All From a Single Dream
Back in the spring of 2019, I woke up one morning just dazzled from the colors and patterns I was seeing in a dream just prior to waking up. I'm not one to attach much weight to dreams, but this one really was extraordinary, full of beautiful colors and tantalizing patterns of light that somehow seemed familiar, a palpable deju vu.
It stayed on my mind throughout the morning as I wracked my brain to try to remember where I had seen such visions. And then I simply remembered: they were memories of an art exhibition I had seen some 30 years ago, in Kyoto. I recalled that the art was based on kimono stencils.
Curiosity piqued, I took a deeper dive into some Japanese websites that focus on the long-lost art (well, it's not totally dead, but there really are only handful of people in Ise, about 150km southeast of Kyoto, who still do it, and it's certainly more art than artisan at this point, especially in light of all the digital technologies that have obviated the need for these kinds of hand-done stencils).
The more I learned, the more intriguing these gorgeous paperworks became.
How Are They Made?
The making of the stencils is, as one would expect, deeply obsessive and extremely labor-intensive, and absolutely perfect for Japanese masters who have no problem with devoting almost all their waking hours to their art, and often do it up through their last years.
The basic process is this: textiles/kimono get dyed using a resistant rice paste which is applied to the cloth. The stencil sits over that, and dye is applied, leaving the desired pattern of the stencil.
First, multiple layers of thin washi paper, made from the mulberry tree (itself an insanely detailed process outside our scope here), are bonded/pressed together with high-tannin Hachiya persimmon goop that acts as an adhesive. As many as 12 layers are pasted together, and brought into a smoke room for several years (!) to give the paper --which, by the end, is very durable yet flexible -- its signature toasted appearance. The designs, which exhibit bold patterns that emphasize asymmetry, are then painstakingly executed by artisans using small knives that resemble Xacto knives. Small punches designed and made by the artisans are often used as well. The level of artistry and devotion is nothing short of mind boggling.
I really wanted to see and touch one of these in person, so I found a guy in Tokyo who travels around Japan to flea markets and collects cool ancient stuff. He had around 30 stencils from around 1790 - 1820, each more beautiful than the next, so I negotiated a deal with him and bought them all (they weren't expensive; not too many people are assigning much value to these extraordinary art works).
The Stencils Arrive, the Fun Begins
When they arrived, they were even more extraordinary than I had imagined they would be. And pretty much on the spot, nearly 10 years after I founded Breakaway Matcha, I decided that an identity change was in order. We took some high-res photos of them, made vectors, and began playing.
We have 18 blends of matcha. Until recently, they all used the same green label that many of you are familiar with. These labels served us well, but I was now looking at a treasure trove of inspiration and it was time for something else. So we picked 18, and assigned one to each blend (15 are shown below).
We're so in love with these stencils, and our collective brain here at Breakaway is in overdrive imagining what else we're going to do with them. We'll be sure to keep you updated right here in this space.