary" instead and done the expected and safe things, I never would have met either of these two ladies.  I never would have been invited into a church or a home with such hospitality and I certainly would not have come home with an obi with such a story attached.
Obi detail
And it's the stories and the people that filled me.  The things I brought home were never as important as the experiences.