Month: December 2012

J2K12: Matsumoto to Takayama

(And now back to some photos from our trip to Japan this fall.  I’m picking up where I left off, which was in Matsumoto.)

After Matsumoto, we planned to head to Hida-Takayama, which is one of my favorite areas of Japan.  We checked into the JR trains covered by our Rail Passes and, thanks to the mountains, it would have taken a good 5 hours by train to get from Matsumoto to Takayama.  So we decided to take the highway bus, instead; it would only take about 2.5 hours.  Alas, it wasn’t covered by our Rail Passes, but decided that more time in Takayama was worth the cost of the tickets.

So, in Matsumoto, the highway bus terminal in on the ground floor of a mall near the station.  Since we weren’t quite sure what to expect on the bus (would I get car sick?) the guys went to get some drinks in the B1 grocery store while I guarded the luggage out by the bus stop.  While I waited, I couldn’t help but notice this box next to me.


Oh, the Engrish!  I knew it was a fire extinguisher, but how that got to panther… I have no idea.  (We once stayed in a room in Kyoto with the “Blame Instrument” which was an emergency ladder for the window.)  When the guys returned, we all had a good laugh about this.

The bus arrived and we discovered that all luggage was carry-on; there was no under bus stowage.  Oh, boy.  Luckily it was a big bus and not crowded, so we three headed all the way to the back row, where we could stow our various bags.  Including us, there were three other passengers and the driver.


Once we got underway, I wished that the bus was about half as long as it was.  Twisting mountain passes on (to my American eyes) narrow roads…

IMG_0775Thankfully it wasn’t like that.  I don’t think we ever got going too fast; sometimes our sedate speed seemed too fast to me.  Our bus driver was a pro, though.  I wonder how many times he has made that same trip?  While we had obviously missed peak leaf-peeping time, the views were still breathtaking.  This is a route that I would love to travel again, though perhaps in a nice, ground-and-ccrve-hugging sports car instead.IMG_0791


Eventually we arrived safe and sound in Takayama.  Yay!  The (nice, new?) bus station is located right next to the JR station, so we knew exactly where we were.


We stowed our bags in con lockers and went to get some lunch.  (Side rant: Oh, how I wish we could have coin lockers in airports here in the US!  They are so convenient!)  Part of our reason for visiting Takayama is for their Hida beef.  We had it before on our 2009 trip, and the memory of that lunch burned bright.  We knew the restaurant we wanted to visit (it’s hard to miss, as there’s a large black cow statue outside), so off we went.


Cute sign on the way to lunch.


Ah, the sure sign of a Japanese vacation: drinking beer and grilling meats at lunchtime.  With some token veggies, of course. Thankfully there were mushrooms for hubby and kabocha (pumpkin) for me.  Yum!

Happy, and with one mission accomplished, we headed out to see the Festival Museum, which housed some of the floats used every year in Takayama’s huge matsuri (festival).  The floats were incredible, but most of my shots are less than stellar thanks to reflections from the glass.  Here is a view from the upper observation deck.  Just left of center is a human-sized mannequin.  These floats are tall!



Impressive as this was, better times awaited.  Entry into the Festival Museum also gets you entry into a building containing a 1/10th scale model of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, where Ieyasu Tokugawa is buried.  Why they have this in Takayama, I still don’t really know.  However, it was amazing!  The detail was unbelievable.  And thanks to it being mid-week, it was pretty much deserted.  We had the place to ourselves and we spent a long time photographing the buildings.  The room would go from a morning light setting to an evening light setting, allowing you to pick your mood for your shot.  Very, very cool!

IMG_0885 IMG_0898 IMG_0913 IMG_0921Our friend photographing me as I photographed him.  Gives an idea of the scale of the place.

After that, tired from a long day, we headed to the station to grab our bags and head to the ryokan.  We stayed at the lovely Oyado Yamakyu, where we stayed in 2007.  It has an air of Ghibli’s Sen to Chihiro (Spirited Away).  It also features large common baths, with smaller outside baths as well.  What could be more perfect after a long day of sightseeing in chilly weather?  Not much.


Cute car spotted on the way to our inn.


Relaxing with tea and sarubobo snacks.




Going to town in Fabric Town

Or, how I went slightly nuts over fabric in under two hours.

When talking with my sister about my fabric purchases after our return from Japan, she asked how much fabric I had bought.  I guesstimated about a dozen different kinds.  I was only off by three.  ^ ^;  And that’s not total yardage, just different fabrics.

Why so much fabric buying in Japan?  Don’t we have decent stores here in Portland?  Yes, we have good fabric stores here in Portland; so much so that I never have to go to a JoAnn’s, unless I’m after craft supplies.  But there is something about Japanese fabrics.  It may very well be that the fabrics I purchased at Tomato in Nippori are available here in the US somewhere, but I’ve not seen all together under one roof.  And the prices at Tomato are hard to beat, even with the horrid exchange rate.

On the ground floor of Tomato there is a 105 yen/meter section of fabric.  It’s always a struggle to get close, then grab bolts of fabric that you’re interested in.  This time I thought I was being smart by heading to the top floor first and working my way down.  I had forgotten that you pay for your purchases on each floor.  Oops.  Thankfully I was able to skip a couple of floors: the top floor was American-made quilting fabrics, and one floor was shiny spandex and glittery evening gown fabrics that I use so much.  Not.  However, the fourth floor was Japanese fabrics: traditionally dyed, printed, designed, etc.  I ended up with a big bag from that floor, even with my excessively strong willpower.  (My mantra was, “But what will I make from it?”) And then there was the knits floor.  Oh, how I wish I could live in the Tokyo area just to have that floor of knits available!  I could have spent all morning and more money than I had with me on that floor.  In all my fabric wanderings, I’ve never seen such a great selection of knits.  Yes, I came out with a big bag from that floor, too.

Which left me only the ground floor with its bargains to tackle.  With a huge bag of fabric already in each hand.  Oh, I saw then the error of my cunning plan to start at the top.  And I saw the wisdom of some [Japanese] ladies who were rolling shopping paniers around filled with their purchases.  I felt like such an amateur.

A lot of Tomato’s bargains were out of season (that doesn’t bother me, since I rarely seem to sew in season), and many are floaty, printed blouson types.  While I seem to be becoming more attracted to prints the older I get, I was able to resist most of their offerings.  (I do think that fabric prints are going to be my mid-life crisis, however; I purchased more on this trip than I’ve ever before.)  I found two blue and white striped fabrics that I decided I had to have and headed to the cutting counter.  Which leads me to another plus of Tomato: their generous cutting practices.  When you say you want two meters of a fabric, they will measure out two meters, then add 2-4 fingers worth (or more, on the bargain floor) extra before cutting the fabric.  In the US (and in other higher-priced fabrics stores I visited in Tokyo), if you indicate 2 meters, they cut it as close as they can, which means you may very well end up with slightly less than 2 meters if the fabric wasn’t on grain when cut.  Hooray, Tomato!

Hands straining with the weight of three bags of fabric that I had purchased at Tomato, I started to head back to Nippori Station to dump my fabrics in a coin locker and join my husband for some CD & book shopping.  On the way, though, I had to (I had to, I tell you!) stop in my favorite wool shop in Fabric Town.  The two previous trips I had gotten some excellent pieces at great deals (“サービス” they told me; “service”).  The little wool shop is little; there is barely enough room for the two male employees and four customers.  Let alone a big American with huge bags of fabric.  (Talk about feeling out of place!)  I spotted a brown and cream wool plaid that was on sale for 1050 yen/meter, and had to ask the assistant to bring it to the cutting table for me, as my hands were too full.  (Japanese languages skills to the rescue!)  There, the owner cut a generous two meters and charged me less than the sale price.  “サービス”  Great wool at great prices and great customer service.  It’s no wonder I keep going back.

And now, finally, photos of the fabric…

Clockwise from left: cotton print with birds on it (I live in Portland, I had to!), pale green cotton with pattern/dress-making print, beige Nani iro double gauze with white dots, white Nani iro double gauze with blue floral print, teal linen (my most expensive purchase), white Nani iro double gauze with multi-colored floral print, donuts and coffee cotton print (how could I resist this? I should have gotten more), navy and white striped cotton shirt weight, and some heavier woven navy and white cotton.

And the rest, clockwise from left: brown and cream wool plaid, navy and white sweater knit, grey jersey knit, brown and teal flannel, winter sweater knit, fuzzy grey sweater knit (which has already been sewn into two different tops).



Mine is not to wonder why I had shiny purple embroidery thread in my thread stash, just be thankful that I did.  I can’t help but wonder what my past self thought it knew about it my future self, though?  Although I was very much a purple girl when I was 11, I am so not a purple girl now.  The one purple shirt in my wardrobe stays not because I look good in it (it’s not very flattering), but because it was purchased in Japan and contains some very amusing Engrish.

With this lucky thread find, I’ve just put the finishing stitches on my last holiday make.  Photos will be taken, but not shown until after the holidays, as a majority of the five people who actively read this blog will be receiving a handmade something from me this year.  (And some of those somethings were made with shiny purple thread.  That should leave you wondering, hm?  🙂

Now I simply have to make the gift bags to put the items in and I will be finished.  I decided to make reusable cloth bags to put presents in this year, just to save on paper waste.  As much fun as it was to tear into presents as a kid, and have a mountain of paper to roll around in, my current self shudders at the waste.  I scored 2.5 yards of Christmas-y fabric from one of the local Goodwill shops for way less than I could have purchased it elsewhere.  (This is also a great place to buy cotton sheet sets to cut up for making muslins.)  I made a set of bags earlier in the week for gifts headed to the Oregon coast for relatives there.  After making the bags, I thought, “Oh, I’ll just make up some little gift tags to go along.”  And right after that thought, another followed, “I’m turning into my mother!” (I love you, mom!)

Last week I also made up three new Renfrew knit tops, which I will soon take photos of and share.  Hubby is at home sick right now (boo!), so I’ll borrow his camera to document all this recent sewing.  My camera is currently enjoying an all-expense-paid trip to sunny California right now.  (AKA, it’s down in SoCal being repaired under warranty; hopefully returning soon.)