Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I had a three day weekend this week, so yesterday my host mother, sister and I headed out to Kyoto to check out a shibori exhibition that I had found through a handbill in my Zen Buddhist arts class. While we were on the train, my Okasan offhandedly mentioned that the yarn store that I had mentioned before was close to the exhibition.

What does this mean?


It means 1300 yards of eggplant-colored cashmere laceweight for ¥3600. Score. And the pattern for one of the ruffly scarves above - a little expensive, but I already have yarn that I could use for it and the resulting scarf is gorgeous. The Avril store itself is really cool - I haven't seen a lot of the yarns that they had - there's a lot more ribbony, novelty type yarn at Avril than I've seen at stores with a large selection of Habu. But the objects that are made with the yarn are delicate and Victorian in sensibility - necklaces, hair scrunchies, scarves. (Also, scrunchies here are so cute! Although when I think the word "scrunchie", I think of Carrie Bradshaw's squeaky exclamation.)

We also went to an amazing flea market and the shibori exhibition. The owner of the exhibition space also sells shibori kimonos, so he took us into the back of the store and showed us some of them. One in particular was absolutely gorgeous - clouds of red dots with pale pink and yellow chrysanthemums in between. When he named the price, I thought nothing of it - 千万円 just sounded like a lot of zeros. But I was sitting in class this morning and suddenly realized that that number is 1000 times 10,000. Slip two decimal places to the left and you've got the rough price in American dollars: $100,000. I almost thought that I had had a sudden lapse of understanding and it couldn't possibly be that much. But no. There are kimono in this world that cost as much as two years of my college education, a Steinway grand piano, or a house in Ohio. I can't even conceptualize that amount of money.

But then I think about it, and realize that with the amount of work that goes into each inch of cloth - hundreds of hours spend tying tiny bites of cloth with impossibly fine thread. Pounding small nails through the fabric so that some of it rests in a water-tight barrel and the rest is immersed in dye, which has to be done for each individual color. Removing all of those hours of work in one motion of the hand to reveal gloriously crinkly, intricately patterned silk. It's priceless, but if it had to have one, $100,000 would be about right.

I think sometimes about the value of handwork. When I made my coat last January, I had a friend tell me that it was amazing and that I could totally sell it for at least $300, and although it was a sweet thing for her to say, I was a little taken aback. When I think of my coat, I think about the salt melting snow on the sidewalk, slipping in high-heeled boots down Main Street, the squirrels in the snow, lying in bed sick with the flu. I think of the afternoon drinks with friends and the hat I was knitting and the cookie bars that I ate to take a break from weaving. I think of the sad love I felt for a friend who didn't feel it back for me, and the feel of the cold floor under my feet while I passed the shuttle from left to right, right to left. Money can't quantify it. It's not just a coat. It's made of snow and wool and love and I couldn't name its worth if I tried.

Which is why when I see something amazing and handmade, I am willing to pay whatever price is offered, within reason. I can't cough up $100,000 for the most beautiful kimono in the world, but I can afford ¥4500 for a necklace that has a strange pull of significance for me. I couldn't figure out why I saw this piece and fell in love, but as I walked around thinking about it yesterday, I realized a little bit of the why.

Life is kind of like a ladder. Everybody starts at the bottom when they're born, and as you grow up, the climb gets steeper. Sometimes it's hard to see past the rough old wood and the blisters on your hands and when you look up it seems impossibly far to go yet. But when you take a moment to turn around, the view is spectacular. And that part is always, always worth it, no matter how hard the climb.


Anonymous said...

You are amazing.

Emily said...

I am loving reading your Japan adventures. This sounds completely amazing.

Jen said...

This is such an inspiring entry! I love your thoughts on handmade things. I think that's almost part of what makes them so beautiful is the work and sentiment that goes into them...

bitbopr said...

Mmmmm. Shibori. I'm so jealous!