Photo/IllutrationKimono silks are hung over a 300-meter section of the Myoshojikawa river during the "Some no Komichi" festival that celebrates traditional dyeing in the Nakai/Ochiai area of Shinjuku Ward. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

I "ochiatta" with some people in the Ochiai area. Ochiatta sounds Italian--but, in this case, it’s Japanese.

The word ochiai refers to a place where people, roads or rivers meet. Shinjuku’s Ochiai is at the confluence of the Kandagawa and Myoshojikawa rivers.

The rivers themselves are nothing to write home about. They are entombed in deep concrete like so many rivers are in this metropolis. I walked along Myoshojikawa river near Nakai Station, all the while squinting and trying to see in my mind’s eye the river of yesteryear, one that resembled something seen in Akira Kurosawa’s movies with green grasses and yellow flowers along the riverbanks. Alas, such a task requires quite an imagination.

In the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras, many kimono dye craftsmen moved here from Kanda Konya-machi in search of cleaner water. They went into the river, bent down and hand-washed their just-dyed fabrics, then hung them out to dry. Today, it’s a feat trying to touch the water even with a long pole.

Once a year in late February, the area holds a festival called “Some no Komichi,” a path of dye. Dyeing is one of the Japanese traditional crafts of Tokyo, and the event is put together by the Shinjuku Ward Dyeing Council to pay artistic tribute to this heritage. During the festival, shops hang out locally dyed "noren" curtains and drape-long "tanmono," or kimono cloth, across the river.

We went into a shop selling kimono fabric because my friend wanted to buy a few meters of a lovely cloth, and we were lectured about the ABCs of tanmono.

“One tanmono roll generally measures in the ballpark of 40 centimeters by 12 meters, and when making a kimono, it is cut into eight parts and there is hardly any leftover fabric. So, the textile cannot be sold in increments. You have to buy an entire roll.”

Oh, well. Live and learn.

I overheard a person talking about onion-skin dyeing and was intrigued. I asked about it and was pointed to Futaba-en, a dyeing company with a 99-year history. They have a gallery and an event space and put on workshops throughout the year. If you’ve ever thought about trying your hand at traditional Japanese dyeing, here’s the place.

The house and now museum of Fumiko Hayashi (1903-1951), the female novelist who wrote the best-selling novel “Horoki” (“Diary of a Vagabond”), is a tranquil place surrounded by nature.

An afternoon walking around and discovering the little nooks and crannies of Ochiai and Nakai while imagining how the place looked decades ago is enjoyable.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the April 7 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.