Japan Textile Study Tour: November 2020

Japan Textile Study Tour, November 6 – 19, 2020, 12 nights, 13 days, start in Kyoto and end in Tokyo — 6 spaces open

We take you on a textile adventure of a lifetime to the land of the Rising Sun. Japanese style elevates textiles to a fine art form. We go deep into the culture of hand-weaving and indigo dyeing, high fashion and simple garment construction, venturing into old mercantile shops, contemporary design studios and temple markets to discover how cloth defines a people. Along the way, we discover historical sites, eat traditional foods that have ceremonial significance, visit museums and immerse ourselves into a modern Japan that is underpinned with ancient tradition.

Geisha life on the streets of Gion, Kyoto

Japan is an amalgam of ancient craft wisdom that is translated into art as a metaphor for life – from pottery to textiles to knife-making to humble and refined cuisine to garden landscape. We visit craftsmen who were provisioners to emperors. Throughout our travels, we touch on the philosophy that girds the culture – aesthetic sensibility, wabi-sabi (perfection in imperfection), and iki (simplicity, originality, sophistication, spontaneity, refinement).

Vintage indigo stamped cloth, Kyoto antique textile shop
Bolts of beautiful cloth, Nuno Works, Tokyo

You will travel with Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC director, writer, producer and photographer. Our co-leader is Nathan Somers, textile artist, collector, indigo dyer and historian. You will visit many sites Norma and Nathan know from personal and professional experience.

Vintage indigo textile samples

This is a hands-on, slow-savor, deep cultural immersion travel experience for up to 10 active textile lovers.

Handmade, hand-hammered kitchen knives, Tsukiji market

Our itinerary concentrates on the textile culture of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, and Tokyo, once known as Edo, where day-glow neon and phantasmagorical skyscrapers cast a futuristic glow over the old Tokugawa Shogunate. 

Vintage Boro patchwork textiles using sashiko stitching

In Kyoto and Tokyo, we will navigate the city and reach our local destinations using outstanding public transportation – faster and more reliable than private services. Bus and Metro service is punctual, frequent, safe and reliable. This gives us an opportunity to travel with the locals and familiarize ourselves with neighborhoods and the ease of travel in Japan. We have engaged locals to help us navigate and translate this fascinating culture.

Indigo dye vats where the plant ferments

Who goes on the Textile Study Tour to Japan? Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, textile lovers, historians, photographers and those wanting to learn more about Japan, weaving and natural dyeing there.   

Preliminary Itinerary

F-11/6:   Depart your home city and travel to Kyoto, Japan           

Sa-11/7:    Arrive Kyoto in late afternoon. If you are up to it, join us in the hotel lobby to meet up for an optional group dinner (cost is OYO)

Su-11/8:    Meet at 1 PM for a Welcome Lunch, stroll the Imperial Palace, visit a traditional miso shop and confectionary maker (B, L)

In Gion, Kyoto, naturally dyed silk, linen and cotton — persimmon and cochineal
Satoshi holding court at his Tokyo izakaya

M-11/9:     After breakfast, we will set out to explore the Nishiki Market, meandering the famed fish and food stalls, have lunch, then stroll Teramachi Street where we will visit vintage textile galleries, then transition to the Geisha neighborhood of Gion for more! (B, L) Dinner OYO

Street food at a temple market, Kyoto
Time and space for meditative moments

Tu-11/10:   Shibori Workshop and Shibori Museum. Hands-on session to make your own shibori-designed textile with indigo dye. (B, L)

W-11/11:  Our focus today is on the old weaving center of Kyoto with a visit to Nishijin Textile Center and several shops that dye and make indigo garments.  Afternoon OYO (B, L)

Arashiyama river scene, Kyoto
In the Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Th-11/12:  It’s important to have choices! Take the day to create your own itinerary or come with us to visit Arashiyama where we will stroll the famed Bamboo Forest. You have the option to take a rickshaw ride and meander sacred temples in this more rural Kyoto neighborhood, with optional and traditional keiseki multi-course lunch  (B)

Norma’s boro and sashiko project — in progress

 F-11/13:  Travel to Kawaguchi Lake and stay overnight in guest house/lodge. (B, D)

Geisha in training at the Bamboo Forest

 Sa-11/14:   Visit the workshop studio of an indigo dyer in a small Japanese mountain village for a demonstration, to see her collection and shop. Take afternoon train to Tokyo. Check into our hotel. (B, L)

Buddhist monk stamps a Goshuin with a calligraphy message
Silk, hemp, linen and cotton shawls with natural dyes

 Su-11/15:   Attend two major Temple Markets — Takahata Market and Oedo International Forum — where you will find old kimono, pieces of vintage cloth including silks, natural dyes and hand-weaving, vintage collectibles such as ceramics, carved wood, figurines, jewelry, art and much more. (B)

Temple altar with prayers and incense

 M-11/16:    We set you loose in Ginza — high fashion center of Japan — for Department Store Shopping and to explore the Basement Food Courts. Department stores feature unparalleled designer boutiques and food treasures. If you prefer, you might like to go to Nuno Works in Roppongi and peek into the upmarket world of Akasaka boutiques. (B)

Bolt of vintage indigo-dyed cotton cloth, once intended to become a kimono

 Tu-11/17:       Tsukijii Market Meander. We love markets and the most famed in Japan is Tokyo’s Tsukiji  Market where we will get to early in the morning to take in splendid company of super-fresh oysters the size of fists, sushi and sashimi bites, sake sips, and crispy tempura rolls. Then we are off to Nippori Fabric Town to shop for yardage, with a stop at Kata-Kata or Gallery Kawano  (B, L)

 W-11/18:    After breakfast, Yu Design Studio show and sale. They are a new, innovative design studio working in hand-woven cotton, silk and hemp with indigo dyes. Then, set out on your own to chart your own course. You might like to visit the Imperial Palace, the National Museum or retrace steps to go back for a treasure that passed you by. We will meet again for our grand finale dinner to say our goodbyes. Dinner (B, D)

Th-11/19    Tour ends and participants depart (B)

*Travel Note: You can arrive to Osaka Kansai International Airport which is 40 minutes from Kyoto and depart from Tokyo Narita Airport.  You might also find more favorable airfares flying to/from Tokyo. Check www.skyscanner.com for schedules and airfares. If you fly to Tokyo, you will take the Shinkansen bullet train (2 hours, 15 minutes) to Kyoto to meet up with the group on November 6. Rail tickets can be purchased in advance online. We will send more detailed information to the group after our travel cohort is formed. You can choose to arrive earlier or stay later at your own expense.

Yep, I ate the whole thing — but not in one gulp!

Your Guides are Norma Schafer and Nathan Somers

Norma Schafer is director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, writer, blogger, photographer and food aficionado. Her love of indigo has taken her to Mexico, India and Japan to explore the culture of weaving and natural dyes. On this return visit to Japan, she takes you to her favorite textile haunts to meet makers and collectors.

Vintage peasant coat, indigo with sashiko stitching, sourced in Kyoto

Nathan Somers is an educator, textile artist and vintage Japanese fabric collector who lives in Durham, NC. Nathan teaches indigo resist throughout the southeast United States, and making guest presentations at spinning an weavers’ guilds. His primary area of study is Japanese textile traditions.

Nathan Somers with a textile from his collection, found at a temple market

In 2016, Nathan was the subject of a Japanese television show that came to Durham to film his collection. The producers then tansported him to the Island of Amami Oshima, Japan, to study with an indigo dyer. 

How did it all begin for Nathan?

In 2007, Nathan found himself rummaging through a box of Japanese textile scraps at a Portland, Oregon, antique sale. The fabric, with its hand spun threads, uneven selvedges, complex patterns, and deep indigo inspired him, but at the time he didn’t understand the techniques that had been used to make the textiles.

Hand-spun, hand-woven Japanese cloth, textural beauty

Nathan began to study all he could about how these fabrics were produced and what their designs were meant to convey. Nathan’s textile collection comes from Japan’s temple and shrine markets and through contacts with dealers. The collection spans the late Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. He focuses on Tsutsugami (freehand paste resist), Katazome (stencil paste resist), Sashiko (mending or reinforcing stitch), Zanshi (waste thread fabrics) and Boro, (repeatedly mended and patched textiles). These textiles heavily inspired Nathan’s own work, which focuses on the Katazome stencil paste resist technique.

Fresh grilled octopus — skewered for eating while strolling

            In the years since first finding that box of fabric scraps, Nathan has researched traditional Japanese fabrics to best understand their production and design. He has traveled to China and Japan to deepen his knowledge about dyeing and weaving. Nathan experiments extensively, grows cotton in his home garden that he weaves and dyes, and also works with foraged fibers like Kudzu, wisteria and hemp – all essential parts of fabric production in Old Japan. 

            Nathan is an outstanding resource to guide us on this textile adventure, explaining dyeing, weaving and design processes as we travel, helping us to identify cloth origins, quality and value.

What is included?

  • A total of 12 nights accommodation
  • 12  breakfasts, 6 lunches and 2 dinners as outlined in the itinerary
  • Hands-on indigo dye workshop
  • Textile fabric shopping – vintage and new
  • Natural dye, weaving and stitching demonstrations
  • Market and gallery tours that encompass textiles, food, culture
  • Visits to cultural and historic sites
  • Shinkansen Bullet Train tickets or luxury van transportation from Kyoto to Tokyo
  • Intra-city metro and bus tickets
  • Entry fees to museums and galleries as part of the itinerary
  • Comprehensive pre-trip planning guide
  • Knowledgeable tour leaders – Norma and Nathan
Shark skin wasabi grater, of course

What Nathan says:

            I am so excited to have this opportunity to co-lead this tour.  Japan is an amazing country and regardless of where you travel you have a strong connection to the past and to the Japanese concepts of mottainai (make the best of what you have) and wabi sabi (beauty through imperfection). I am excited to share with others my love and appreciation of Japan and its traditional textiles. The beauty and simplicity of the fabric is plain to see, but by learning about the complex way in which they are made offers a greater appreciation for the intricacies and aesthetics of this textile tradition.

You can see Nathan’s work on Instagram: @nsomersnc  and on his website: www.nathansomerstextiles.com

What is NOT included:

  • Round-trip international airfare from your home country to Japan
  • Gratuities, taxes
  • Travel insurance
  • Meals not included in the itinerary
  • Local transport you may take OYO, such as taxis
  • Personal supplies and incidentals
  • Alcoholic beverages at group meals
  • Airport transfers (transport from airport to/from hotels)

Check Skyscanner.com for best schedules and fares.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $6,495 per person double room with private bath (sleeps 2) in top-rated accommodations • add $985 for a single supplement

Hand-woven ikat with indigo dye

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $750 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in four equal payments – on December 22, 2019; March 22, May 22, August 22, 2020.  We accept payment using online e-commerce only.  If for any reason, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC cancels the tour, a full-refund will be made.

We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. If you cancel on or before August 22, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date (less the $750 non-refundable deposit). After August 22, 2020, there are no refunds.

If you register after December 22, 2019, you will owe $750 plus 1/4 of the balance due. If you register after March 22, you will owe the non-refundable $750 fee plus 1/2 of the balance due. If you register after May 22, you will owe the non-refundable $750 plus ¾ of the balance due. If you register after August 22, you will owe 100% of the balance due (if there are openings).

Old Japan is still very much present and alive

How to Register: Send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room (single supplement). We will send you an e-commerce invoice for $750 by email that is due on receipt.

Who Should Attend: Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, photographers, textile lovers, historians and those wanting to learn more about Japanese art, textiles, culture and history.   If you love First World Exotic Travel and the inspiration of the best of Asia influences, this trip is for you.

Selection of sake at a Tsukiji market tasting stand

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.

In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Chef’s choice — this array of dinner selection is not unusual

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Fitness Level – Moderate Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy:  Tour participants must be able to walk two miles, board buses and trains, carry their own luggage unaided, and navigate uneven surfaces including stairs. We may walk more on some days. We recommend you bring a walking stick if you need something to lean on! If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

On a rickshaw ride through the Bamboo Forest

2 responses to “Japan Textile Study Tour: November 2020

  1. Sounds totally amazing! Gorgeous pictures. You sure know how to put an exciting tour together. Can’t wait to see what you make with your sashiko & boro project.

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