Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Needle in a Market

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to visit Japan with a group of Japanese embroidery friends and my lovely hubby. The despoke tour was arranged for us by Gill Clay who also served as our tour guide while we were there. As well as a few of the countries' vast array of cultural and historic delights, our tour was taylored to our interest in textiles and included visits to some places that we had specificly requested. We had a very full intinary.

© Carol-Anne Conway

We were based in Kyoto and many of our visits were based in and around this ancient city. One such trip was to the Nishiki Market. The oldest, and most famed, part of the market is a long narrow shopping 'street' that specializes in food and is a great place to explore some of Japan's culinary delights. This lively part of the indoor market is what Gill had taken us to see but we knew that beyond "Kyoto's Kitchen", within a part of the market that had been modernised, and whose shops were more akin to western shopping centres, lie hidden a glimpse into yesteryear and an absolute gem as far as we were concerned. When Gill let us of the leash to expore the market for a couple of hours, a few of us set of to find Sanjo-Honke Misuyabari - the needle shop.

© Carol-Anne Conway

One of our group, Dee, had learnt of the needle shop from a post on the blog JustHungry. This post provided a good description of how to find the Misuyabari shop but, unfortunately, we had neglected to take this information with us on the day we visited the market, we had to rely on our memory of the blog and our inginuity to reach our goal. We searched for some time and were on the point of giving up when a flash of inspiration from Maggie lead us to the prize. We knew that we were in the vicinity and Maggie had spotted a shop selling traditional knives; she asked them where we would find the needle shop and they furnished us with directions. As it turned out we were standing virtually next to the small and inconspicusious allay way that lead to a small Japanese garden and there, in this oasis of tranquility, was the even smaller traditional store that is Misuyabar.

© Carol-Anne Conway

© Carol-Anne Conway

The shop is tiny, consisting of one counter and some shelves along one wall, but the contents of the shop are enough to make the heart of any needle(wo)man race. Needles - hundreds of needles beautifully arranged in the glass counter - and pins - exquisit little pins - and gorgeous wooden sewing kits. Everything a needle(wo)man could desire. Had we had the resources, I think that we would have purchased the entire contents of the shop. However, we could not initially see the items for which we had made this pilgrimage - hand-made embroidery needles. Luckily, Denise had come prepared with some sample needles and when she showed these to the gentlemen behing the counter they reached below the glass cabinet to retrieve the tray containing our quarry.

© Carol-Anne Conway

When we went our seperate ways, we had agreed a time and place to rejoin Gill and the rest of the group and we were aware that our time was rapidly running out but this was an experience not to be rushed. And besides, the gentlemen were not to be rushed; each item that we purchased was lovingly wrapped and labelled for future identification. I should perhaps mention that the gentlemen spoke no English and we speak no Japanese so the entire transation took place through a series of jestures, hand signals, smiles and squeels of delights.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I find it hard to express how much I enjoyed my holiday in Japan - every moment was a highlight - but this little excursion to Sanjo-Honke Misuyabari is one of my most treasured memories.

Here is a link to the post on JustHungry that describes how to reach the shop and has some lovely pictures. Here is a link to another blog post that describes their visit to the shop and has more lovely pictures. Happy Harikuyo

p.s. We had a second, unplanned, needle adventure in Japan. We visited an embroidery house in Kanazawa where a few of us took part in an embroidery workshop. I'm not entirely sure how it came about but the proprietors of the embroidery house arranged taxis to take us to their needle suppliers who were closed that day but agreed to open there store especially for us. When we arrived, we were a bit perplexed to find ourselves at a fishing tackle shop but, sure enough, they did stock hand-made Japanese needles in a range of sizes and were more than happy to sell us some. As at Misuyabari, the proprietors spoke no English (or so we thought, wait for it) so the transaction was conducted through the now familiar jestures and smiles. When we left the store and climbed back into the waiting taxis one of the gentlemen ran after us calling "Where from? Where from?" "England" we called back as we waved good bye. I had visions of them in the local sake bar that evening telling their friends "You'll never guess what happened today - a group of English ladies came into the shop and bought our entire stock of needles". And I can hear their friends saying back "Ha! You and your fisherman's tales!".


Rachel said...

Somehow one doesn't expect needle-buying to turn into an enchanted adventure!

Cath said...

What an amazing find. What a pity they don't do mail order outside of Japan.

Susan Elliott said...

What a wonderful little shop! I would have loved to go with you all. I wonder what you think of the needles that you bought? We increasingly here that man-made needles are no longer available in certain you hear that too?

Thanks so much for telling me this idea to begin with. Thanks to you we were able to help some women trying to earn a living in Guatemala.

Happy Harikuyo, my beautiful needle friend...xo Susan

P.s. I hope your dinner for your parents was delicious!!

D1-D2 said...

You had a great adventure. I'm always looking for tour groups that are embroidery centered, but they are so rare.