conversations
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Ichiroya has graciously allowed me to use images from their site to illustrate my ramblings. This is not a financial arrangement I have made - I simply believe them to be wonderful people with whom I enjoy doing business, and wish to support their endeavors. Ichiroya is a web based treasure trove of Japanese textiles, antiques, and information. If you haven't visited them in the past, just click on the icon to the left! Or, click on any of the images below to be taken directly to their page for more images and information.
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Today, I'd like to address one of my favorite topics: Bingata. This is the dye technique in which I was originally trained, and so I'd like to take a moment to share with you how I came to love it so.
I had a wonderful teacher, Mme. Matsuyo Hayashi. She spent the majority of her life married to a very famous illustrator of folk costumes, but it was an unhappy marriage and quite frankly she was a very mean and bitter person as a result. After contracting breast cancer for the second time, resulting in two radical mastectomies, she simply gave up. She gave up on self-pity, on bitterness and disappointment. Her husband was passed away, and a son was dead of suicide. As a first step toward changing her life, she dismissed all of her students and began a search for a protégé radically different from any she had endured. Just at this point I was presented to her as an applicant for training. I didn't know of her life up to this point, of course. But it seems I was about as different an apprentice as there was to be found! She had never had anyone so young, male, or foreigner. My lucky day!

My interview with her consisted of examining a set of erotic illustrations (shunga) her husband had spent years meticulously reproducing with his skill as a traditional painter. Here I was, a seventeen year old boy, raised in a devout Catholic household, sitting sipping tea on an already hot summer day, while examining acrobatic fetes I had never before contemplated; all the while we discussed the patterns, dye and weaving techniques, and range of garments worn by the impassioned participants in the copious illustrations. In hind-sight (sorry!) I imagine it was a test of my ability to focus…

Mme. Hayashi could not have been kinder. I didn't realize I wasn't supposed to ask questions. She was a traditional teacher in a traditional medium, and my role as student was to shut up and observe. It was a hard lesson learned as her former students (my “upper classmen” - senpai) appeared from time to time and cuffed my ears for being so brazen in my inquiries. She, however, never showed shock or annoyance, and always answered to the best of her knowledge. She went out of her way to teach me things she had never taught the other students - only because she assumed I would have access to nothing once I returned home and therefore felt it crucial that I have a thorough knowledge of how to make and do everything from scratch. This got me another cuff on the head from some of the former students.
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Exquisite example of contemporary bingata. Notice the canvas-like treatment of the garment as an art form, with sophisticated movement and colorful drama.
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As I came to learn more of her past, I grew to greatly admire her ability to loose herself in her art form. For even though she had elected to change her life, those around her were unaltered and treated her as they had always done. She died five years into my studies. As the end drew near, there was so much she still wanted me to learn. So much so, that she took me in tow to several other teachers to ask that they accept me as an apprentice once she died. As I observed the “nusumi nozoki” (learn through stealing a glance) method of instruction employed by these masters, I felt so fortunate to have been blessed with Hayashi Sensei as my active teacher and mentor. It was only years later that I realized how much she had to humble herself to beseech these peers on my behalf, only to be indifferently turned away.

I have set my heart to share this love of hers with others, through my own artwork as well as through sharing what little knowledge I have gleaned of traditional textiles, as my only way of hoping to repay even a small portion of what she shared.
On to bingata:
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with John Marshall
Welcome new friends and old! I've often been asked to write about a variety of Japanese textile and culture related subjects. This page allows me the opportunity to address your requests and to ramble off on side subjects wherever my whim and imagination lead.
Matsuyo Hayashi, Taketomijima, 1973