Oh, Nippori Textile Town. It’s hard for me to even begin to describe it because I know I’ll sound sappy and overdramatic. But it’s a truly magical place for anyone who loves fabric. And boy, do I love fabric.
It’s surreal to be sharing this post right now – I can’t believe that just over 2 months ago I flew halfway around the world, and now I barely leave my house! But I think we’re all in need of a virtual adventure, so I hope you enjoy this photographic trip to Japan.
My first visit to Nippori was in the fall of 2015. It was delightful and overwhelming. I was determined to see as many of the shops as I could – I just had to see everything to really get a feel for the place and my options. This is my typical way of absorbing new places, especially when there’s something as valuable as “fabric variety” at stake.
My research served me well because for this trip, I was able to prioritize. You might think this means I spent less time in Nippori than on my first trip… oh no. I spent a day and a half exploring the fabric street. But the majority of that time was spent at Tomato – specifically, the bottom floor of the big Tomato store: the sale floor.
There are multiple small Tomato shops on the street, each with a different focus: notions, home decor fabrics, fashion fabrics. But the heart of Nippori is the 5-story mega-Tomato store, filled with mostly quilt-weight cottons.
My recommendation is to take the elevator to the top, then walk through each floor on your way down. Each floor has specific fabrics, some are grouped by country of origin, others by fabric type. There’s one floor of novelty fabrics, with great holiday prints and prints of all the animated characters you could want: Hello Kitty/Sanrio, Pokemon, Nintendo, Miffy, even some Japan-exclusive Disney prints. And of course, there are the Nani Iro and Kokka sections, made for swooning.
My recommendation is to swoon away, soak it all in, but don’t buy anything until you’ve explored the ground level, the sale floor. This is where I’ve found so many treasures! It’s like eating salad before a meal: snagging some good sale fabrics helps me to exercise better restraint with the full-priced fabrics.
Fabric prices in Japan are similar to those in the US, in my opinion. The nice quilting fabric starts around $7-8 per meter and then goes up to $20 or so for the Echino Kokka or Nani Iro designer fabrics. The sale floor, though, averages $4-8 per meter and there’s even a section where all fabrics are 100 yen per meter – about a dollar! Most of these are what you’d expect for the bargain-bin zone, just solid fabrics of varying weights, but a lot of it is great quality (if mysterious in content).
I’m sure you can find just about any fabric in Nippori, but since I’m always limited by suitcase space, I aim for print cottons because that’s what I think Japan does best. Japanese fabrics are adorable while not being 100% cutesy. I can never get over how many normal-seeming prints have animals hiding throughout, like the Hello Kittys and polar bears in the fabrics above.
Many of the prints are whimsical; many are geometric or modern. They’re all just so much fun.
Besides Tomato, here’s what I call “my other favorite shop”, or also, “the shop with the red awning with the cute little girl with scissors”. It does also have a real name: Yamayo (24 on the map). They obviously can’t compete with the sheer volume of inventory at Tomato, but they have a well curated selection of quilting cottons and novelty prints, plus some fun notions and tools.
Another treasure trove is Satoh Bin, down at the end of the street. It’s extremely unassuming from the outside, but if you’re anything like me, the rubbermaid bins full of clearance remnants will draw you right inside. They had all sorts of fun stuff, all in half-meter cuts: past seasons of Cotton and Steel, Alexander Henry, and other quality designer quilting cottons. Each cut is marked with its price, and some of them are crazy cheap! Even the most expensive were around 500 yen / $4.50 USD for a half meter but many of the pieces were 150-200 yen.
Finally, I know what you’re thinking – show me what you bought already! Here are the gems that came home with me. A lot of linen-blend cottons in the best jewel tones. Some fun animals: polar bears, space animals!, French bulldogs, Shiba Inus with sushi. And of course some Cotton + Steel remnants, and just about any fabric with gold metallic ink.
I’ve already started cutting into some of these and can’t wait to share my next few projects with you. Fabrics like these sure make it easy to want to sew happy things!
It’s extremely easy to get to Nippori from Narita airport – the Skyliner goes straight from Narita to Nippori with no stops. The ride is less than an hour and costs about $25 USD each way. Or you can arrive from anywhere in Tokyo by subway. The Tokyo subway is extremely intimidating, but I just focus on where I need to go and block the rest out, and that works. Also, each stop has a number as well as a name which is hugely helpful if you don’t speak Japanese.
Here are my favorites. The numbers correspond to the Nippori guide map.
24. Yamayo (Google Maps)
22. And Leather (Google Maps)
59. Tomato, main shop (Google Maps)
79. Satoh Bin (Next to humongous, Google Maps)
To see my haul from my first time in Nippori, visit Fabric Shopping in Japan on the Fluffyland blog.
Before I start, here’s my disclaimer: I know that our global pandemic is an enormous problem. There’s the primary pain of loss of human life due to the illness, and thousands of secondary pains to medical workers, small business owners, local restaurants, wage workers, and so many more. I’m not celebrating by any means, and I ache for the many people who are suffering. But I can’t change our current reality, so I’m practicing gratitude for what I do have.
This was the final workshop of our Jaipur trip, and it was a true culmination of everything we’d learned. We drove out to Bagru again, this time to Jaitex Art, for a session on true woodblock printing (as opposed to the mud printing for indigo resist).
When we first signed up for the trip, many moons before departure, we were given the opportunity to each design our own woodblock. Our designs were sent to India, and our blocks were carved by master artisans in preparation for our arrival.
When we all met at the hotel for dinner on the first night, our blocks greeted us by candlelight. It was the cutest gesture and a very warm welcome to a new place with a new group of people.
After two days of carving our own rubber blocks, it was time to graduate to real woodblocks, Jaipur-style. We piled into our Innova caravan and headed out to Bagru for our first workshop: Indigo dye with Dabu mud resist.
Before we even began printing, I was blown away by the woodblocks. They are works of art in their own right, and it’s amazing to know that each line, each swirl, is painstakingly carved by hand. Each block is designed with cues to ensure proper alignment with the repeat patterns, and it was so interesting to start to understand how it all works.
When I signed up for the trip to Jaipur, I knew I’d love every part of it. It was a whole week that revolved around fabric – what could be better?! But there were two things that were a million times better than I had imagined. First: I was absolutely enthralled with block printing and, more than anything, loved that this class gave me some much-needed creative space to play. And second: everyone on the trip was wonderful, kind, supportive, talented, and FUN.
The combination of these two factors made every single day a treat. On the first few days of the trip, when we were designing our own blocks and printing with Jen, there were great ideas being manifested everywhere. Everyone was working on something unique, and it was pure joy to take a break from carving my own blocks, walk around, and look at the eye candy that everyone else was making.
With block printing, it’s impossible to be perfect (unless you’re Brigitte Singh…) and Jen’s attitude, which I worked to emulate, is to: accept that the imperfections will happen, plan for them in your work, and embrace them as part of what makes a handprinted textile so special.