Pagong 2010 Spring Fashion Show

20 03 2010

There’s a well-known saying in Kansai that Osaka people are kuidaore (食い倒れ) -they will bankrupt themselves for food, and Kyoto people are kidaore (着倒れ) – they will go broke to dress well. Today I went to Pagong’s spring fashion show wondering why Kyoto, the kimono capital of Japan and home to a variety of cool modern designers, doesn’t indulge more in fashion shows. On a warm, sunny day like today, Pagong’s show was an invigorating start to the season.

Pagong are a “vintage textile design” company which uses the traditional Kyoto dyeing technique called kyo-yuzen, (originally used for kimono fabric), for their own modern brand of women’s and men’s fashion. They are best known for their aloha shirts and t-shirts, which use exquisite traditional kimono patterns. Today’s show also included dresses, tunics, scarves and blouses that look like they will became staples of future collections.

The event was held in the Kyoto Fiat and Alpha Romeo showroom in Saiin, explained by the fact that it is right next door to Pagong’s main store and factory. So, the cars (in the seasonal colours of white and pink) were naturally featured as accessories to the clothes. This was only Pagong’s second fashion show and seats were at a premium.

The show kicked off with two very spritely young women modelling a variety of Pagong scarves as part of their dance routine.

The spring collection included the ubiquitous binary of Japanese fashion – cool and cute – soft spring pastels contrasted with bright confident reds and blues. It was fresh and funky. The only turn off were the white jeans that both female and male models squeezed into. Very 2008 and very impractical, especially if you decide to use some of your clothes budget for a matcha soft cream that melts too soon! Likewise, the mid-length grey leggings really spoiled the look of this elegant purple and red Pucci-style dress below:

The models were young and the audience mostly middle-aged. Pagong’s appeal is cleverly targeted at all age groups. Price wise, there was little under ¥10, 000, making Pagong clothes a rather expensive investment for the Uniqlo generation. However, as the factory tour later proved, Pagong fabrics are hand-dyed and painted using time-consuming techniques. You are paying for the expertise of artisans and well-made, locally produced clothes. These are some of my favourites from the show:

The show ended with the models donning sunglasses and doing a final strut past the cars, and the assembled Kyoto fashionistas.

The audience were then invited on a quick tour of the Pagong factory, where we observed the company’s artisans at work screen printing t-shirt fabric.

You can only buy Pagong’s full range in Kyoto – at the Saiin HQ, in Gion, on Sanjo-dori and at Kyoto station.

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Up, up and away…..Kanku Kaimono

5 03 2010

Remember when flying used to be a sophisticated and enjoyable activity, and airlines gave out cool bags and other knick-knacks to their passengers? At Kansai International Airport (KIX), I discovered a nostalgic memory of a shop called “Satellite 2.0”, in the terminal building.

Satellite 2.0 stocks retro Pan-Am bags, drink flasks, European notebooks, and being Japan, Kansai Airport omiyage (souvenirs).

“One World One Life One Trip

Let’s start a rewarding life

from Int’l Airport KIX”

You can find Satellite 2.0 on the 2nd floor opposite the Tsutaya book shop. It’s open daily from 8:00-20:00.

Shopping at Kansai Airport, (Kanku Kaimono), for last minute souvenirs is certainly getting easier, and more interesting. Uniqlo, Sony Plaza and Muji now have branches there on the half floor below International Departures. Muji is definitely worth checking out because they stock trendy items like meishi holders and hand mirrors made with used kimono fabric, as well as the very cool wooden “City in a Bag” sets, which are difficult to find elsewhere. Kanku Muji stocks the Kyoto City in A Bag. Worth grabbing while you can!





The Chocolate Economy

14 02 2010

Happy Valentine’s Day from Kyoto!

Japanese Valentine’s Day is a complete reversal of the Western tradition. In Japan, it is usually the day when men of all ages, no matter how romantically dis/connected, receive chocolates from women. This means that women in companies, schools and other large organisations are expected to give boxes of chocoreeto to their male co-workers. This kind of VD chocolate-giving is called giri-choco (obligation chocolates). Japanese chocolate companies make most of their profits thanks to this custom. However, because this year’s VD fell on a Sunday, sales of giri-choco were expected to be very low. Instead, the trend of tomo-choco (friendship chocolates) – giving choco to female friends –  has been mentioned in local media over the last week.

Today, I went to the frenzied basement food hall of Isetan at Kyoto station to check out choco sales. I certainly didn’t see any men buying chocolates, or even near the chocolate stalls, but there were a lot of women queuing up to buy expensive little pink boxes of what must surely have been tomo-choco.

March 14  – White Day – is supposed to be when men reciprocate. I’ll post then and let you know!





Setsubun in Kyoto

4 02 2010

Yesterday was Setsubun – the bean throwing festival – marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring in the old Japanese lunar calendar. Traditionally, the season change was celebrated as a kind of new year ritual. In Kyoto, people often liken  Setsubun to Halloween because of the number of demons and spirits flying around, and the propensity some geiko have for cosplay during the festival!

At Setsubun, whilst yelling “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!/Demons out! Good luck in!”, people throw soybeans out the front door for good luck in the coming year. In Kansai, massive sushi rolls of maki-zushi called eho-maki (lucky direction rolls) are eaten. The idea is that you chew on your maki roll facing the lucky direction of the Chinese zodiac year. This year we scoffed ours facing the auspicious Tiger direction – west-south-west.

However, for Setsubun 2010 we delicately bit into Italian eho-maki. As we were heading to the Setsubun bonfire at Yoshida Jinja, we called into the nearby Caffe Dell’ Orso for some organic Italian cuisine. Owner Stefano Bandini proffered up the evening’s special – a delicious mix of olives, tuna, tomatoes, pesto and cucumber in a baguette shell.

Then we headed back out into the bone-seeping cold to see the lighting of the bonfire at Yoshida Jinja. a shrine in Eastern Kyoto. The bonfire consists of amulets and charms that have been left at the shrine by worshippers over the year.

The fire is lit right on 9pm and it’s quite a mesmerising sight to watch all those hopes, dreams and wishes go up in flames.





Historical Cosplay in Himeji

26 01 2010

Last time I was in Himeji for the Rough Guide I donned 12 kimonos for the first time, and for free, at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History. The 12 layered silk junihitoe (十二単衣) was worn by court ladies in the Heian period (10th century). It’s no wonder that all they could do was sit around writing poetry, including the world’s first novel, because 12 kimonos weigh almost 20 kilograms!

This time in Himeji, however, I headed straight for the castle. The main keep is due to be wrapped up very soon for 5 years of major renovation work.

In order to lessen the disappointment of visitors who will not get to see this fine view (above) until 2016, or later, local volunteers are providing fun photo opportunities around the castle at weekends. So, yet again, I come away from Himeji with some happy snaps of historical ‘costume playing’  – this time with ninja and samurai.






Looking for lunch in Kobe Chinatown

24 01 2010

The only functioning Chinatown in Kansai is Nankinmachi (南京町) in Kobe. The Chinese community have had a visible presence in the city since 1868 when the port was opened to foreigners. Nankinmachi is a fairly small area based around a pedestrian street crammed with over 100 restaurants, tea shops and souvenirs stalls. There are also street stands selling steamed buns and fried snacks. It’s very touristy and crowded. Touts wander the streets and stand outside restaurants. They yell loudly in a variety of languages trying to lure customers in to their establishments.

Where to eat a dim sum lunch in this cacophony of noise and steam? With so many similar looking restaurants and menus, it’s difficult to differentiate between them. To complicate matters, we had forgotten the name of an establishment that had been recommended. We ended up at a small restaurant claiming to specialise in dim sum. Instead of sharing plates we were each given a tray of greasy dim sum with…a cabbage salad. Not one of my better dining experiences in Kansai.

After we fled the dim sum disaster we realised that we had gone in to a restaurant opposite the one we had been recommended. It was the only one without a tout trying to lure customers in – obviously not needed given its more solid gourmet reputation. I’ll be back!





Running Around Kansai for the Rough Guide

15 01 2010

Welcome to Kansai Eye!

This blog will chronicle my travels around Kansai researching the best places to visit, sleep, eat, drink and generally enjoy both modern and traditional delights of the west.