By Victoria Stone
ABOVE PHOTO: Me with Saori, our family’s first Japanese homestay student, in October 2022.
My family hosted eight Japanese homestay students when I was in high school and college—seven girls and one guy. We shared meals, adventures around the city, and new hobbies, and traveled to school together every day. They were truly a part of our family.
Many times Mum and Dad visited Japan to see their JP kids after they left America.
One year, for a holiday vacation, my parents invited my older sister Liz and I to tag along. We got to choose what city we wanted to visit—Tokyo or Kyoto? Being teens, we just had to visit Tokyo.
On one of her visits to Japan, Mum discovered a bolt of vintage yukata cotton and a new obsession was born. I’d dabbled in sewing in college and I was drawn back to the joy of fabrics right along with her.
As Mum got more involved with Japanese textiles and started sharing them with local guilds, I became her helper.
I even became the face of Okan Arts. In the early days of Okan Arts, there was a monthly e-newsletter with a photo of me and a gorgeous bolt of yukata cotton at the top of each issue.
After working part-time for Okan Arts for several years, Mum asked me to become her business partner. At 27, she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Since I’ve begun in my new capacity at Okan Arts, I’ve returned to Japan three more times.
The first was for two weeks in 2018, traveling during Cherry Blossom Season via a Japan Rail Green Pass. I met many of Mum’s textile contacts and explored her favorite places. And I did make her visit a cat cafe with me!
The next was to see the phenomenal Tokyo Quilt Festival and co-host the Okan Arts 2020 Quilting & Textile Tour of Japan. Mum and I took 16 quilt lovers on the trip of a lifetime. While the participants were having fun, I discovered how much I enjoyed leading the tour!
After more than two years of closed borders, Japan opened up to independent travelers on October 11, 2022. Three weeks later I was back in Japan for my most recent visit.
My mission was to check in with our textile connections, discover new experiences for our tours, and report on the Yokohama Quilt Show. The remarkable two-week trip included weaving silk on a 200-year old loom and, of course, stopping by a cat cafe.
In October of this year, Mum and I will be in Japan co-leading two 12-day tours (sorry, they are sold out).
Then in February 2024, I am co-leading a 12-day Kyoto Textile Adventure with Sanae Naito – a Japanese textile artist who specializes in chusen dyeing.
For almost 20 years, my life has been involved with Japan. First as a sister to many young Japanese students. Then, as an assistant at Okan Arts with all its Japanese textiles! And more recently as a partner of Okan Arts who thoroughly enjoys sharing the treasures of Japan with other enthusiastic travelers.
To learn more about the 2024 Kyoto Textile Adventure +click here
ABOUT US: Okan Arts, a petite family business, is co-owned by mother-daughter duo Patricia Belyea and Victoria Stone. Patricia and Victoria sell Japanese textiles online, host creative quilting experiences, and lead quilting & textile tours to Japan.