Walk along any of our major streets and look at the colours that attack your senses? They’re not exactly subtle – bright red buses and post vans, bright yellow direction signs, yellow and red-striped barriers around road works, fluorescent jackets worn by workmen, and increasing numbers of brash ‘Mid-Season Sale’ signs plus many more, all clashing and jostling for attention.
In Japan, spring is cherry blossom time, one of the most beautiful times to visit, when the landscape is covered with the delicate pink of masses of cherry blossom, blowing gently in the wind.
At Japan House in Kensington High Street, the outside of the building is covered in scaffolding. Inside, the 200-year old Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop has brought us an exhibition that celebrates the traditional link between nature and textiles and paper, in part through the use of natural plants such as safflowers to dye silks, the delicate colours of traditional Japanese fabrics and ‘Kasane’, the bringing together of different complementary colours for each of the four different seasons of the year, here shown through beautiful flourishes of silk from the Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop.
Also on show are fascinating illustrations from historic 19th century pattern and fashion books, and items used in Buddhist ceremonies such as coloured paper flowers and ‘Ru’ the five-coloured cord using the same natural colours, with a subtle background sound of water gently flowing through the dying process.
And to remind us of the lost art of letter writing in this internet age, there is a reminiscence of, when in the Japanese Heian period (794 to 1185 CE), sophisticated men and women would exchange letters and poems on different-coloured papers, chosen to reflect the season and folded, often along with a sprig of blossom, the more beautiful the more cultured.
Later in the day, I travelled through an underground station, part of which had been taken over by one of our major retailers showing their spring collection. It was striking how much the soft natural colours of these new fashions mirrored those in this exhibition. Why, if in fashion we appreciate this link back to nature, can’t we do more in our high streets where bold and brash is the norm and try to make our environment feel more natural. No wonder our streets are so stressful!