During our family trip to Japan I managed to carve out one day for a solo Kyoto Textile-Lover’s Tour. I combed through our guidebooks and the internet, and came up with an itinerary that seemed promising. Then I ditched my family and went exploring. As it turned out, some of my destinations ended up being great fun, while others … less so.
The Kyoto Shibori Museum
My first stop was the Shibori Museum, which happened to be within walking distance from my hotel. This small but pleasant museum has two floors. The bottom floor has a small shop selling books about shibori as well as hand-dyed fabrics and finished artwork. It also has space dedicated to classes.
The second floor features a detailed exhibition explaining different dyeing techniques, mostly from Japan but also from other countries. There is an English brochure, and the display has English signs making the dyeing process clear.
When I visited the museum, I was the only guest there. The staff was very helpful, and I got to have a private, English-speaking tour guide who took me through the exhibition and answered all my questions. Then I had my own, private shibori lesson, resulting in a beautiful silk scarf (that the director of the museum himself helped me unravel!):
Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed my visit and highly recommend this museum! To learn more check the museum’s website.
The Nishijin Textile Center
After I finished my scarf, I headed over to the Nishijin Textile Center. Nishijin was Kyoto’s traditional weaving district. When I learned it had a Textile Center, I couldn’t be more excited! My excitement died down when I got there, however. Although informative, the Center felt like a big tourist trap. Tourists arrived by the bus-loads, and were swarming throughout the displays and shop. Coming from the amazing-yet-deserted Shibori Museum, I was very surprised to see so many people at a textile center…
The ground floor of the Center had an old-fashioned display, with fading posters explaining the Nishijin weaving process.
The second floor was mostly a huge shop. It had beautiful fabrics for sale, as well as traditional Japanese clothes.
There was a weaving demonstration:
A wall display explaining the different kinds of fabrics:
And some other small displays:
The Center also offered an array of classes in different textile arts (such as weaving, or making your own hat or purse). Had I not just taken a class at the shibori museum, I would have surly done so here.
The Center also featured a fashion show, showcasing different styles of kimonos:
To plan your trip to the Center (and maybe take a class there), check out their website.
From the Textile Center I walked a few blocks to the Aizenkobo workshop.This family workshop (or atelier), is located in a traditional wooden house on a small alley. It specializes in indigo dyeing, and the making of Japanese and Western-style clothing. The front room of the house is a shop selling functional (but rather old fashioned) pieces.
When I got there, the place was very quiet and I was the only visitor. Eventually an elderly man came out to greet me. He showed me to the work area at the back of the house. In very broken English he explained that his son, the artist, wasn’t there. I understood that the family wasn’t making the indigo dye themselves, but rather bought it from other parts of Japan. Their expertise was the dyeing itself. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand much, and my host didn’t want me to take any pictures. Sadly, the visit ended up feeling rather awkward.
If you wish to visit the workshop but can’t speak Japanese, I suggest coming with an interpreter (or possibly the artist himself speaks some English?). You can also check their website for more information.
A rather long walk in scorching heat then lead me to Orinasu-kan. Established in 1989, this small museum is dedicated to preserving Kyoto’s traditional dyeing and weaving culture. It is housed in a beautiful (but dark) old building that was once an obi (kimono belt) shop.
When I entered the museum, I realized that, once again, I was the only patron. A grumpy receptionist who spoke no English reluctantly greeted me. He then got really upset with me when I didn’t understand where he wanted me to put my shoe-less feet…
The ground-floor display was interesting, but with sparse English explanations. It had some beautiful Noh costumes, as well as fabric-pattern books.
The small upstairs gallery had some coarser woven fabrics:
The receptionist asked me something about a tour, and I said yes. He then showed me into a darkish side room, gave me some tea, and left me there alone for half an hour. I must admit that I was a bit nervous at that point, not sure what was going on. I regretted not bringing my family along (though I knew my kids would not have enjoyed any of it).
Eventually, the receptionist told me to go back up to the second-floor gallery. Once there, a door I haven’t even noticed opened in the far wall. A man came out and motioned for me to follow. I did, although I wasn’t at all sure if that was the right (or safe) thing to do. The man told me not to take any pictures. Then he showed me into a room-full of weaving looms. The room was very hot, humid and crowded with looms. There were only two weavers present, however, each working on a different type of fabric. Seeing how they wove the intricate designs was interesting.
If you want to visit this museum, I suggest to take someone along, to make it less awkward. I couldn’t find a website for the museum, but you can read more about it here. And do expect to be yelled at as you attempt to take your shoes off…
Nomura Tailor House
By the time I was done with the Orinasu-kan Museum I was rather exhausted, but there was still one destination on my list: the Nomura Tailor House, a large fabric store. I took a bus and then walked some more. When I got there, melting and thirsty, I found this:
I almost burst into tears. Luckily, the second branch in this chain was only a couple of blocks away, and I made it there safely.
My family joined me as I was shopping, and we all went to a cafe. There, I cooled down with a well-earned iced matcha latte.
Thankyou for this post. I’m planning to visit Kyoto May 2023 and would love to incorporate visits to some textile and artisan studios and outlets. Your experience is very helpful. Sue (Australia)
Japan was closed down for a long time because of Covid, so things might have changed from when I was there. But I hope this gives you a place to start 🙂 Enjoy your trip!