“Japan blue” magic in the hills of Kanazawa

Second stop was the Kanazawa Yuwaku Sousaku no Mori Center for Crafts and Culture situated in the foothills about an hour bus ride from the centre of Kanazawa (West Coast, Japan). It is worth navigating the bus station in Kanazawa (not too difficult) and buying a ticket out past the Hokuriku University and into the foothills where this art and cultural centre is located. The studios are open for casual sessions (as well as a range of programs) – best to ring ahead. We went for the Indigo dyeing but you can also experience screen printing, weaving and the gallery. But this is not an ad for the centre rather a tale about a place. And when we come to discuss ‘sense of place’ here there is a feeling of a deliberate gathering of elements: history, culture, tradition, community, landscape and art practice.

The site itself is preserved by the City of Kanazawa and features 5 nationally recognised historic landmark buildings including the Japanese Indigo Studio housed in an old pharmacy building built in the 16th century (and used to house the Emperor of Japan when he visited Kanazawa in 1922). The studio is well equipped with 4 large vats and 2 long baths. Natural Indigo is used (plants are grown on the property for dyeing) and the “sukumo” can be smelled in the room as you enter.

Our party (4 friends) were taken firstly to the weaving studio where we prepared our cotton at a long table, using chop sticks, plastic bottle tops, rubber bands and stitching to create a resistance on the fabric that would leave white marks when dipped in the Indigo. After the pleating (traditionally known as Shibori) we were taken to the Indigo Studio where we dipped our own fabrics, rinsed them in the baths and then allowed the air to do its magic with the plant dye. We were accompanied and guided by our “artist” who dealt with our lack of Japanese language with grace and a lot of smiling. The desire to produce art is a universal language.

There is a calm here that radiates off the winter hills still daubed with white from the recent snow. The landscape seems to have embraced us and is almost telling the story of the site itself; a story of forest, of walking paths, of mountain spas and healing, of old practices and old buildings, honoured in this contemporary setting. There is a huge swing (tipi style) on the grounds, which are open to the public for picnics and community events. After our emersion experience (about 3 hours) we visited the small mountain village of Yuwaku about 5 mins from the centre. We wandered down the centre of the street, an odd car passing, the local bus sat waiting for its departure time, little shops and several guest houses, and a little tea house upstairs above a shop where we drank coffee and chatted about the day – absolute “Japan blue” magic!