Many are surprised to hear that my first trip to Japan had nothing to do with my kids living there. Actually, my first visit may have influenced them. In 1994, as an exhibitor in a quilt show in Nagoya, I was invited along with other American quilters to come to Japan for the show and stay as guests in homes of Japanese quilters. At the time, this seemed quite an extravagance for someone who was basically a housewife from Cleveland but I had always wanted to visit Japan and M, frankly, had no interest in ever visiting (how times have changed) so he urged me to take this trip of a lifetime.
I've referenced this trip several times here and one day I'll share the whole tale, but for this story, you need only know that I made friends then with two quilters in particular, Yoshiko and Kumiko. While 3 of us American quilters made the trip for the Nagoya show opening, Yoshiko and Kumiko came to the U.S. when the show traveled stateside. It was then that they met Molly, at that time a junior high student, and urged me to bring her back to Japan some day.
Around this time, I think it's fair to say, Keiko Goke was the first contemporary Japanese quilter to explode onto the international scene. Her quilts were showing up as winners in the AQS annual shows each year and I was completely taken with her bold interpretations of traditional quilt designs. When our quilt show traveled to the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, several of us accompanied the quilts to hang the show and one of Goke's quilts was in a show they were taking down. I stood before it forever, mesmerized by the thrill of seeing it in person.
In the summer of 1998, when Molly was 15, I took her back with me to Japan where we stayed for part of the time in both Yoshiko and Kumiko's homes. A large quilt festival in Tokyo coincided with our visit, and they decided that we should take a day trip up to the exhibit and show Molly around Tokyo. (All in one day!) Excited to have the opportunity to attend such a show and having heard that Keiko Goke had just written a book, I mentioned to my friends on the train ride that morning that I would like to look for the book while there.
Yoshiko & me, Tokyo quilt show, 1998...year of the big jumper.
Now, I must mention here that between this trip and my first, I had studied Japanese at a community college. And my friends had been studying English. So although we could exchange niceties, real conversations often concluded with smiles and hopeful nods, sometimes followed by a burst of laughter when it was apparent that each had no idea what the other was saying. So when I asked in very simple English if they knew about the book, they looked at me blankly. I then ventured into simple Japanese. Keiko Goke no hon....? Goke-san no hon...? They exchanged glances, their eyes got big and they burst out laughing. Kumiko flipped through her dictionary and pointed to a translation of... "Unwed mother book?" she asked, tentatively. Whoops. Back to class. In any case, the show was memorable, and although I didn't find the Goke book that day, I did get my first glimpse of Kaffe Fassett, surrounded like a rock star by a crowd of diminutive Japanese quilt groupies as he moved about.
In 2002, when K was living in Japan after college, I returned for a visit and spent a day with Yoshiko who took me to a large quilt show in Nagoya. (See? No language barrier here! We understand each other beautifully!) After visiting with many quilting friends I hadn't seen since my first trip, Yoshiko, face beaming, hustled me up to a special exhibit in a room at the end of a hallway. When I walked in, I almost had a heart attack. The room was filled with all of Keiko Goke's well known quilts...and there she was! It was a joint venue, shared with American quilter Laura Wasilowski (Melody's former partner), who was sitting at a table selling some of her dyed wares. While purchasing some floss, I was telling her (ok, gushing a little, maybe) how surprised and thrilled I was to be there. When I said, "I am Keiko's biggest fan!", Laura, not missing a beat, grinned and called out loudly, "Keiko!! Come meet your biggest fan!!"
And that's how I came to meet Keiko Goke. And how she came to meet her biggest fan. And what does all of this have to do with my first photo?
Keiko has a new line of fabric, produced by Yuwa, from which Molly sent me some cuts a couple of weeks ago. Can you imagine how wonderful it was to arrive home from the hospital one night to find this in the mail? She also included Goke's new book, (Melody wrote about it here) which was quite thoughtful, considering how mortified her 15-year-old-self was on that train ride when I caused such an incident asking about the first one. If you've stuck with me this long here and love these fabrics as much as I do (the blossom prints!!), you'll probably be interested in these links to Keiko Goke's blog, where she features some work using her fabric as well as quilts, hers and others, at the recent Yokohama Quilt Festival. And if you think you might need some of this fabric in your stash, there's a rumor going around that it may soon be available here.
One last thing. Last January when I attended the Tokyo International Quilt Festival, one of my favorite features of the show was a number of small galleries, dispersed through the enormous venue, each featuring a prominent Japanese quilter and her quilts. I spent a whole day at the show...10 hours. Molly and her friend arrived mid-afternoon to view it. At the end of the day, we all left together and as we were crossing the busy street outside the Tokyo Dome, Molly said to me, "You must have loved the Goke exhibit."
Dead stop. Blank stare.
10 hours of total quilt nirvana and somehow I missed it. I'll be more thorough next month.