Fabric and fashion in Japan

Before leaving I researched fabric shops in Osaka and Kyoto. My intention was to buy small off-cuts and fabric to use as background for my embroidered trees. How lucky I wasn’t intending to buy dress material – I could have gone mad! My mental shopping list included vintage pieces, especially in indigo, and I would have loved to find boro fabric. (I am becoming interested in boro material/sewing/quilting, and will talk more about it later. If you are interested this link is a good beginning.)

The first shop to track down was Toraya, in Osaka. Japanese addresses are tricky for the uninitiated so my instructions came from another (English speaking) blogger. This is what I wrote in my book, which seemed perfectly doable on my couch in Melbourne:

Ebisubashi, underground shopping arcade running between Shinsaibashi and Namba stations up the Namba end. Take exit 20 at Namba station, turn right in the street, first right; turn right at ABC Mart; on left.

Mum and I negotiated the subway, with the help of a sweet young woman, and got ourselves to Namba station. Underneath every large Japanese station is a web of shopping malls, with exits leading to hotels, department stores and sometimes even to the world above. We were caught up in this maze and realised that looking for exit 20 was beyond us; we were just longing for a way to fresh air. Eventually, with the help of another woman, we popped up above ground.

A much needed coffee was found at Starbucks. (The coffee-snob in me would never drink Starbucks coffee in Melbourne, but we found in very acceptable in Japan. 😉 ) Out came the map, and, once I had oriented myself, I found out we had come up in exactly the right spot. Right at the entrance to Ebisubashi-Suji! It is a long, very long, covered walkway/mall/pedestrian street, which extended for kilometres up to the area around our hotel.

We were ambling along and then Mum said “Is this the place you are looking for?” I would have walked right on past.


It was material paradise, with the fabric enticingly displayed in lengths. And there was a second floor. The range was extensive, and the prices seemed cheap while the quality good.



It was hard, but I limited myself to off cuts. I bought this one because it was the colour and weight for my embroidery work.


It is obvious why I couldn’t resist this, even thought the background is quite vivid lime.


And this was an impulse buy. Apron maybe?


In Kyoto Mum and I passed up an opportunity to visit Himeji Castle to go fabric shopping. (Well, we had seen the castle from the train……!) My instructions were more precise but luck still played a part, as we just happened upon Nomura Tailor’s main store. It is another sewer’s paradise and not for the weak-willed! Again, reasonably priced, good quality and extensive range.



It was here that I found my scraps and off-cuts, and I had a pleasant time rummaging. This is what I came home with




Quite restrained, really.

The second Nomura Tailor shop, in another long arcade, was more for quilters, and I can  imagine many of my quilting bloggy friends having a wonderful time there! I was only tempted by some threads.

Mum on the other hand…. I have to take some responsibility here. As you know, I love a project, whether it is mine or someone else’s. So, when Mum said in Osaka “I am going to buy this material for a table cloth” I did not say “Hmmm, is that a good idea?” I was all for it. When she saw material in Kyoto that would make perfect serviettes my reaction was “Perfect!” She doesn’t even have a sewing machine! I finally put on my dutiful daughter hat (once we were back in the hotel room, not in the store!) and said that I would take the material and sew it up.

She also bought one of those pre-package, very tempting kits that you embroider and make up into a bag. She loves embroidering, and I was happy to make it up for her. It never crossed our minds that the instructions might be in Japanese!


I mentioned ‘fashion’ in the title. I am never up with fashions and trends, so what I saw in Japan may be common knowledge. I loved the clothes women were wearing.

I had expected to see young women in sailor suit tops and Hello Kitty inspired clothes but I hadn’t expected the simplicity and clean lines that I saw in so many outfits. They were often layered, flowing, lots of wide legged pants, berets and hats, very few florals or bright colours. So comfortable but elegant. The colour of the season seemed to be a mustardy orange colour.

The fabulous fabric stores made me wonder whether many women made their own clothes. I was tempted by a Japanese pattern book, but again, it was, naturally, all in Japanese!

This link will give you a taste of the clothes I was seeing.

Only a couple of regrets…

  • I couldn’t find the handcrafted needle shop Misuya-Bari in Kyoto. The instructions told me to look for a pink shop. I can only hope that the pink shop is now another colour and that the needle shop, which has been in the family for 400 years, is still tucked away somewhere in Kyoto.
  • I didn’t see any traditional cloth. That will require more research for the next trip. The closest I came was when a chap sat next to me at a diner. He had jeans mended in the boro tradition. I would have loved a photo, but felt that a stranger asking to photograph his thigh might be taken the wrong way!

More blog posts to come, as I want to tell you about Naoshima, the Art island, as well as tempt you with some of the delicious food we ate. This is a link to my previous post about the cities I traveled to.


My fortnightly newsletter will be back this week, and I am talking about the brushes that I found in Japan. Click here for the sign up form.

18 replies on “Fabric and fashion in Japan”

I think I was actually whimpering a bit as I read this, as the Husband looked over and asked what the matter was. I could only reply “Japanese fabric shops!” and all was explained… I actually have one of those lovely Japanese garment books, but being a realist, I know that while the clothes are beautiful and look amazing on the models, I’m rather the wrong shape for something designed to hang straight down from the shoulders…

Liked by 1 person

Oh! I didn’t expect you to be whimpering, but I was thinking of you when I was there. Yes, those fine Japanese women have a body shape that make any style look good. I bought a couple of garments because I love that loose, layering and most especially comfortable style.


The clothes are lovely, but when you’re built more like a brick, the unstructured, unfitted look tends to make you even more solid-looking! It’s probably just as well I don’t go there, as I’m sure I’d have a buying frenzy amongst all the indigo prints!

Liked by 1 person

Noooo! You tease us. Thank goodness you didn’t show photos of the quilting fabrics too.
I have a Japanese craft book which you can negotiate – with some effort and a magnifying glass – just with the diagrams and the dimensions. I also have a clothing book but am not overly keen on the clothes themselves so I’m not sure whether I’ll ever make the effort to ‘translate’ any of those patterns. Nice to look at though. I admire your restraint even as I don’t understand it 😉


Your last sentence made me smile! The restraint came more from having to lug around a heavy suitcase than anything else. I knew that on the last few days of the trip I would be manhandling my own suitcase and Mum’s on and off the trains. However, on my next trip….
And I am sure these shops have an online presence, probably in Japanese though.


Anne, what an amazing place. I would love to go one day, even more so now that I’ve seen all the amazing fabrics. I’m glad you sorted out your destinations, not easy to do when you speak a different language. I love your choice of fabrics and I too admire your restraint. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your trip and I’m especially excited to see what you make with your fabric finds.


I am one of those annoying people that say “You must go! You will love it!” ~ mainly because it is true 🙂 The internet makes planning so much easier, as well as researching the shops and other things I wanted to find. As for my fabric, I am playing with some ideas, as you might have seen on my Instagram posts.


I can see that some of your fabrics will look very interesting with your embroidery style – one further up the page with wavering lines of white on a dark colour would fit will with some sort of landscape/river look IMHO.
And interesting that your Mother got into the swing of things with her own purchases (even if you’ve going to have to do much of the making…) – she will have certain a memorable tale when she has her dining table covered and people come to see her, “where did you get that from?”


Mum loves to bring back unexpected things from overseas. On their first trip to Europe, way back in the early 70s, Mum and Dad brought back not one, but two, metal chess sets, one for each of my brothers! A few metres of material was much easier to carry. 🙂 I agree that the blue and white fabric is the most exciting, the one making my fingers itch.


Nothing like a good natter, so let's have a chat!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.