The Tokyo Somemonogatari Museum is set up at Tomitasenkogei, a 140-year-old dyeing studio across the Kandagawa river from Omokagebashi Station on the Toden Arakawa streetcar line.
The museum exhibits the studio’s finely patterned cloths, Tokyo Some Komon, and items featuring distinctive textures called Edo Sarasa. These works are displayed with panels that explain the manufacturing processes.
The museum stores 120,000 hand-carved paper stencils, including some made during the Edo period (1603-1867). Some of the collection is stored in drawers where the public can examine them. Visitors can study the traditional techniques and history of the textile dyeing industry.
At the studio, visitors can experience pattern printing, instructed by artisans. A white cloth is pasted onto a board measuring 10 meters long and 50 centimeters wide. After a paper stencil is placed on the cloth, a dye-proof paste is applied with a spatula.
Takushin Asano, a 73-year-old dye artisan, warned participants, “Unless you equalize the pressure, unnecessary lines are left on the cloth.” The lesson was well received. “When I got the knack of how to do it, I felt like doing it again,” a participant said.
Visitors can observe the dyeing of a basic color, a steaming process to set the color on the cloth and a machine sprinkling sawdust to prevent the cloths from sticking to each other in the steaming box.
The director of the museum is 68-year-old Atsushi Tomita, the fifth-generation owner of the studio. Tomita explained that extra dyes on the cloths used to be washed off in rivers.
The company moved from Tokyo’s Asakusa district, along the Sumidagawa river, to the current location in 1914, seeking the good water of the Kandagawa river. The dye-rinsing process is now done with machines.
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the museum. About 2,000 people visit the museum annually, with an increasing number of foreign tourists in recent years.
The museum keeps transmitting the charms of Japanese culture. “I think people feel attachment and aspiration after interacting with the job site directly,” Tomita said.
Tokyo Somemono- gatari Museum
Opened in 1997 as one of the Shinjuku Mini Museums, which are designed to open workplaces of artisans engaged in traditional industries to the public.
Address: 3-6-14 Nishi-Waseda, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
Open: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. (1-hour lunch break from noon). Closed on Saturdays and Sundays. There are also certain days when the museum is closed.
Admission: Free for observing exhibits. Interpretive tours of the studio and hands-on dyeing sessions require reservations. Prices begin at ¥2,000.
Tel: (03) 3987-0701