Adventures in Japan


I barely know where to start with this post. Believe me when I tell you that the selection of photos I’m including in this post is edited down. I’ll focus on the sewing & knitting inspiration for today. I will need an entirely separate post to chronicle the beautiful kimono I brought home.

We were in Japan for a little over two weeks. It was around new years, which, as it happened, put a real dent in our usual travel itinerary. Because of the public holidays either side of new year (shogatsu) there was a lot that wasn’t open while we were there. Out-of-the-way fabric stores fell into that category. As did museums, art galleries and other public places which in other countries are more likely to be buzzing over the holidays. Nonetheless, we found plenty of adventures. We ate all the a lot of ramen. We wandered the main streets of many prefectures. We went skiing. We saw snow monkeys. We loved the trains and the noise and the people and the onsen and the food. Everything about Japan was wonderful (with the possible exception of its coffee!). I would go back in a heartbeat.

You could, over two weeks of travel, easily spend most of your time doing crafty things. Exploring giant stationery stores, gazing at art, learning about calligraphy and hanko and kimono. And of course, spending all your pocket money on yarn and fabric. I didn’t buy a copy of the Tokyo Craft Guide (although if you’re going to spend two weeks doing crafty things, you probably should) but I did refer often to the posts on its blog. I was also lucky enough to have Gillian’s top tips for Japan fabric shopping, which was wonderful! There’s also a good shortlist on Tomatoes & Jasmine.

So, even though my husband is threatening to make me start a ‘pointless walk jar’ for all the trips to closed fabric shops that marked our travels, you will see from the post to follow that I wasn’t really deprived.

avril night


Just go there. Seriously. It’s twenty minutes from Shinjuku on the train. And it’s gorgeous. Old, new, cute, big, noise, mess and fun. For the Melbournians, it’s the nearest thing to Fitzroy you could imagine in Tokyo.

In Kichijoji I spent an absurd amount of money on about 3 buttons [*cough* worth it *cough*] and had several small brain explosions in Avril Yarn Store.

Beautiful vintage buttons from L.Musée:

black buttons

blue buttons

Avril was a beautiful store to visit. Many threads and yarns for weaving, probably more so than for knitting or crochet, but such fun to look at!




I came away with a 200g cone of wool/silk “Peinee” yarn in mist.

wool cone


I also popped into Yuzawaya on a separate trip to Kichijoji. It’s big. It’s got pretty much everything. It takes up about 3 floors of a big department store building. And it does have some really stunning fabrics. But I was a bit tired and grumbly and at the end of a long day when I visited this shop, so didn’t leave with anything. I did, however, enjoy some eye candy. Corduroy Liberty for goodness’ sake!!




Unfortunately Cottonfield (Gillian’s favourite fabric store!) had closed down before I visited, but apparently they still have a notions shop in Kichijoji and if the reviews of the original fabric store are anything to go by, I’m sure it’s lovely. Worth a visit if you can find the time (which I could not)!

Other fun things in Tokyo

Rob and I dedicated one morning to choose our own adventures. Rob set off for Akihabara (electronics town) while I set out for the famous Nippori Fabric Town. A whole street of fabric stores! Zip shops. Button shops. Second hand fabric. I wore a backpack and sensible shoes, took the camera and prepared to be overwhelmed.

I followed the signs from the train station…


…and looked out for the bunting and a street lined with tables of fabric…



…but alas that was the extent of my adventure. Tomato, the biggest store there, had closed for the new year break (the dates were on the website, but I misread them aaarrrgh) and just about everything else was closed too. So that was that. I’ll save it up for the next Japan adventure.

Continuing along the theme of events causing epic stroppiness, I decided to try and find Odakaya in Shinjuku before meeting Rob as planned. I had no WiFi on my own, got lost in the wrong bit of Shinjuku station and tried to rely on the kind directions given by a cafe waitress in half-Japanese-half-English…and failed badly! I did find Odakaya later, with the help of Rob’s WiFi, but to be honest I was underwhelmed. And I would recommend looking at some blogs which offer directions on how to get there, because I found it a bit tricky!

In Things Which Are More Fun, on a later part of the trip we visited Harajuku. We had fantastic ramen, on Spicy’s recommendation, and then bustled through the busy streets with (it seemed) half of Tokyo. We accidentally stumbled upon a pop up shop in front of the bank on a busy corner, selling second hand kimono, yukata, haori, obi and fabric scraps. And seriously, for cheap. I unwittingly picked some Meiji-era kimono and bought them for a stupidly cheap price and will blog about them another time in reverential tones. But for now, here is the shop and a picture of some yukata fabric offcuts I bought there:



yukata fabric

If you’re interested, a yukata is a cotton kimono for wearing around the house. They were provided as part of our stay in our little ryokan in Kyoto, as demonstrated in the next photo. I was in love!

yukata kyoto

Finally, while in Tokyo, I should mention the La Droguerie and 100 Idees outlets in the Seibu Department Store, Shibuya. Knitters, be warned: La Droguerie is pretty! I didn’t buy anything there in the end, but I did stop to take photos of the beautiful store:




In the 100 Idees section of the Department store, I did take the opportunity to snap up some Clover bits and pieces for much better prices than at home.

rotary cutter

embroidery scissors



In Kyoto, there were a couple of places I wanted to visit (such as Habu Textiles) which simply weren’t open. However, I did find the Shijo Nomura Tailor Store, which was as excellent as several reviews had promised.

Several floors of fashion fabric. Walls of buttons. Long sections of remnants. Quilted materials. Fleecy plaid. Felt. Sparkles. Nani Iro. Liberty of London. Stripes, spots, tartan, floral – they had everything. Somehow, unlike some of the other big stores I’ve been to (both at home and in Tokyo – like Odakaya and Yuzawaya) I felt really inspired here. Maybe the fluorescent lights weren’t so blinding. Maybe it was because it was my first morning in gorgeous Kyoto. Maybe it was the fact that things were a bit more orderly. I don’t know. It was just such a great shop and I’m glad that Rob had me on a time limit, or I may not have emerged.

This is the shop:





And these are the treasures I brought home:

striped knit


After the fabric shopping, we had a lovely lunch around the corner (with beer, naturally) and then rambled through Nishiki markets. Which were amazing. So many pickles. More chopstick shops than you’ve ever seen. Robert bought his own seal. I bought some snips.


Aren’t they gorgeous? They came in a little paper box and wrapped in gingham-patterned paper, which did somewhat add to the charm. Between the snips, the embroidery scissors and the rotary cutter which were now in my suitcase, I was beginning to wonder whether I’d be allowed on the shinkansen back to Tokyo.

The source of the pointless walk jar remark above was our trip to the Nani Iro Atelier in Osaka, which was closed when we got there. And, as Rob remarked, there was not a single other person on the street, which he didn’t think was possible. Someone please go there and tell me whether it’s as awesome as it sounds!!

nani iro

No visit to Japan is complete without reference to stationery. Please be sure to visit Ito-ya. You won’t regret it.



And finally, because everywhere we went there was something beautiful, here are some examples from an ikebana installation in Rappongi Hills. Because in Japan, they just do things right.



To Japan: arigato gozaimasu. You were wonderful. x


2 thoughts on “Adventures in Japan

  1. Jenny says:

    I had exactly the same experience as you when I visited over New Year last year- very disappointing- but thankfully we had enough time to return to Tokyo once everything had reopened. I’m heading back in a few weeks & was planning on another trip to Cottonfield so thanks for the heads up! I didn’t know about Nani Iro Atelier so will definitely have to pop in there for a look 🙂

  2. Manas says:

    Hello Jenny – yes it was annoying, the New Year thing, although I can’t really complain about my trip. We had a very memorable, special holiday. I’d go back in a heartbeat though I would avoid NY next time if I could. I look forward to seeing evidence of your return travels!

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