After living in Japan for a while, you kind of get used to all the things that used to excite you so much at first. But every once in a while, you get what I like to call the ‘hello-you’re-in-japan-face-slap’.
Today I will tell you about one of those faceslap moments that stand out in my memory. It happened when I was browsing a local fabric store with a friend. A visit to the fabric store is an event already exciting in itself, because of the multitude of gorgeous Japanese fabrics everywhere. But suddenly, in the midst of the housewives and rolls of fabric, we saw a Zen monk in traditional robes.
The monk was just going about his business, looking at different fabrics. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to be ambushed by an overly excited gaijin, asking him if she could please be allowed to take his picture because she never saw a monk in a fabric store before. But true to his zen background, he remained unfazed and kindly posed for a picture. The result is one of my favourite images from Japan!
Look how calmly he is standing there amid the colourful fabric. For me, this image says more than a thousand words.
When Western people think about Japanese aesthetics, they will often think either about elaborate and colourful designs like kimono fabrics, or they will think of the rustic and minimalist aesthetics of tatami mats and shōji doors. I was therefore very surprised to discover the Japanese love for blue and white fabrics and pottery. The designs often include simple geometric forms.
I love how the blue and white designs are simple yet elegant. This subtle sense of beauty, and the fact that it is present in so many aspects of daily life in Japan, is one of the things that I love so much about this country.
Blue and white Japanese fabrics. The indigo colour of these fabrics, which is sometimes referred to as ‘Japanese blue’, is called ‘ai’ in Japanese. It is produced from the plant ‘dyer’s knotweed’ and the dye has a distinctive sulfur like odor.