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  • Shona McCarthy

A Dream Come True At The Kyoto Artisan Workshop


"The staff here are so nice. They served me right away, even though I came very early. They like to explain a lot about Japanese history and culture. The book binding is organised to be quick and easy to do, so that both kids and adults can enjoy it. I only wish I could have learned more about the process! If only I knew more Japanese language!What really impressed me, however, is that they built some katagami, or traditional artisan stencilling, often done on silk. Kozaka San and Monoba San really are great to chat with as well, and well tolerate poor Japanese language skills. :) "

- A review I left on the Veltra Website

(Kozaka Sensei's hands as he helped me with my denim bag. And now I get to keep it forever! 2019.)

During my last trip to Japan, I was very much focussed on rekindling my creative energies and learning new techniques relating to kimono. I had long wished to meet with true kimono artisans. The weavers, the dyers, the painters. But I thought that so many of them were dead that I would never have the chance. Or that even if I did find an artisan, they would be too cool to talk to me; they would be residing in a state of existence so removed from mine that I wouldn't be able to approach them. But I ended up meeting true artisans multiple times on my journey by accident on my part, causing the trip to feel like a journey of kismet and blessings. One such event was my visit to the Kyoto Artisan Workshop. The place itself was rather tricky to find, since initially, the address provided by my booking didn't seem to make sense for what I was seeing in Google Maps.

(I wanted to keep records of the book binding process so that I could reproduce it at home when I was ready. I still have to learn how to make all those special holes in the paper, however. 2019.)

But one of the things that makes this an excellent place to visit is the very fact that it is in a building behind the Nishijin Textile Centre. The cultural and historical significance of the Nishijin Textile Centre is difficult to exaggerate or even fully explain in a single sentence. So I will have to dedicate an entire blog post to it in the future. But in essence, you can visit both in the same day and they compliment each other very well.

(Some of the beautiful silks decorated by Kozaka Sensei himself. His decades of experiences really show. I don't think I could admire any corporeal being more than I admire the old Kyoto artisans. 2019.)

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In my time there, I decided to take two different classes. One was on how to make traditional Japanese books. I had just finished a creative writing course, so learning how to bind a book by myself seemed to make sense. The other class was about hand painting a denim bag that had been decorated with gold leaf.

But once I learned that one of my teachers, Kozaka Sensei, was actually a true yuzen artist, I couldn't resist bombarding him with questions. He took out rolls and rolls of beautiful silks he had painted himself using katagami, a kind of stencil you must carve by hand yourself. And Kozaka Sensei was so very nice to me! He was friendly, and happy to tell me all sorts of things and to help me learn. He even enhanced some of my work. So I got to take home something I had watched a real kimono artisan work on with me. Even thinking of it now, I feel like weeping with joy.

(Elements of the katagami process as I experienced it. It was so challenging! I now understand the labour of yuzen a whole new way! 2019.)

Carving the stencil yourself is something you are taught how to do as part of the book class. It is very challenging and gave me a whole new appreciation for how hard it must be to be a true kimono creator. At one point, as he was teaching me, he even guided my hands with his! Can you imagine how excited I was knowing that a man who had made beautiful kimono fabrics for the better part of a century with his hands was touching my fledgling-creative hands? I was so very happy. I wanted to be able to connect with him on social media. But it seems that was impossible.

In any case, I think the workshop would do well to publicise the fact that they have true artisans running their classes. I'm sure many people would be more excited to attend if only they knew. I know I was thrilled, and getting to meet the ancient artist is an experience I hope I'll never forget. If you would like to attend classes at this place, you can book through Veltra. There are many options for a range of ages and skill levels, so you are bound to find the right thing for you!

(A selfie with Kozaka Sensei. I wish I could have shown how delighted I really was to get to meet him. But I was sick that day and didn't want to give one of my heroes my germs! 2019. However, if you want, you can buy masks like that one through my online store, The Ryugiya!)


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