A little bit of Japan

November 2019 , almost a year ago …this was our 3rd trip to Japan , the land of my grand parents , a place were I feel like I belong somehow but not quit fit in …literally ! $50 round trip tickets on JAL with our miles , last chance to take a break before the Holiday rush and we were off …Yes this was a time when we could travel freely …

Even the sleeves of my Yukata are way too short on me ! Thankfully because Japanese women have to fold up the kimono at the belt , they are always extra long for that purpose …long enough to cover my legs !

This post is about sharing with you the beautiful work that our friend Yukari makes but since nobody can travel right now , I will give you a little taste of Japan too ! Here in Tokyo on our last day together , Yukari was wearing one of our French scarf with a kimono jacket of her design and I was wearing the vintage Kimono blouse she had just given me … mixing western and Japanese look .

Japan is such a Country of contrast : Ancestral traditions and cutting edge technology , Zen beautiful gardens and organized chaos in the city .

We had been to Kyoto during cherry blossoms season , saw sunrise over Mont Fuji surrounded by red maple trees , visited the mind blowing museum of Itchiku kubota master kimono artist but there is much more to discover , so once again , we rented a car and left Tokyo megalopolis on a rainy late October morning . We just love road trips …the unexpected finds , the local food and with a GPS it really is no trouble at all . Also everybody travel by public transportation so finding parking for a car is super easy everywhere !

Nikko National park was gorgeous and peaceful in the rain

We spent the night in a small Ryokan or traditional Inn near Lake Chuzenji . Kegon Fall was just a short walk away

The next day we drove through the mountains through the most incredible scenery . The narrowest road winding around small lakes, all a wild but perfect Japanese garden .Visions of old traditional drawings were right before our eyes : bamboo forest in the early morning fog , misty waterfalls, autumn colors brightening the rocks . This has been by far our favorite and longest drive in Japan , an amazing 12 hour day . Despite not having photos ( we could not really stop in the middle of this one lane road ) it is the one most vivid in my memory.

Our plan was to drive along the coast of the Sea of Japan .We found similarities with the rugged coast of Oregon and Northern California, but for the food and rice paddies !

The little fishing town of Wajima is actually renowned for its lacquerware . We stroll the morning market to stock up on snacks to eat on the road ( Fuji apples, dried persimmons , roasted chestnuts , dried squid ? ) and go in every single lacquer shop . After looking everywhere in Tokyo , we were searching here for special large ramen bowls which we were lucky to find !

The coast is pounded by strong waves and wind making for a very scenic drive

We drove on the beach and kept going south to Amanohashidate ( I never thought I would remember that name ) a little coastal town just an hour north of Kyoto . In 2018 Amanohashidate bay became sister with Mont St Michel as one of the world’s most beautiful bay ! Amanohashidate ( now you start to remember that name ) roughly translates to “bridge to heaven” and it is said that the sandbar resembles a meandering pathway connecting heaven and earth when it is viewed from the mountains …or a dragon if looking at it upside down from in between your legs 😉

We walked the 3 kilometer sandbar , wrote a wish on the tiny fan , hung it and made a prayer at the temple…

Ine is a traditional fishing village with houses over the water where fisherman can store their boat . Not so many are still actively fishing and the houses are being transformed into inns where people can experience life like in the old days . We wished to have stayed there but this was a Holiday week end and all accommodations had been booked months in advance ( https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/ryokan-search-results/Ine/ ) Nevertheless we could still experience a special 10 course dinner at Chitose Ryokan’s restaurant. Pascal’s childhood friend Arnaud is a wine broker in Provence and Mr Yamazaki one of his clients . As a lover of France and it’s great wines , Mr Yamazaki’s restaurant offers the best of Japanese local cuisine paired with the best imported French wines …the cuisine has a little fusion as well , mixing Kobe beef with perfect wine sauce , sashimi with olive oil and soy sauce dip …This was a real treat !

Back in Tokyo November 3rd is a public Holiday . It is recognized as a day to celebrate peace and freedom and promote culture. (Although prior to the establishment of this holiday in 1948, November 3 was also a national holiday called Meiji-Setsu commemorating the birthday of Emperor Meij . At the beautiful Meiji Shrine it is a special day to have a wedding and celebrate children age 3, 5 and 7 “Shichigosan” , dressing them up in Kimono ( https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/11/11/reference/its-fall-when-kids-in-kimono-fete-7-5-3-rituals/ )

Formal kimonos are black with family crest on each arm and worn for special occasions like weddings . It is so beautiful to see everybody dressed up and makes me want to wear a kimono one day too…but this is a serious big investment even for a Japanese family so I will enjoy looking at all the patterns, accessories and wear my western kimono blouse !

When girls turned 7, parents celebrated the “obitoki” rite, in which their daughters went from using straps to secure their kimono to wearing obi…

That reminded me that in my armoire back in Provence , I have my first kimono with Obi belt as well as books I found when I was cleaning up my teenage bedroom last year …a strange combination of Provence style and Japanese accents . Did I mention my Japanese name is Mariko ?

I had asked my friend Yukari to help me find a Yukata for my mum’s 90th birthday. Yukata are casual cotton kimonos worn during the hot summer months . My mother had wore my grand mother’s one to shreds , it was so special to her and i was determined to find one that she could wear now . But describing it to my friend made me realize it wasn’t going to be that easy , even being in Japan . They do not make that type of very light weight cotton with Shibori tying technique which gives the fabric airiness …we had to look in vintage kimono shops . Third shop , in a bin on the floor were some indigo yukatas. We asked the lady who said they were 80 years old but had never been worn ! This was exactly what my grand mother’s kimono must have looked like brand new … We buy the 2 and have one trimmed guessing the perfect length for her . The joy in my mom’s eyes when she saw her birthday gift was precious…she was over the moon happy ! She knew instantly what it was and what it meant (On the right is my grand mother’s yukata all faded , left the new one at the exact same length )

Shopping for vintage Obi belts with Yukari who makes the clutches we sell in our shop was fantastic ! I could see how difficult it was for her to find ones without defect , stains and she could understand what I was looking for that would appeal to our clients : traditional Japanese yet modern enough that they could use them just to go out to dinner . We picked some obi that she magically transformed into beautiful hand sewn clutches …

You too can have a little bit of Japan as we always have in stock Yukari’s special silk obi clutches. Here is our current selection

Makes a unique gift too !

They can be bright and modern !

Since the day Yukari gave me this beautiful blouse , I had been wanted to bring some in at the shop . I thought of a couple of clients who could be loving these just as much as myself ! Luckily her shipment of clutches and blouses came in just as we could re open our shop in June ! These tunics are made from vintage silk formal kimonos and have the family crest ( the little white sign on each arm ) Yukari undo each kimono and sew the fabric back to match the pattern in order to make the top . It is flattering , light , does not wrinkle ( perfect to travel , have something to dress up if needed ) and fits most body types since you can wear them with or without the belt .

These were the kimonos before the transformation . It is not always easy to imagine the result but you can trust Yukari’s talent and experience to design the outfit featuring the best features of the kimono pattern . Colors that suit you and your style are most important .

Each blouse came with a carefully chosen silk Obijime belt which allow you to wear the tunic with or without it depending on your style . And you do not need to be as tall as me either , you can see how pretty it looks on my friend Hiroko who got one for herself ! I am so happy we sold all 3 blouses already so now we are offering you to choose from Yukari’s kimono collection and have yours made to order !

Length of the tunics is about 29″ . Bust and high hip average size are 40 ” but it can be made up to about 47″ . Below the high hips , the blouse isn’t sewn to give plenty of room around the hips to seat and be comfortable . If you have any question do not hesitate to contact me by email maisonprovence@sbcglobal.net or text message at 619 518 0401 . I will have my own blouse at the shop so you can see how it is made and I am happy to advise and help before you make your decision .

Seeing the whole kimono gives a great idea of what it takes to make the blouse . The ones below do not have the belt option for a looser poncho unique size fit . Even the colorful ones are stunning !

Here are the options !

This is an other of her design I love and wear !

I am most happy to support such talented young women who started making dresses with her mother and love being able to share this with those who appreciate the uniqueness of her work .

Her clothes are timeless !

My Japanese heritage…

I met Japanese Designer Yukari Nishiyama in Tokyo last fall at a family friend’s dinner….she and her mother Hiroko design and make beautiful gowns out of vintage silk kimonos witch they brought for me to try on after dinner…..what a fun night we’ve had doing a mini fashion show in this old traditional Japanese house !

I left Japan with a dress , a jacket , a blouse AND a clutch !!

 

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Yukari and I holding a furoshiki wrapping my dress 

 

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Hiroko and I  wearing one of their  beautiful gown

 

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I wanted to take them all…how to decide ?? But this will be the one …

 

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Trying on a wedding kimono before Yukari will transform it into an evening dress.

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I wore this jacket in Tokyo one night and was surprise that a lady in full traditional  kimono went up to me to chat and make sure I was aware that  this was the inside of a men’s kimono and that is was rare to have such design inside a kimono ( people in Japan do not engage in conversation like here …specially not to strangers in the street .That jacket must be really special ! )

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Wearing my blouse this Thanksgiving !

 

I loved my new friend Yukari’s unique purses so much , I wanted to share with my clients and decided to import her clutches made from vintage silk brocade kimono belts ( Obi ) . I hope you will love and appreciate her work as much as I do …

Here are some of the purses we just received !

 

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I know it may sound like a strange fit for our little french store but it is part of my heritage as some of you may already know that I am   half French – half Japanese !

I  got my 5’11 figure from my French dad of course  and his freckles !

 

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On the left my french grand father Cesar Combe in front of the family cafe

 

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Me in hills and my dad 25 years ago ….

 

But my mum is 100% Japanese ….

Growing up it was a bit bizarre and totally normal at the same time for me to have a mix of Provencal and Japanese decor in our home  or  to eat ratatouille for lunch and sashimi for dinner!! I knew of course that my grand parents were japanese but it became more real after I went to Japan for the first time 6 years ago and met my Japanese cousin still leaving in the family’s house in Yokosuka south of Tokyo . I had not seen any photos of him  before or even some of my grand parents when they were young … going through the family photo albums in Japan was an emotional moment , a discovery  of my roots and an appreciation for the journey my grand parents took so long ago  .

It all started because Monsieur Gustave Carpentier, a french banker  living in Japan, met and married Saku Kaneko : my grand father’s sister ! When Mr Gustave Carpentier retired , the family moved back to the south of France where he bought a farm and was planning to make some wine  . In Japan a recession was hitting people very hard at that time and in 1922 my grand father Kakuji Kaneko and his wife Fuji Okamoto  decided to move to Provence as well to take care of Mr Carpentier’s farm and winery . My family was some of the very first Japanese settlers in France . They tried as much as possible to blend in and to integrate their new country . My mum and all of her brothers were born in France and unfortunately they never learn Japanese but my mum learned to cook and make ikebana flower arrangements and she passed it down to me as well .

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Mr Carpentier seating on the bench with his daughter ( his wife is the 3rd back right )

 

img265 [800x600].jpgMy grand father , his nephew , my grand mother and their fist daugter Saki

in Provence soon after they had moved

 

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My grand father 

 

 

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His sister

 

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Photos in my cousin’s family album

 

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The whole family : 

Toshi , Georges , Saki , my grand parents , Pierre and in front my mum Suzanne

 

 

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My mum at 5 years old in a school play ….so cute !

 

 

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 Here with my mum and grand mother

 

img166 (Large).jpgWith my grand mother and Masako my mum’s japanese friend . Masako was a student in Aix en Provence at the time and became very close to my mum . She still is …and became friend with the Okamoto family in Japan where she leaves in Yokosuka as well.

DSC12204 [800x600].jpgIn the family home in Yokosuka .Masamichi Okamoto  my cousin, Masako next to him is translating for us . 

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In front of the giant Buddha of Kamakura .

My grand mother’s last trip to Japan to visit her brother ( Masamichi’s grand father ) .

 

 

DSC02804 (Large).JPGSame place …some 40 years later . Us with Masako , Masmichi’s wife and kids

 

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A [800x600].jpgWith Masamich and his wife Yasuko last fall…I can see the family genes !!

 

DSC_2043 [1280x768].JPGTo witness the sunrise over magestic Mont Fuji was our dream and we did it !

 

 

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With my mun a few years ago

 

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in 2007 Japanese Prince Hitachi ( Masahito ) , current Emperor Akihito’s younger brother and his wife Princess Hitachi ( Hanako ) wanted during their visit in Provence to meet my family !     It even was on Japanese TV !! On the left my oldest uncle Toshi and his wife , the Prince and his wife and far right one of Mr Carpentier’s daughter Aimee . Behind her , my mum and on her left an other of Mr Carpentier’s daugter Renee with her daugter . Left are my cousins Francoise       ( Toshi’s daugter ) and Alain ( Pierre’s son ) 

 

 

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My mum making a black truffle omelette for lunch ….

 

 

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And sushis for dinner !