May 4, 2015

Fabric, Bunka and Bloggers in Tokyo!

Without a doubt, my favourite thing about blogging is meeting other bloggers in real life. It never fails to boggle my mind that I have these friends all around the world who I’ve never met… and who invariably turn out to be just as cool in person as they are online. When I decided to travel to Tokyo, my first priority was a visit to my blog roll to see who I knew in the city, and Novita (Very Purple Person) and Yoshimi (Yoshimi The Flying Squirrel) were top of the list!


We met on Thursday at Shinjuku station, and the first port of call was heading over to Bunka Fashion School, guided by Yoshimi’s friend who is a graduate of their pattern-making course (and who was wearing a very nifty combo including a collar made of tiny linen rags and a Merchant&Mills UNIQLO t-shirt). I couldn’t get over how big Bunka is – it’s literally a skyscraper!

Bunka Fashion College | Cashmerette

Bunka Fashion College | Cashmerette

Bunka Fashion College | Cashmerette

There are all manner of facilities there, but naturally we checked out the shopping options first – they have a bookstore, fabric store, and notions/equipment shop.

In the bookstore Novita found me my first ever Japanese pattern book – for plus sizes! Interestingly, I noticed a lot more plus size women in Japan than last time I was here 6 years ago, and there are also now pattern books and fashion magazines. My book is “Pocchari Girls’ Sewing Book” which apparently means “chubby girls”, but, I was told, with a nice tone (apparently there’s also a movement to rechristen plus size women “marshmallow girls”….). The clothes are pretty cool and styled in a very fun Japanese way, even though they’re modeled by western women. They definitely tend in the tent-dress direction, but in a similar way to straight-size Japanese fashion which tends to be loose-fitting, rather than in a “these ladies need to cover up” way. I’ll do a full review of the book soon!


I took a quick look in the fabric store but it was mostly wools and fabrics for men’s suiting – I presume that reflects the classes they’re teaching at the moment.


The notions store though… swoon! There’s no doubt that seeing regular things with Japanese packaging makes them seem cooler, but there were also a lot of things that I haven’t seen in the US or Europe – like twill tape in a dispenser, tiny Japanese needles and pre-made bra strap holders. I bought one of the curved rulers (apparently the curve is famous…), and some chalk with “Bunka” on it… because.


We saw the famous Bunka mannequins– apparently every year, they take the measurements of the incoming students, and create a mannequin that’s an average of the class. As a result, their forms are well-known for being a lot more reflective of real women’s figures than standard Wolf or Dritz models.


After the Bunka stores we popped into the Bunka Garment Museum – they have a small permanent collection of 1920s – present clothing which was fun to ramble around, and then downstairs there was a temporary exhibition on denim. It was fascinating, both to see how little denim styles have changed since the early 1900s, but also because they have an awesome video which shows how commercial jeans are weathered and wrinkled using sandblasters and lasers.


Next, we headed out to a store called Yuzawaya which is above Shinjuku station (all the best things in Tokyo are apparently above or below stations..). It has a massive variety of craft supplies, from stained-glass window making to leather kits to dried flower decoupage to fake fur trim, and of course I was so swayed by the packaging that I almost bought a needle-felting kitty set. And about 100 other things. Instead, I limited myself to some knit bias tape – I’d heard rumours of this before but never seen it myself, and given it was polka dots I was basically obliged to buy 8 packs. Yoshimi and I also picked up some limited edition Hello Kitty Liberty print for Carmen – see if you can see the kittens! This is a great store for Liberty, printed cottons, and more notions than you could dream of, all displayed in a really beautiful way. (If you can’t make it to Japan, Miss Matatabi has a lot of very similar stock and ships worldwide…)



I also did a pre-game mini-visit to Odakaya in Shinjuku. It’s a little hard to find (the entrance to the fabric part of the building is down an alleyway) but it was another gem. They have a particularly good selection of sweater knits – I ended up buying a lightweight black and royal blue square knit which will be perfect for a cardigan or light sweater, and had to restrain myself from buying the various quilted and cabled sweater knits which, though gorgeous, were really expensive ($30+/meter).



Post-shopping we headed out to the suburb of Kichijoji for some okonomiyaki dinner. Okonomiyaki is one of my favourite Japanese dishes – it’s a sort of pancake made with cabbage and eggs, which you add lots of things to like seafood, pork, little crispy bits of batter, cheese and so on. At the cute place we visited there’s a hot-plate on the table so you make your own, though we did have rather a lot of guidance from Yoshimi! Once it’s made you slather it with a sweet soy-based sauce and mayonnaise, and flaky dried fish bits on the top. It’s the best! I might have to start up a chain of okonomiyaki restaurants in Boston…



All in all, a totally awesome day, thanks to Yoshimi and Novita. I’m hoping to see them again soon, either in Japan or New York! Now, on to Takayama and Kyoto… Does anyone have any tips, fabric, food or otherwise? And: should I just suck it up and buy another suitcase and buy all the fabric in Japan? I might break my back carrying it all, but..


28 thoughts on “Fabric, Bunka and Bloggers in Tokyo!

  1. Autumn says:

    I absolutely adore needle felting, although I don’t have much experience. Those kits were too cute! Do you needle felt as well as sew?

    1. Alas not! Although I did *once* make a strawberry at a craft fair. It seems to be super popular here, though and no wonder – the output is very cute!

  2. Nancy K says:

    I am green with envy! Japan is on my bucket list.

    1. You should definitely try to visit! It’s like nowhere else in the world and I love it.

  3. Tanya Maile says:

    Fantastic! I’ve heard that they have all kinds of colors and prints of bias tape, too. That knit tape is fabulous! I wish they’d sell that stuff here!

    1. I know, it’s so weird that they don’t! I bought a mighty armful of it 🙂

  4. carly927 says:

    Okonomiyaki was my favorite food in Japan 🙂

  5. splendidcakes says:

    I want to go to there.

    1. I was thinking that the whole time I was reading!!! Ha! So good!

  6. This was such a fun read. How cool to meet both ladies. I love their blogs. And I agree, ordinary sewing notions are super cute and more fun in Japanese! I love going to Uwajimaya in Seattle to buy things in their store for that very reason. I’m so impressed by how creative and thought out Japanese products are. I bought a compass for drawing circles and it has a little cover (a couple cm long) to cover the sharp tip.

  7. Charlotte says:

    Ooh looks amazing. I’ve been loving following your trip on Instagram, I’ve never been to Japan, but want to go more than ever now!

  8. jj says:

    I am going to Japan this summer and I will try to fallow your footsteps.

  9. This looks like such a fun day! I’m really interested to hear more about the “chubby girls sewing book”, I really LOVE the style of the japanese pattern books but the thought of grading them up 10-20 inches has stopped me form ever buying one. Waiting eagerly for the review (at which point i will probably do some desperate googling to see if it is possible to buy online).

    1. HI Megan – I’m definitely going to do a review of it once I get back – it’s really well put together!

      1. There are several options for buying online (etsy and ebay mostly) which have pretty good photos of the garments and even show the size chart, but I’d really like see how crazy the pattern sheet is and what you think about making these garments without instructions! Looking forward to it!

      2. Lori Kay says:

        Did you ever have a chance to review the book? I’m curious to know what you think.

  10. bimbleandpimble says:

    Gah! This is so much fun! I went crazy as well with the notions that you can’t pick up in Australia. The Poccari sewing book is so cool- I really love the coat at the end and have all intentions of making it up at some stage… One day… 😀

  11. Kate says:

    Okonomiyaki is definitely my favourite too. Delicious cabbagey pancakey goodness!

  12. KenFromBoston says:

    I visited Takayama in 2001, taking the train (Takayama Main Line) from Gifu. If you plan to take the train to Takayama, get a window seat, as the mountain scenery is spectacular! I left mid-morning, and arrived at Takayama Station a bit after noon, if I remember correctly. The part of Takayama with the traditional buildings begins right across the street from the train station, but what surprised me was that that entire part of town was closed! It wasn’t a holiday, but it was quite strange, as none of the shops seemed to be open, and nobody was walking around on the streets. It’s possible that everything shuts down around lunchtime, but I would have liked to have visited a restaurant for lunch, but outside of the vending machines at the station, I couldn’t find any place open. There are shrines at the far end of the “old town”, quiet and scenic, but nothing spectacular. On the other side of the station, across the tracks, and about a mile up a hill is the Hida Folk Village (Hida no Sato). It’s a nice collection of old-style houses, and each of them contains regular articles that would have been used by the occupants at that time. I don’t recall if there was much there in the way of traditional clothing and fabrics, but I was surprised that there were so many antique and traditional items in the houses, which were set completely out in the open, with nobody to watch over them. Had this been most anywhere but Japan, those items would have “disappeared” rather quickly. And I agree with you about how so many of the goods sold in Japan have that extra touch regarding packaging and ease of use and storage when compared to similar items in the U.S., making me think “why don’t they make them like that here?”

    1. Funnily enough we had exactly the same experience – Takayama was like a ghost town most of the time! Luckily enough we found lunch places but breakfast ended up being at McDonalds one morning! 🙂 We really enjoyed seeing all the old houses though and we did the day trip out to the ropeway which had fantastic views

  13. gingermakes says:

    OK, so, I really want to go to Japan, but after seeing all your IG posts, I’m pretty sure I would come home bankrupt with bursting suitcases! And I would LOVE to meet Novita and Yoshimi!!!!! They both seem so cool!

    ALSO… what’s this about New York? You’re not moving here, are you????? JUST SAY YES.

    1. Ha ha alas no, but Novita and Yoshimi were discussing maybe doing a visit some day!

      1. gingermakes says:


  14. symondezyn says:

    What an amazing experience!! I can’t believe you resisted the kitty needle felting kits – I’m dying for one through the screen, so there’s no doubt it’d have hopped straight into my bag… along with all those lovely sweater knits ^__^

  15. You know, “Marshmallow girl” is totally a term I can get into. Non-judgemental, and kind-of describes my tummy quite well.

    Also – knit bias tape, whaaat! Also also -GAH that blue sweater knit is gorgeous! I wish we had stuff like that, and the cabled stuff (and, $30/m is about normal for what we pay for fabrics here. I saw a stretch micro-cord fabric for $35/m today and some knit polyester for $28/m)

  16. your trip sounds amazing! we spent a few days in tokyo and narita when going to/from new zealand last year, and absolutely fell in love with japan. sadly, i didn’t get to any fabric shops, but i did thoroughly enjoy a rushed trip to tokyu hands before we caught our bus to the airport. washi tape and bento boxes!!! i shall note all of your japan-tips, as we’re hoping to get back for a proper trip one day!

  17. ailsa says:

    Going to japan in april, tokyo kyoto takamaya festival. Cherry blossom time. Thanks for the info regarding the fabric shopping. Can, t wait , but I might be overwhelmed by the sound of it. I also wish australia would import some of there amazing fabrics. Standard of fabrics imported is terrible.

  18. Ariane says:

    I was wondering if we can freely visit bunka fashion college as you did or you were able because you had someone from inside to let you in and guide you?

Let me know what you think!