Photo/IllutrationShoppers looking for fabric and related products flock to a store known for a wide selection of materials and affordable prices in Nippori Textile Town. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Garnering silk and wool from animals; cotton, flax and jute from plants. We human beings are a resourceful, inventive bunch. Our ancestors fed mulberry leaves to silkworms, waited for them to pupate in cocoons, and then dissolved them in hot water and extracted long fibers that they fed into a spinning wheel.

Fleece is sheared from sheep, then scoured, carded, combed and spun into yarn. Teeny-tiny cotton fibers are picked from the plant, then stretched and twisted and made into thread. Linen is harvested, dried, threshed, retted, scutched and then spun. The resulting thread or yarn is woven or knitted and made into a textile.

As I gaze out upon the city from my high-rise apartment, I can’t help but marvel at the tapestry that makes up this megalopolis. Homo sapiens weave and knit individual hairlike strands into clothing, coverings and furnishings. And we do the same to make huge cities.

There’s an area in the fabric of Tokyo that is well-known, domestically and internationally, especially to needle-and-thread DIYers. The place is Nippori Textile Town.

About 100 years ago, new zoning laws came into effect in Asakusa to make it a more attractive place for tourists, and textile wholesalers in the area were forced to relocate to Nippori. For decades, their business was strictly B2B and not B2C, but with the passage of time, the apparel industry in Japan slowed to a trickle, and many shops closed their shutters.

Things were looking bleak until about 30 years ago when handicrafts among homemakers and young mothers experienced a resurgence and cosplay as a hobby became a phenomenon. Students and other creative types flocked to Nippori, and today most shops welcome everyone, even customers who only wish to buy a meter of fabric.

From the ultracheap to uber-luxurious--fabrics, knits, leather, fur, remnants, buttons, beads, lace, patches, thread, needles, sticks, snaps, pins, seam rippers, bag handles, fixing for belts, sewing machines and anything else you can think of needed to make your dream outfit or project can be found here. Shoppers should rummage around various shops before buying anything.

Visiting this pocket in Tokyo will offer you a glimpse into a slower and creative way of life. In this world of mass-produced-by-who-knows fast fashion, taking a good look at each part that makes up a finished project will give you pause for thought.

Whether you’re a needleworker or not, a visit to Nippori Textile Town will inspire a myriad of ideas.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Dec. 2 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.