A Special Afternoon with Emiko

I know that I have to give myself extra time when going to a new destination. I did today, but not quite enough to negotiate the maze of Shinjuku, one of the biggest subway stations in probably the world. I had to find the JR Chuo line to Nishi Ogikubo and I couldn’t find where to buy the ticket. I got on the train going the right way, but it didn’t stop where I had to get off, so I had to  backtrack on a local train. I was more that 15 minutes late arriving at Nishi Ogikubo Station where Emiko Nakano was waiting for me. Emiko is a well-known textile artist and she has been to Montreal many times to study and work on the jacquard loom at the Centre des textiles contemporain. We  had agreed to spend an afternoon together and talk about each others’ work. She had offered to share with me what she knew about shifu, the Japanese art of spinning paper into a thread for weaving.

Even though this was our first time meeting, I recognized her immediately. I was so relieved to arrive and find her there and she was so relieved to see me arrive; we fell immediately in stride  and headed off together.  It was also a relief for me to be in what felt like a real neighbourhood, with smaller buildings, streets and real houses all woven tightly together.Emikoshome1

We had so many interests in common the afternoon passed  quickly into darkness and I wondered if I should feel embarrassed to have stayed so long, but there was more….Emiko got me to grind the coffee beans in an antique brass Arabian hand grinder that she had bought in Austria. It was a workout, but the reward was a special brew accompanied by a very green, and a very tasty, green-tea, sponge cake.

In the picture below you can’t see where my feet are, but know that they were very happy, toasting under that table with a blanket to keep the heat in!Underthetable How ingenious.

She gave me something unexpected, something I am sure she was not even aware she had given. She showed me the paper cloth she had woven with the paper thread she had spun – a cloth so fine and alive.  EmikosPapercloth

She showed me her woven paper sculptures and tapestries made with the rejected papers of her mother-in-law’s calligraphy and then she showed me the book of waka poetry done in a careful calligraphy by her mother-in-law, a writing Emiko said that even she cannot read.


Then, she told me the story of a man who had been a commercial weaver all his life and when he retired at 70, he decided to make tapestries for himself. He chose to re-create one of the famous drawings that were inspired by The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu from the 11-12th century. He finished it when he was 100 and when he was 102, he travelled to Paris to give the work to the Guimet Museum.

Ruins_EmikoI don’t even know exactly what Emiko gave me, but something in me stopped racing, stopped worrying about what and how and when and I just was. I was there enjoying this amazing moment with Emiko, sharing herself and her stories. I saw myself not rushing to make, but rather taking the time to be here, letting the time be the work. I’ll come again to Emiko’s place and she will show me how to make shifu, slowly rubbing the cut strands of paper back and forth to make threads.