Thursday, 18 October 2018

Minako Passed Away

Minako passed away three days ago.

She was born in 1920 in a village about 15 kilometers from the mountain village I live in. 
Her village was different. 
The houses were grouped together in a sunny place and although the fields were on the side of the mountain, the slope was not steep like it is near my house. 

The people were different. Friendlier. Better educated. Brighter eyed. Not as suspicious. Their Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines made of better wood with finer carving and more elegant mossy stone staircases.

People have been inhabiting that village for thousands of years. 

25 years ago I knocked on her front door and asked to see the kimono fabric she made from the silkworms and cocoons she had raised. 

I’ll write about the relationship with her and her husband and family another time. There was a way of life in the village that was ending after hundreds of years of remaining much the same.  I'll try to write about that one day too.

When I met her I knew it was the only chance I would ever have in life to study textiles in that particular depth. Silk farming. Weaving. Natural Dyeing. The people in that village were the last of that dying culture.

We enjoyed each other's company threading heddles, digging madder roots, reeling cocoons, driving through the countryside or visiting neighbors for tea. 

The villagers had grown the trees and thatch to build their beautiful homes. They grew all their food and caught the eels and fish in the river. The sublime roots of Japanese food came from these villages. Every household grew silkworms and many of the houses had produced their own kimono in the hundreds of steps from moth eggs to the cocoons to the thread. They made the tools for every step of the process.

Only one house was still silk farming that day. And one woman still weaving kimono. It was Minako. 

I knocked on the door and after she showed me the masterpieces she had woven I knew that I would spend the rest of my life working with Japanese textiles. 

I spent many years in that village with the people there as they helped me learn to reel and spin silk, warp looms, and breed silk moths and propagate mulberry. It was a time slip. I missed the 1990s…. Completely. 

The wake and the funeral were at the austere and elegant temple near her house. There were several hundred people there. The toddlers that were under feet not that long ago were playing games on their cell phones under the manicured pine trees on the temple grounds.

The priest chanted sutras while family, friends and fellow villagers that had known her their entire lives filled her coffin with flowers. I put in some cocoons and silk thread we had reeled together and dyed with madder a delicate coral color. She had grown that madder under the plum trees on the not-so-steep mountain slopes overlooking the village.


  1. So sorry to hear of your loss. Beautiful words.

  2. Beautiful. I look forward to hearing more of this story.

  3. ... and both of you were blessed to have that final visit together. I'm sure she was grateful to have an eager student to pass on her knowledge, who is also passing on that knowledge. What better blessings are there in life, than to have even one student who continues the learning?

  4. Sorry for the loss of your amazing friend...God places us for reasons known only to him...I think he did well placing you and giving you the time with this lovely lady. Rest well, Minako.

  5. Bryan, this is so moving. I wish someone will write about me one day with the same respect and the same affection.

  6. May her memory be for a blessing

  7. Bryan, I send you my deepest sympathy for your loss of this great friend and mentor. Ninety eight years old, she was! What a magnificent life Minako san led. So much skill. So much talent. Such hard labors! Minako san was a true national treasure in her own right. She leaves a legacy of rich tradition behind. How grateful I am that you are carrying on those traditions. Aren't you glad you ran into Minako san's daughters on that train last spring? No accident that. You were meant to be part of the completion of a wonderful circle. Blessings to you.

  8. So sorry for your loss, Bryan. What a treasure Minako san was!How fortunate that she passed her skills and knowledge on to you, and you in turn now share those with so many others. The two of you must have been kindred spirits.

  9. sad.our time will also come just hoping to have touched someone like she did at least a little bit.