Brought to you by Quilters Newsletter magazine

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Meet Yoko Saito, Shop Tokyo

Two more great days in Tokyo--days of seeing beautiful quilts and finding inspiration for my next quilts while walking the streets of the city on a sunny, balmy mid-December day. Let me tell you about meeting Yoko Saito, a quilter and quilt teacher who is famous in Japan and beyond.

Yoko Saito clearly loves teaching others to quilt. When you enter her classroom, which is part of her shop in Tokyo, you notice all the students have a stack of colored markers. It only takes a few minutes to realize why. Ms. Saito has developed a colored-coded system of creating patterns and classroom diagrams. The system makes it easy for students to remember what to do when they get home. Ms. Saito not only teaches at her shop but has also traveled extensively as a quilting instructor in Europe and Asia.

Yoko Saito's teaching skills are matched by her quilting skills. Thimbles and more thimbles--count them--are key to her speed and accuracy in hand quilting. Check out the detail of one of her quilts below. The white ceramic thimble is her own design.

Yoko Saito's hand quilting is enhanced with hand embroidery. Her use of color and printed and yarn-dye Japanese taupe fabrics creates dimension.

After a week of meeting quilters, visiting their shops and studios, seeing their quilts up close, and talking with them, I was ready for a day to just kick back and relax. So what did I do? Sightseeing and shopping, of course. Just outside my hotel, I crossed the bridge known as Asakusabashi--bashi means bridge. The boats offer dinner cruises but it wasn't dinner time and I had shopping to do. So I headed straight for the accessory district.

The district is packed with wholesalers who also welcome retail shoppers. Most prominent are the bead stores. This really is heaven if you use beads and crystals to embellish your quilts. There's every color, size, and style you can imagine, and all at good prices. I enjoyed meeting Kusal Shrestha at Himalaya bead shop. When he found out I was a quilter, he took me to a nearby bead store that had a second floor full of fabric. Talk about heaven!

A short train ride and I was in Akihabara, the section of Tokyo known as Electric Town. There were people and more people everywhere. I'd read this was the heart of Japanese animation and the place to find anime figures. True enough. There were thousands and thousands of figures, some at astronomical prices. Very overwhelming. I wanted to get my photo taken with some of the characters but it was just too crowded. I think the warm day brought out everyone in Tokyo. I did grab a few shots in the neighborhood and am thinking they just might inspire a quilt.

If you're not familiar with the anime phenomenon-- I'm no expert--but here's just a sample of the big-eyed look many of the characters have.

From bold and impossible to miss to this surprising underfoot--literally underfoot--find. A beautiful service-hole cover--go figure. I only got a portion of it in this shot because it was in an area cordoned off for roadwork. But I had to show you what I could see. More inspiration for quilts.

My next stop was Asakusa, an area of Japan that is home to the Senso-ji Temple and vendors of traditional Japan goods--quite different from Electric Town! The shops are tiny and packed full of all sorts of items made of beautiful Japanese fabrics and paper. I was pleased when Fumiko Amashita at Azusaya Kimono agreed to pose with me. And I finally found kimono fabric for QN staffer Joli Hines Sayasane but there was one problem. It's only sold in rolls of 100 meters--"no cuts" I was told over and over--at a steep price. Sorry Joli.

Asakusa is home to Kurodaya, a paper store established in 1856, that sells paper that almost feels like fabric. The selection of colors and patterns is tremendous. I went for pieces featuring indigo, some with red highlights.

From Asakusa, I headed to Nihombashi, a section of Tokyo where I'd been told I could find a Maruzen, a store that carries English-language books. I needed to pick up some reading material for the flight home next week. The perfect find: The Villain by Shuichi Yoshida. It's the first book translated into English by this award-winning Japanese writer. Even more interesting, I found QN's sister publication Quiltmaker on the newsstand. Along with the latest issue was the recently released Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks, Volume 2. The price? Just $2,500 yen or about $30. Worth every penny! Of course, if you're in the United States, it's an absolute steal at $6.99.

One last train ride and I was home. It was time to give tired feet a rest. In good Japanese-style, I left my street shoes at the door. Then I had to make a choice: Would I don these luxurious Japanese clogs or would it be a fun pair of slippers. Check them out below.

This too-cute guy is Anpanman, one of the most popular animae cartoon characters among the youngest Japanese children. Anpanman appears on children's products from toys to clothes to video games. Anpan is a bean-jam filled pastry, and Anpanman saves people by providing them with something to eat.


  1. I am a bit jealous that you met Ms. Saito. I hope to do that someday!

  2. Hello, my sister is now in Tokyio and is searching for the shop of Yoko Saito; She can't find it! Can you help me with the adress, because I read that you have been there!!! Lucky you!
    Thanks at advance!

  3. The shop is called Quilt Party. I will search my notes on the train stop and contact a friend in Japan to see if I can provide directions that your sister can understand. Since streets are marked quite differently in Tokyo than in the United States, it is a bit difficult to give directions. I found several Japanese folks who spoke English as well as Japanese, and they helped me navigate from the train station. How long is your sister there? Is she an adventurer like me? That will help her in finding the shop. I'll get back to you as soon as I hear from my Japanese contact.

  4. There are two quilt shops in Japan that I recommend: Yoko Saito's Quilt Party and Reiko Kato's Mother's Dream. Here are directions from my good friend Mr. Takahashi at Kinkame Fabrics in Tokyo:

    Quilt Party (Yoko Saito)
    Train: JR Sobu-line(yellow line)
    Station: Ichikawa Station
    Exit: North exit
    1. Go straight to route#14
    2. Turn right at #14 and walk about 5 minutes
    3. Pass "Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Bank" on left 4. Find Quilt Party (2nd floor) on left

    Mother's Dream(Reiko Kato)
    Train: Tozai-line(blue line)
    Station: Kasai Station
    Exit: Central exit(1 exit only)
    1. Go straight to "Naka-kasai 5. scramble"
    2. Turn right and go straight about 7 minutes
    3. Find Mother's Dream on left (1st floor)

    Happy quilt shopping!

  5. I was so lucky to attend a class with Yoko Saito when she was in Oslo, Norway. It was only a three hour class, but I learned a lot from this great teacher and wonderful lady. Super inspiring! I have been shopping at her webshop several times, and I'm really wondering how she's doing, when the situation in Japan is so aweful. Her website is down, and I hope it's only because the internet connection is bad over there.
    Thanks for sharing so many great photos and info :o)
    Hugs from Norway,