amy katoh: boro collector
By Patricia Belyea
SEATTLE WA Back in January 2010, I travelled to Tokyo to experience the International Great Quilt Festival. My list of “must-sees” included Blue & White, the beloved shop of Amy Katoh. Amy’s petite emporium, in the Azabu Juban district, offers a curated collection of Japanese arts and crafts.
Good fortune shone on me as I pushed open the store’s glass door. Ahead of me stood Amy, gentle and unassuming. Known for her best-selling books that introduce her style and love of Japan to the rest of the world, Amy kindly showed me her favorite treasures in the store.
With great enthusiasm, Amy handed me an accordion-folded book she’d produced called Boro. Seeing the blank look on my face, Amy asked “Do you know about Boro?”
Boro means “rags” in Japanese. Ahead of the pack, Amy recognized the allure of patched, worn-out clothes found in neglected piles at local flea markets and began her Boro collection.
Amy writes “Up until a few years ago, Boro were thrown away or burned as shameful signs of poverty. No one wanted to seem so poor as to have such objects in their house. More than dirty, they were embarrassing.”
Amy suggested I check out the newly opened Amuse Museum, in the Asakusa neighborhood. Founded by Amuse Edutainment, the museum displays items of Japanese clothing and folk art—including a permanent Boro exhibit from the collection of folklorist Tanaka ChuSaburo.
At Amuse, seeing and touching the raggedy clothes—thick from overlapping layers—brought the concept of mottainai to life. This traditional Japanese philosophy believes that every little thing is worth keeping, repairing, restoring and treasuring.
Amy stated in her book, “Ironically Boro are highly sought after today, and the good ones have become increasingly rare and expensive. Expensive rags? How can this be? Because they are unintentionally beautiful compositions of whatever material was available for patching. Perhaps, at last, the world is beginning to understand the beauty that they speak.”
Amy and I stayed in touch. In 2013 I heard from Amy when she had just returned home from Europe to visit the remarkable Boro exhibit of SRI Threads (of New York City) in an unlikely venue—an old castle in the French countryside., The exhibit, BORO: The Fabric of Life, included three of her Boro pieces. +see video [2:53 min]
As much as Amy reaches back in time to champion traditional Japanese arts and crafts, she also looks forward. Traveling nortth to Tohoku this summer, Amy visited a region devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.
On the Blue & White blog, she tells of the courageous people who are rebuilding the region with small enterprises such as a demin business, a sail making company now making canvas bags and a knitting workshop. And an intrepid young mother who is teaching other mothers the art of indigo dyeing while caring for their babies at the Creche she founded.
To read Amy’s blog where she shares her blue & white discoveries with heartfelt enthusiasm +click here
To read about life in a small town in Japan 100 years ago, check out “Memories of Silk and Straw” by Dr. Junichi Saga. A country doctor, Saga collected oral histories from his senior patients at the end of his workdays.
The remembrances stitch together a vivid picture of rural Japan in the old days. Interspersed with the tales of geishas and merchants are the harsh life stories of farmers and fishermen—the people who would have worn the tattered and patched clothing that Amy has so respectfully saved.
+click here to purchase the book for $.01!