KENTA WATANABE, CO-FOUNDER OF BUAISOU
Japan’s salarymen are the stuff of legend. The tireless company men who toil for soul-destroying stretches of time, decamping from the hive of the office late in the evening, clad in a ubiquitous uniform of dark suits and white button-down shirts. Whiskey, beer and izakaya are consumed in the warren of tiny side-street Ebisu haunts into the wee hours. Kenta Watanabe, founder of hip BUAISOU Brooklyn and Tokushima-based BUAISOU was one such man in a past life. He’s since shed his corporate identity to become a champion (and master dyer) of the ancient Japanese craft of indigo farming and dying, the permanent "Japan blue" tinge of his finger nails revealing his new profession. With daily workshops in Brooklyn and a dedicated indigo farm in Japan’s Tokushima, Kenta and company have brought back into the mainstream what was a disappearing art, little known outside of Japan, and global taste makers have taken notice. Find out how this former-salaryman-turned-indigo-dyer spends his perfect weekend away from the workshop and long commute between the borough of Brooklyn and Tokushima.
Where are you on your perfect weekend away? Fishing in the mountains in Yamagata prefecture. There’s a special stream way up in the mountains that is known for its fishing. It’s in the northern part of Honshu island in Japan, near my hometown.
When do you arrive and how do you get there? I take a plane to Tokyo and then transfer onto another one to Yamagata. Once we’re in Yamagata, we settle in at the local onsen ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn with hot springs. We don’t go to the fishing stream right away. To get there it’s an hour drive and then we still have a hike to go before we make it to our stream so we wake up at 2am or 3am the morning after we arrive so that we can make our way to the stream at the right time of the morning.
What's the season? Definitely late spring or summer.
What do you pack? Cigarettes, whiskey, coffee beans and a grinder for the beans. There’s a saying in Japan that the indigo dyer always wears white because he is too busy to dye his own clothes. However, natural indigo is known bug repellent, so I’ll pack t-shirts, cotton pants, a work jacket, a tote and tenugui (Japanese-style hand towel) that I’ve just dyed myself. It's worth mentioning that with our workshops, people can bring anything they want to dye, but I always recommend they bring clothes that they’ve worn for ages – things that have a stain or they were thinking of throwing out – so that they can up-cycle them with indigo. We really want to encourage this, to refurbish and re-wear or re-use it with the help of indigo instead of simply throwing out something that might be a little worn or imperfect.
Tell us about where you stay. At a local ryokan (Japanese-style inn) in Ginzan Onsen.
What's the first thing you do when you get there? The first thing I do when I get to the stream is smoke a Cuban cigar to keep the bugs away!
What's the tone of the weekend? Do you work or switch off? I switch myself off and go completely offline
Who is with you? I go up there with my university friends. Ken Yuki is one of them and he actually joined BUAISOU this year too, so he’s a friend and a co-worker now.
What do you love best about this place? I relax here unlike anywhere else. I become completely passive in nature, just responding to what’s around me.
What makes this place special to you? They have the clearest water in Japan and maybe the world. And the onsen we go to in the evening is special. It's my favourite and is called Ginzan Onsen [It's more than 350 years old and the local Fujiya Inn was turned into a modern marvel on the inside (images above) while maintaining the historical facade by famed architect Kengo Kuma in 2006.]. It was the model for several scenes in the famous animated movie Spirited Away. A lot of onsen mix tap water and mineral water but this one doesn’t. It has 100% geothermal waters.
Tell us about what you do for meals on the mountain. We drink Suntory whiskey, fish and sometimes swim. For early morning breakfast, I always bring rice balls (onigiri) to eat. Later, if we catch any fish we grill them on a small fire we’ve built and have them with a nip of whiskey or coffee from my friends at Paddlers in Tokyo.
What is the soundtrack when you’re up there? Birdsong and the sound of the water running in the stream from which we fish.
Thank you, Kenta!
Godspeed boutique in Melbourne now carries BUAISOU items.