Kimonos, Yoko, and inspiration galore: a quilter’s journey to Japan

Director of Marketing, Karen JohnsonThis March, I was lucky enough to travel to Japan for a two-week vacation to visit my daughter, Cari. She’s been living and working in Japan for nearly two years in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). She lives in the Akita prefecture, an eight-hour drive north of Tokyo.

I began in Tokyo, with a few days on my own. First stop? A quilt shop, naturally. Yoko Saito’s shop! I’m a huge fan and couldn’t wait.


Yoko Saito’s quilt shop

I learned that most quilt shops in Japan feature only the fabric and patterns of the owner/designer, unlike in the US, where most shops feature many designers. I was in heaven browsing all of her books, patterns, kits, and beautiful fabrics.

Oh, look at that bookshelf. I recognize one English-language book—and it’s a Martingale book!


501 Rotary-Cut Quilt Blocks made it to Japan!

Right outside of Yoko’s shop, I discovered the art of Japanese manhole covers. I began looking for them everywhere. Some are painted, some are plain. Can’t you see an appliqué quilt featuring each design? I can!

I spent the next two days walking and taking trains around the city, seeing beautiful shrines, a few tiny cherry-blossom buds (I missed full blossoms by two weeks), and of course, the very busy (and loud) Shibuya Crossing. Think Times Square on steroids.


The Shibuya Crossing is rumored to be the busiest intersection in the world.

Taking the bullet train, or Shinkansen train, I sped north to finally see Cari! As I got closer to Akita, I saw more and more snow on the ground. Akita is not touristy, but Cari was easily able to entertain me. We went to a resale clothing shop where I browsed many (MANY!) used and vintage kimonos. Oh my, the fabrics! Racks and racks! I tried on a few, but the prices ranged from $40 to $800, so I made my purchases later at a flea market in Kyoto for a mere $10 apiece.


So many kimonos to choose from!


The kimonos I bought at a flea market in Kyoto

Before leaving Akita, I had the pleasure of visiting Cari’s school and meeting her teachers, a few students, and her vice principal. She teaches her own classes, and she is required to always speak only in English to the students.

On the next leg of our vacation, Cari, her boyfriend Josh, and I flew to Kyoto/Osaka for a week. Not a lot of opportunity to search out quilt shops when you’re traveling, but I did manage to find a fabric store in Kyoto. It looked similar to fabric stores in the States, with a wide range of fabric types, tools, and notions. I bought a couple of purse handles. Cari also spotted a cute little yarn shop—I love the “menu” outside.

The rest of our time was spent being tourists. We climbed the many (!) stairs to the top of the beautiful Kiyomizu Temple, which was just a few blocks from where we were staying. We were told to be there at sunset—it was worth the climb!


Atop the Kiyomizu Temple

Quilting inspiration was everywhere in Kyoto and Osaka. One day we visited a large bamboo forest. Here are my daughter and me—I see matchstick quilting!


Enjoying a walk through a bamboo forest

Along the way, I kept seeing beautiful and peaceful Zen gardens. I’m told the lines in the sand represent water movement. I think they look more like beautiful quilting designs.

I was also inspired by the unusual roof lines. So many angles and shadows.

I love to travel, and this was a fantastic trip. Of course, seeing Cari was the highlight, but experiencing the country was so visually stimulating. I hope you enjoyed this little bit of my trip as much as I did. Excuse me now, I need to go stitch something from Yoko Saito’s shop!

Interested in Japanese quilting? You might like these eBooks:

Quilting with Japanese Fabrics Asian Elegance Sensational Sashiko

Have your travels ever inspired your quilting? Share your story in the comments!

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