One of the few places we already had arranged months in advance before going to Japan was an one week stay at the Arts&Crafts village, a guesthouse in rural Okayama with textiles and woodworking workshops which even had yoga lessons available. What a dream!
We arrived to Arts&Crafts right after 21 exhausting but exciting days of traveling across Japan with the Japan rail pass where we backpacked and visited many places. It was time now for Ivar to get back to work and for me to learn all about textiles and natural dyes.
Toyomi came to pick us up to the station together with Polly, her British assistant. They took us home, told us that we were welcome to join all their meals and let us rest. It's hard for me to describe what happened after, I was in a constant euphoria, this woman might look fragile but she is one of the most energetic, multitasking and determined woman I have ever met.
She introduced me to my new adored bengala dyes which are made with soil, to Saori weaving and knotting, we dyed fabric on bright yellows using Marigold flower and she let me see how she gets beautiful pink shades out of cherry trees (it was time for Sakura blossom so her scarfs were quite in demand). I even had the chance to sneak in her Kitchen and learned how to cook Okonomiyaki and other exquisite dishes. Polly and Maiko were the other two women around which felt like sisters during our time at the Art&Crafts village. I learned so much from them too and I will tell more about them in their own stories!
One of nights we ended up with just the women, drinking beer and talking honestly and open to each other in the cozy living room while everybody else was asleep. I felt incredibly lucky being able to ask Toyomi so many personal questions and having her answer them with full honesty. The story about how Toyomi and her husband left their busy jobs in Osaka behind to move to Okayama's rural area and restore an old school building to starts the Arts&Crafts village was inspiring. But it took much more than that to be part of the community. Rural people were not ready to open their doors to this young couple until her husband started being an active member of the community, leading the neighborhood firemen team.
I was specially interested in her experience as a woman in a closed rural area, and as I had expected it hadn't been easy for her to have an identity on her own and not be the wife of, or the mother of. But it felt to me that she was the archetype of a super woman. Leading the whole place, arranging everything from the kitchen to the workshops, the guests, work&stayers, the orchard and garden to feed the kitchen but also as a source for her natural dyes, and her own textiles which she sells online. On top of aaaall of that she still has time to learn, grow and share meaningful moments with her visitors.