For many, February is a frigid month, a month to just grit your teeth, zip up your jacket and trudge your way through a slog of icy, sleety days and cold weather. But February in Japan makes my heart sing. From bean throwing and daruma burning at the beginning of the month to the gorgeous colors of the Yamaga Lantern Festival and the emerging plum blossoms, there’s much to recommend on a winter trip to Japan.
One of my favorite events – and one that seems to fly under the radar – is the Some no Komichi Fabric Festival. This extremely local celebration, which takes place in the Nakai/Ochiai section of Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward, spotlights the area’s cloth dyeing history. As with other places across the nation, the cloth dyed here would be placed in the local waterways in the winter to help the dye set. While that’s not done anymore, the neighborhood replicates the experience by stringing long strips of kimono fabric above the river during the festival weekend in a display that’s termed The River Gallery.
The shops of Nakai also get into the act and over a hundred of them hang special hand-dyed noren (curtains) over their entryways for the course of the weekend. You can pick up a map from festival volunteers (they have booths near the station) that will lead you to all of the participating doorways, collectively termed The Street Gallery.
A local elementary school very close to the metro offers hands-on dyeing workshops, but on my previous visits, no English speakers were available.
It’s also worth strolling to the edge of the district for a visit to the Fumiko Hayashi Memorial Hall. Hayashi, who was a respected novelist, resided here until her death in 1951. The grounds are tranquil and the small storehouse in the garden always displays a half-dozen hand-dyed kimono.
The event usually takes place annually on the last weekend in February. In 2018, the dates will be Friday, February 23rd to Sunday, February 25th. Get off at Nakai station on the Toei Oedo line and use exit A2.