Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kubota Museum

Last month I traveled to the Lake Kawaguchiko area close to the base of Mt. Fuji, a two and a half/three hour trip from my house. The purpose of this trip was to visit the Itchiku Kubota Museum. I had seen some blog posts of this special museum and a couple of the people on our Thailand trip had traveled there and said with my interest in Indigo/Shibori/Art that this was a must-see for me. They weren’t kidding.

Once a month I travel to Fujisawa to have an English conversation class, about a 45 minute trip from my house. These ladies have been getting together for over 20 years and I am just one of a long line of American women who have become their teacher. Their English is excellent, they are all talented with varying interests and I have been so fortunate to have them as my students (and I use that word loosely, since there are times I wonder who's learning more). They had asked months ago if there was someplace that I would be interested in visiting and I mentioned the Kubota Museum – but I didn't realize at the time that it was such a hike to get to. Being ever so gracious they didn't bat an eye and started to plan how we would get there. Kimiko, Hiroko, Kato-san and Kazuko met me on the train, very early (I had to catch the 6:17 a.m. train from Yokosuka) headed for Yokohama where we were to catch a bus to Lake Kawaguchiko where the museum is located. It was rainy season and we headed out in pouring down rain but that did not dampen our spirits. In addition to the Kubota Museum there was also a doll museum and a Lavender garden in full bloom on our itinerary. I settled in on the bus ride, read the article I had printed out from the Smithsonian Magazine (in 1995 Kubota's work was exhibited at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the first living artist to have his/her work exhibited), enjoyed the scenery through the rain soaked bus window, and tried to envision Kubota's work – kimono’s that are considered works of art, take more than a year to make and the artist who had the vision to create these masterpieces was a National Living Treasure up until his death in 2003.

At the age of 14, Kubota left school to apprentice under a Kimono artist that specialized in yuzen (a rice-paste resist dye technique). At the age of 20 he discovered a tsujigahana fragment, a textile and decorative technique from the Muromachi period (1338-1573) at the Tokyo National Museum. With the technique lost over time, Kubota decided to devote his studies to recreating this technique. He also studied Japanese sumi-e and landscape portraiture that would later evolve into his “Symphony of Light” series that represents the four seasons and the universe. His vision was to create a series of 80 kimonos where the landscape design flows from one kimono to the next, creating a panorama of the seasons and views of Mt. Fuji. WWII erupted and Kubota’s self-study of the tsujigahana technique was interrupted. At the end of the war he was stationed in Korea where he was captured by the Russians and sent to Siberia where he was held for several years. During this period of imprisonment he witnessed intense sunsets – among so much despair he found beauty and vowed that once he returned to Japan he would create a Kimono to emulate his vision.

Impressions and Inspiration
The museum does not allow photos of the kimonos, but you can go to the links below and to see some photos of his work in articles that have been written about Kubota. I do love museums and this one will go down as life transforming for me … I know, my husband would probably laugh at this (nuke/doc vs. artist) – but the beauty of Kubota’s work is breathtakingly beautiful. As Kubota was speechless and moved by his discovery of the 17 century tsujigahana textile remanant, so too was I moved by Kubota’s work. It is like nothing I have ever seen – the colors on the kimono’s are intense when they need to be, subtle when called for. The detail work it equisite, embroidery used to emphasize the work is perfection with the silk embroidery threads hand dyed to match the background. The sumi-e painted details are delicate and highlight Kubota’s artistic eye. I could have spent hours there, I wish I had a seat in front of each of these works to just sit and absorb – the texture of each of the works is rich and it took great discipline to not reach out and touch the kimonos. The kimonos are displayed in a large hall that was created with Kubota’s vision. There are large, massive ancient beams that form a pyramid shape towards a pinnacle skylight in the ceiling. The museum does have a small room off of the gallery where you can view an English video of Kubota at work and see the many layers and processes it takes to complete one kimono. I was also in luck that day, with my 4 Japanese friends I was able to ask questions about techniques that perhaps if I had been there alone I would not have … however, I suspect that the docent in the gallery at the time had an excellent command of the English language since she was able to respond to most of my questions without translation.

There is a lovely tearoom off of the main gallery area where we had some green tea and sweet beans – American taste buds may wrinkle their noses at the sound of that but it’s quite nice, the slightly bitter macha green tea complemented by the sweet beans was delicious. The scenery, looking out towards the back of the garden area was lush and green with vegetation and quite relaxing with the sound of the steady rain coming down.

With much reluctance I left the gallery space, with the hope that I will be able to come back here at least once more before my time is up here in Japan. The kimonos rotate and apparently the ones on display had only recently come out to be viewed – so next time I may have the opportunity to see some different masterpieces. The garden area is supposed to be lovely with trails up and behind the museum but it was still raining when we left and I will have to save that for another time.

For more information on Kubota go to:

Lavender Garden
Heading back around the lake to the Lavender garden on the tour loop Retro Bus, just as we were coming around Lake Kawaguchiko the clouds broke and Mt. Fuji appeared! What a treat to see this natural beauty. We reached the park to discover we were in luck, there was a lavender festival going on and I made some purchases … lavender linen water (YES!!), lavender sachets, lavender perfume. Did I mention that I love lavender? Every house we’ve every lived in I’ve planted it … except here. It’s so darn expensive – I did see some plants that were for sale and were a whole lot more reasonable than what I could buy locally and as Kimiko stood patiently while I weighed the pros and cons of lugging a plant by bus and then by train, and then walking it to my car common sense prevailed and I left it behind for someone else to enjoy. We ate some lunch from a vendor, grabbed an excellent locally brewed beer and then headed to the Yuki Atae Doll Museum.

The Yuki Atae Doll Museum
This is a lovely little museum that features a changing display of the dolls by Yuki Atae. These figurative sculptures are meticulously created by Atae, some taking more than a month to create. He takes his inspiration from a more simple time, scenes of children from the early twentieth century – playing games like tug of war, caring for a younger sibling, a group of young boys having a battle. The scenes are charming, most of the dolls are dressed in traditional Japanese clothing – it can take him months to find the correct old kimono cloth to use – and gave this westerner a window into a time gone by. There is a video in the museum, it is in Japanese, but still worth sitting down and watching the process, particularly how he captures the facial expressions of the children. If you have the time to spare, this museum is well worth a detour. Atae’s work has been shown at the Louvre, the Baccarat Museum in Paris and a gallery in Soho, NY.
For more information on Yuki Atae and his work go to:

After the museum we caught the local retro bus back to the Kawaguchiko Station where we caught the bus back to Shinagawa Station and made our way home from there. It was a long day but one of my best days in Japan. I feel so very lucky to have connected with my Fujisawa ladies and am thankful they are willing to take time out of their busy lives to share a part of Japan with me that I might have otherwise missed. Till next time, sayonara.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so happy for you that you got to see Kubota's work!! i was blessed to be able to attend the exhibit of his kimono at the Smithsonian not once but twice when it was here. Yes, life changing, indeed!

    :) Linda


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