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.


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