By guest contributor Alice Gordenker
My work takes me to wonderful off-the-beaten-path locations in Japan, which is how I first came to visit Japan’s only museum dedicated to quilting.
Located in Shimane Prefecture on the Japan Sea side of the country, and tucked away among rice fields, the Izumo Museum of Quilt Art does not present the history of the craft or examples of quilts from different countries. Nor does it offer the work of a changing roster of artists. Rather, it is the very personal creation of Mutsuko Yawatagaki, one of Japan’s leading quilters.
Housed in a traditional Japanese residence that is over 200 years old, the museum is not large; a typical exhibition will feature only nine or ten of Yawatagaki’s works. But each quilt is presented as part of an installation and complemented by imaginative flower arrangements spaced throughout the stylish museum.
Yawatagaki works almost exclusively with fabric salvaged from antique kimono and obi that are themselves works of art. Her themes are familiar ones from Japanese art, including dragons, flowers of the seasons, and Mt. Fuji. There are four exhibitions a year, organized around the seasons and, often, a specific color.
The first time I visited, in 2018, it was winter and white was the featured color. “White is, to me, probably the most interesting color,” Yawatagaki explained when she came out to personally show me around her museum. “Red, for example, changes drastically when you layer it. But if you place white on white, it doesn’t change -- you still have white.”
The kimono fabrics Yawatagaki uses often have woven patterns, many with auspicious motifs such as tortoises, which symbolize long life. “These highly textured fabrics are not only imbued with meaning, but also change with the light, which makes them particularly valuable for quilters,” she noted.
For the base material of her quilts, Yawatagaki sometimes uses kaya, which are finely woven mosquito nets made of hemp and other natural fibers. They are hardly made any more, and are now prohibitively expensive, but were once a fixture in the sleeping quarters of better homes.
Yawatagaki is partial to this vintage fabric because it is featherweight and admits a good deal of light. She hand-dyes the netting to achieve subtle gradations in color, and when hanging a finished quilt, positions the lighting to throw interesting shadows through the weave.
Yawatagaki is particularly pleased when people who have no prior experience with kimono visit the museum, because her quilts may be an opening to appreciating Japanese fabrics. “In repurposing kimono, I am giving new life to fabric that is no longer worn and enjoyed. And while I am happy to have my work seen, my hope is that people will not focus solely on the quilts. I would like visitors to take in the entire space and feel the contributions of the many artisans and craftspeople who contributed to the creation of these amazing fabrics, because each and every kimono is truly a work of art.”
To check out the website of Izumo Museum of Quilt Art +click here
PLANNING A VISIT
Fukutomi 330, Hikawa-cho, Izumo, Shimane Prefecture
Hours 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Closed Wednesdays and the third Sunday of each month, and for changes of exhibitions.
Please check the website when planning a visit. Ms. Yawatagaki’s daughter, who is the director of the museum, speaks English and is happy to welcome foreign visitors.
The closest airport is Izumo, served by Japan Airlines from Haneda Airport in Tokyo, with discount fares for international tourists. The museum is 10 minutes by taxi from the airport.
To reach Izumo by train, take the Yakumo Limited Express from Okayama Station (2 hrs, 50 minutes).
ABOUT QUILTING IN JAPAN
Japan boasts a huge variety of traditional crafts, but quilting is an American import, and a relatively recent one at that. Introduced as a hobby in the post-war years by Japanese women returning from a spell in the United States, quilting’s popularity skyrocketed when the American television program “Little House on the Prairie” was broadcast in Japan from 1975 to 1982.
Today, there are an estimated three million quilters in Japan, many of whom will tell you it was scenes in that show of women quilting that inspired them to take up the craft.
The annual Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival attracts some 250,000 visitors and is a dream destination for quilters all over the world. (This year’s event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone is hoping it will return in January 2022, but no announcements have been made at the time of this writing.)
ABOUT ALICE GORDENKER
Alice is an American journalist and consultant who lives and works in Tokyo. She is intrinsically involved with the travel industry in Japan—helping Japan be a great host country and educating other countries on the treasures of Japan. Her love of museums keeps her involved with many of the top institutions in Japan.
To visit Alice’s website +click here