Kogin-Stitch from a Snow Land

Kogin-Stitch mats displayed at Gallery Soramitsu "Tsugaru Kogin-Stitch Exhibition." (Feb. 2014)

Let me rewind my clock time a little while back... to the past winter of this year.  In a morning of Feb., the date I was visiting Soramitsu Gallery in Nara, where "Tsugaru Kogin Stich Exhibition (Feb.6th-16th, 2014)” was being held, I work up and found the 7 inches of snow having converted my familiar neighborhood landscape to a small snow land.  Usually we don't have that much snow in the west of Japan.  I thought this snow might be a gift from Aomori, a northern prefecture where the Kigin-Stich was born in the 18th century. 

About "Tsugaru-Kogin Stitch"

Kogin-Stitch Kimono (of Tsugaru region), the picture is taken from:
Chuzaburo, Tanaka (2009). Michinoku no Kofu no Sekai (The World of Vintage Fabric in Michinoku-Province)
Tokyo: Kawade Shobou Shinsha. 16.

"Kogin-Stitch" was originally born in Aomori, a northern prefecture of Japan, the place which the deep snow completely covers in winter.  In the early 18th century a government low constrained the farmers' living style to minimize their consumption of commodities.  The low prohibited them to wear cotton which was mostly cultivated in the western areas and consumed only by the regional lords, samurai, and rich merchant-class people.  For the farmers, the locally grown hemp was the only choice of the clothing material.  In order to strength the hemp cloths especially around the shoulders for handling their heavy-carriage duties, the layers of patches were applied to the garment.  Also most importantly, to give the cloths as much temperature as possible the air between the hemp threads was tightly filled by sewing in additional hemp threads. Starting from the spinning of hemp-threads to hand sewing, thread-works became one of the most important tasks for women.

Portraits of young women of Hiraga Village, Tsugaru wearing Kogin-stitched dresses, taken at the late Meiji Period (1868-1912).  Preserved at Hiraga Town Hall. Underneath is the picture of Kogin-Stitched clothes.
All pictures are take from :

Chuzaburo, Tanaka (2009). Michinoku no Kofu no Sekai (The World of Vintage Fabric in Michinoku-Province)
Tokyo: Kawade Shobou Shinsha. 10&11.
I can feel the expressions of confidence in their eyes for wearing their own-created, beautiful Kogin-Stitch works. 

In the early Meiji period (1868-1912), when cotton distribution was finally open to the farmers, it started to reach their hands in the form of threads.  The farmers' daughters and wives started to perform more the elaborate stitches to the garment now for the decorative reason.  Stitching over the odd numbers of vertical threads of the hemp cloths, which had been dyed blue with locally grown indigo, the various diamond-shaped motifs with very white cotton threads were generated - today known as "Tsugaru Kogin-Stitch."

During winter when the farming duties outside were limited, night by night the women moved their hands passionately, as I could imagine, listening to the silent music of snow falling down.  Tanaka Chuzaburo, a scholar of Japanese folklore and archaeology writes in his book(2), "When women in Tsugaru turned to 5 or 6 years old, their mothers handed them threads and needles to start the Tsugaru-Stitch lessons.  By turning into 17 or 18 years old, they had become skillful stitching-masters.  At around 20 years old before marrying to their partners, the women usually owned 5 or 6 at most, 3 at least, of Kogin-Kimono dresses.”  "In the nights of winter, 5 or 6 of young girls got together and enjoyed the group stitching."  They shared the inspiration by each other’s original design and improved one another's skills.  "When the village summer festival was held, when a girl found someone wearing a fabulous Kogin-Stitch she quietly walked to the girl's back to see the design close and better.  As she went back home she quickly began stitching before the design in her memory fade away."

Kogin-Stitch Patterns_graphic table produced by Kogin.net.
The number of Kogin-Stitch patterns preserved today can be counted over 300.  Each pattern is given a friendly nick-name in Aomori Dialect.  The patterns were handed from generation to generation and among villages by conversation and demonstration.  I can imagine the cheerful discussions of the women at that time over the namesakes of the various patterns.
(A): Flower (B): Stone Pavement (C): "Not of Back-Surface"_The design makes up the back-surface of "Bean (E)" stitch.  The name literally means "it is not just a back-surface but one kind of a design." (D): Tied-Flowers (E): Bean (F): Gourd (G): Linked Flowers (H): Fish's Scale (I): (Supposedly) Shape of Twisted Legs (J): Beans and Flowers Overlapped (K): Shape of Hand-Railed Wooden Fence (L): Fish's Scale (M): Cattle (N): Horse's Bits (O): (Unnamed) (P): Fish's Scale (Q): Flowers Overlapped with Threads (R): Spider (S): Feather of Arrow (T): Linked Horse's Bits (U): Horse's Bits (V): #-Shape of Wooden Rails around Wells (W): Symbolizing the action of "Yasuko wo Kakeru"- letting someone tumble by foot - is dangerous,  the sign "X" here means "not a good thing."
The names can lively tell us that Kogin-Stitching was really a great part of the Life of Tsugaru People.

As the rail-road was extended from Tokyo to Aomori between 1891 and 1894, the amount of material supply to the northern areas dramatically increased including cotton cloths.  People enjoyed the arrival of cotton cloths which were strong and warm enough in themselves.  The women gradually stopped their hands for stitching.  Kogin-Stiched, hemp Kimono dress was no longer in its production-peak.  

Souetsu Yanagi (1889-1961), a philosopher and art-collector, who initiated the Japanese Folk-Craft Movement (1926 - ), traveled all over Japan to research and re-cultivate the beauty of the regional hand-craft artifacts most of which had been originally produced in practical needs.  When Soetsu discovered the Kogin-Stitch Kimono dress from the older time of a Tsugaru village, Aomori, he praised saying; "Oh, Women of Tsugaru with no name, what a beautiful piece of art you have created (1932, Kougei)."  Kogin-Stitch was salvaged from the abandonment and enlightened once more.  The tradition has been inherited to the young generations of Japan today, not limited to Aomori area, but to anyone who is charmed by the beauty of Kogin-Stitch.

Kogin-Stitch Today


3 Above: "Otoko Momonga (Manly Flying Squirrel)" 
100% Cotton Threads and 100% Linen Cloths.  
The collaboration pieces produced for "Kaksi x Chiho Yoneyama, Duo Exhibition (Nov.2012)" 
at Roku Jigen (6th Dimension) in Tokyo, Japan.
Pictures taken from Chiho Yoneyama Cogin Works

Chiho Yoneyama is one of the young inheritors of Kogin-Stitch today, who has crowned just more colors to the tradition.  As she grew up in Aomori, Chiho's first experience of Kogin-Stitch was at the home-duty class in her junior high school. Since then Chiho has become to realize that Kogin-Stitch is a precious piece of legacy of her homeland, and that it can nurture our modern life in affectionate manners.    

4 Above: "Kogin Zabuton (Kogin Cushion)"  100% Cotton Threads and 100% Linen Cloths.
They can be one-piece dresses or shor-skirts by following the folding recipe.
The collaboration pieces produced for "Kaksi x Chiho Yoneyama, Duo Exhibition (Nov.2012)" at Roku Jigen(6th Dimension) in Tokyo, Japan.
Pictures taken from Chiho Yoneyama Cogin Works

Series of "Cogin Broohes" displayed at Gallery Soramitsu.
Playful colors and patterns forming a fresh picture of today's Kogin-Stitch.
This is the choice for myself.  I love the puffiness of the cotton threads over the linen cloth.
(Paper Underneath): "White Postcard" by Kogin.net

"Cogin Brooch Bird " Sea Gull Pattern (Left),  Gypsophila Pattern (Right).
100% Cotton Threads and 100% Linen Cloths.  Size: 85 x 85 mm
Color: Beige, Yellow, Blue.  Pictures from Chiho Yoneyama Cogin Works

Here is a beautiful video clip showing Chio's workplace and time.  Her hands delicately move to create new Kogin-Stitch works that nourish the legacy of her homeland.  
(Clip Produced by ICONI Design)


"Kogin-Stitch Embroidery of One's Life" 
Tapestry Installation Work by Iemasa Yamahata at Gallery Soramitsu (Feb. 2014).
Iemasa produced "Kogin Typography" which follows the stitching rules of Kogin-Stitch graphics.  
See the below for the structure of the work. 

Structure of "
Kogin-Stitch Embroidery of One's Life" Tapestries
"Kogin Typography" here embroiders year, months, dates, times, and any memorial numbers related to one's life.  The created  designs can symbolize the persons.  100 different, only-one Kogin-Stitch Embroidery designs can be produced 
for 100 people.

Left: "Birth" expresses Iemasa's own birth with the numerals typing his birth year (1983), month & date (0402), time (04:40), and the weight of his body at the time of birth (3650g).  The picture of his birth overlaid by the grand-embroidery pattern.
Middle: "Bond" expresses the marriage to his wife; the date of marriage, the birth-dates of Iemasa (0402) and his wife (0523).  The wedding photo is overlaid by the grand-embroidery pattern.
Right: "Separation" expresses the life time of a "New" Kogin-Embroidery Artist, Mr. Kouten Kamata who invented dramatic, picturesque Kogin-Stitch works; his birth date (1927)(0809) and end date (2013)(1221) typed.  The picture overlaid by the grand-embroidery pattern was taken at the time of Iemasa's interview with the artist.  The tapestry holds Iemasa's reverance for the artist.  

An artist and designer, Iemasa Yamahata is another young inheritors of Kogin-Stitch who takes an unique approach to the legacy with his graphic design expressions.  When Iemasa was in his high school, the teacher of fashion design class told him about a local exhibition of Tsugaru's traditional dresses.  He visited the place and found vintage Kogin-Stitched Kimonos and just stood in front of the pieces, holding his breath because of their "shockingly elaborate designs and the graceful color combination of indigo-blue and white."   Then his fascination with Kogin-Stitch led him to become a "Kogin Artist" and eventually he has found an association called Kogin.net in Aormori by which he shares his passion with people through research activities and creative events. As Iemasa describes; "Kogin Stitch serves us a cute, fun, cool, interesting, comfortable, simple, healthy, economical, pleasant, and eco-friendly form of life style."  "It was created by our ancestors' wisdom, which I would love the people worldwide to know about.  My wish is that one day Kogin Stitch will serve comfort to everyone on the globe."  
- from the greeting message at Kogin.net -

Print Work of Kogin-Stitch patterns with punched out holes on white papers (Front Left Side).
& Jacket and Trousers of Farmers Work Clothes Style (Right Side)  

Scarves and Caps printed with Kogin-Stitch Patterns.

Iemasa translates Kogin-Stitch patterns into elaborate graphic works on papers.
How sweet to find the puffiness of the threads is now reproduced with the ink.
"Orange Postcard" by Kogin.net

By coloring, connecting and expanding, Iesmasa orchestrates the traditional patterns to create new.
Entertaining paper set of 10 different designs might give new ideas to one's craft-work projects.
"Free Paper x 10 kinds" by Kogin.net 
For Kogin-goods information please check the Kogin Shop.

小さな驚きの声をあげて迎えました。そして心に浮かんだのはちょうどその日、訪れようと予定していた奈良の「空櫁」ギャラリーで開催中の『Tsugaru こぎん刺し展』のこと。まるでこの雪が、遠い津軽の国から贈られたプレゼントの様に思えたのです。


空櫁ギャラリーでの『Tsugaru こぎん刺し展』を飾る、手芸作家の米山知歩さんとアーティストでありデザイナーの山端家昌さんは、そんな「こぎん刺し」のスピリットを現代に受け継ぐおふたりです。青森を拠点に活動されているおふたりの作品からは、「こぎん刺し」は私たちの生活に優しく強いエネルギーを吹き込んでくれる、という共通した想いを感じたのでした。

『おとこモモンガ』『こぎんざぶとん』『Cogin Brooch Bird』
chiho yoneyama cogin works サイトより)


(ギャラリー空櫁「Tsugaru こぎん刺し展」展示作品)

kogin 『Whiteポストカード』『オレンジポストカード』『自由紙x10種類』
(ギャラリー空櫁「Tsugaru こぎん刺し展」販売作品)
※お問い合わせ先:kogin shop

田中忠三郎 (2009) みちのくの古布の世界 河出書房新社 10,11,16

秋岡芳夫 (1983) 日本の芸① みちのく至芸の里 集英社 1, 94-95 





Invitation to Silver Woods by Misa Amano

Beetles, butterflies, busy bees humming and spiders playing with petals of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) swinging on spring breeze. Hard to believe they are all made of silver as they appeal so lively organic.  Their silent but energetic activities are captured by hands of Misa Amano, with her magic of silver open casting.  

Misa since her childhood loves contacts with insects and their small wonder world.

Lovely Bird in form of Ring - what are you going to sing around someone's finger? 

Before becoming a casting artist, Misa was enjoying her carrier as a shoe designer.  When she started to take a metal casting class she encountered the works of Alexander Calder, who is famous for his grand scale sculptures, but did also create many practical tools and accessories in his career.  Misa was fascinated to find out how freely Metal could express the nature of lives and began seeking her own way of expression in the media.  Then time naturally brought her to become a professional casting artist.  She did not want to create something sitting still or decorative, but something which makes people happy by wearing or using in daily life in the forms of accessories and tools.  She flew to Florence, Italy to learn "open work casting" technique.  When she came back to Japan her heart was set to endeavor the creation of the traditional motifs of her own country's culture- of Japan. 

(Top)- 2 Hair Accessories in Japanese Traditional Style (called "Kanzashi")(Below) - handy tooth-pick (!) depicting fig tree

Tree of Paulownia is used as the material of conserving boxes and display-stands.  Misa chose the wood by inspiration first, imagining it would treat her silver works as treasures in sensible manner.  Later she learned that it was the best material to protect silver from humidity.  (Paulownia is known for its clear scent and strength to moisture, and has been always thought as the best qualified material for Kimono chest drawers in Japan.)    

Silver Tiara (crown) with Hydrangea and Sail- Symbolic flower of the month of June in Japan.
A Perfect piece for "June Bride" wedding.

The pictures are from the Exhibition at Gallery "Chisai Me (Tiny Bud)" in April, 2013.



(写真は2013年4月の『天野ミサ シルバーアクセサリー展』 Gallery 小さい芽での展示作品をご紹介しています)
  Special Thanks to: Maki & Occhan for showing me your "Fond" for Amano san.


"Setsubun" - the day before spring

February 3rd is the day called "Setsubun" (literally means the seasonal division) in Japan.  The date is set at one day before the Beginning of Spring marked on Japanese classic Lunar Calender.  There is a custom called "Mamemaki"- Beans Throwing- we practice at home on the date of "Setsubun." Usually the father, or the male person of the family whose Chinese zodiac sign cooresponds to that of the year, plays a roll of Demon by wearing Demon's mask. The family members throw roasted soy beans towards him outside of the house calling "Demons Out, Fortunes Inside!" and close the door of the house.  By this ritual the evil spirit is cleansed at home keeping only the good fortune inside.  I remember when I was a kid it was sort of a special occasion to become momentarily powerful against my father... by throwing handful beans against him.  He was always a great fun, playing a comic Demon at the annual event. ("Fuku-Yose" Set; Roasted Beans & Rice Crackers with Deom & Fortune Girl Masks, Minokame Co.,Ltd., Nagoya, Japan)

Roasted Snack Beans with 3 antique market found china pieces

After the ritual of "Mamemaki,"throwing-beans to keep demon spirits away, each member of the family eats one plus to his/her age number of the beans so that good luck and health can be taken in.  Beans are believed to purify one's spirit and body. Roasted soy beans are actually great taste & make a healthy snack food.

Kyoto Ware Sake Cup, Bean-Shaped "Fuku-Musume"(Fortune Girls) are lively depicted. 

Above: Hexagonal Sake Cup, ar.1970's
Below: Seto Ware plate with Underglazed Cherry Blossom, ar.1910's

"Iso no Mame"Snack Beans Comes with Bamboo Skin Box (Kitao Shoji Co.,Ltd., Kyoto,Japan)
Love this picture of 4 gangster-looking demons.  

"Seasonal Box" of February contains tiny elaborate pieces of Japanese traditional sweets (Kawato, Osaka, Japan)
So pretty that it feels like a sin to eat them ! 

Inside Box_- Jelly Pieces, Rakugan (made with Rice Powder & Sugar) Pieces depicting Symbols of Spring.

You can still enjoy the tasty beans inside of these tetra-packs after throwing them to the ground.
(Triangle Packed Fortune Beans, Mametomi Hompo Co.,Ltd., Kyoto, Japan)

* Happy Setsubun Day *



Woven to the Night of Tubes

The only sign of the place, the neon light calls you
inside: "Ba" -initial letter of the Place "Banco"

The place is called "Banco,"nickname for the woman who runs this cafe&bar after renovating an old sake cellar of the town called Tamatsukuri in Osaka.  Tamatsukuri is an old town which used to produce cannonbals and gun bullests during WWII and the name stands for itself, "making balls."


The Exhibition, "Circles of Tubes" produced by Banco and the artist (or weaver) Qinuco was on the show.  Combined with various textures of fabrics woven and knitted by her hand and with colorful yarns they are patched to neck warmers, hair bands & leg warmers.  They invite you to feel their surfaces and go inside the tubed structure.

Zabuton cushion - vintage fabric strips patched by Qinuco laid on the floor under the cafe table.

   Series of Neck Warmer Tubes


Walking through a tube-shaped shopping road on the way back.