April 14, 2008
by Ayako Senju
There are many specialty shops in Kyoto. Mayumura, a small and fancy shop in Saga-Arashiyama near Adashino-Nembutsuji Temple, is in my opinion one of the best souvenir-craft shops to visit in Kyoto.
I accidentally discovered this shop when I was researching about Okuribi, the fire festival that is held in August in Kyoto, but once I visited Mayumura, I fell in love with it.
Mayumura is a very tiny shop and far from Kyoto Station, but I was very astonished by its warm Kyoto-like mood.
The name “Mayumura” literally means “cocoon village” and in this shop many small objects and mobiles made out of silkworm cocoons are displayed.The shop owner, Tetsuo Kamata (蒲田哲夫), opened Mayumura in the ’60s. He is called soncho in this shop — soncho means “village head” — so he is the chief of the Cocoon Village.Sachiko(幸子), who is Mayumura’s marketing manager, is Tetsuo’s wife.
What is Mayumura?
Two Mayumuras! About Arashiyama Mayumura
A new Mayumura outlet has opened in Arashiyama, and this one is closer to Tenryuji Temple and Keifuku Station.The chief’s younger brother, Yoshikazu, is a former office worker,but now he owns the new Mayumura. Working in an office didn’t much suit him, so when he was about 30 years old he decided to start his own shop just like his elder brother, Tetsuo. Tetsuo helped Yoshikazu search for a new location for his shop that was easy to get visitors.They finally settled in Arashiyama. Yoshikazu learned how to make cocoon objects from Tetsuo, imitate his calligraphy, and create cocoon crafts exactly like those made by his elder brother. As time went on, Yoshikazu’s crafts came to have their own originality.
The Attractions of Mayumura
Kyoto, the Silk Town
Tetsuo wanted to make a shop related to something in Kyoto, and thought about the silk fabric that Kyoto is famous for.That’s why he came to make these craft objects out of silkworm cocoons.Except for Mayumura, no other shops in Kyoto sell silkworm cocoon crafts, and the chief makes all of the objects he sells.Visitors enjoy looking at these miniature handicrafts, which are all crammed into the atmosphere of this Japanese-style shop. The cocoons he uses are sent from Nagano Prefecture.
The Warm-hearted Shop Assistants
Chief Tetsuo,his family, and neighborhood housewives all run this shop together.They offer a cup of hot green tea and sweets to each visitor, who can settle down and relax in chairs in the shop. This offering of tea and sweets is a way to show gratitude to their customers. The communication between the visitors and shop assistants is one of the real joys of Mayumura. Though the assistants only speak Japanese, they are able to communicate to many foreign visitors by using gestures. Sometimes the shop is crowded with people, but then visitors can just wait and sip hot tea.
The main shop is farther north, about 1800m — the same length as an unraveled thread of a silk cocoon.Even though the main shop is far from JR Station and bus stops, visitors enjoy getting there on foot.
The pink area in the map is a “preservation district for groups of historic buildings,” and many old houses and shops can be seen there. The road is narrow and close to the mountains. Nearby are historical locales such as Adashino-Nembutsuji Temple, Daikakuji Temple, Seiryoji Temple, and so on. You can see Tori-gate Mountain, one of the five mountains with bonfires in August, in the Gozan-no-Okuribi Festival.
Interview with Ms. Kamata
I asked Ms. Kamata some questions, and translated her answers into English.
When did you open this shop?
We opened this shop 31 years ago. At that time, Saga-Arashiyama was a dark and ominous place, so people used to be warned not to walk around there so as to avoid meeting with ghosts at nightfall. My husband, Mr. Kamata, ventured to open his shop there, and our relatives were surprised and said, “You are going to open in a place that is haunted by ghosts? We can’t believe it!” But opening Mayumura turned out to be successful. Little by little people came to visit, and other shops opened around here.
What is Mr. Kamata like?
He is very talkative. Whoever the visitors are, they can enjoy talking with him.A few weeks ago, he communicated with French people for one or two hours by gestures.Those guests looked like they had a really good time! He is very particular about his shop, so he makes everything by himself. He made all of these cocoon dolls, and even the design of the paper bags. He is a very punctual person, and has a schedule the whole year, every single day. This week he makes dogs, next week he will make cats, and the week after next he will make monkeys. Sometimes he goes to play golf, but he wants to sleep in his house, so he doesn’t stay in hotels. If someone wants to meet him, they have to call the day before they come, or he won’t meet them.
Do you and your staff speak English? How do you communicate with foreign people?
No, we don’t, but we often communicate with them by using gestures and simple words. I want to make sense, while they want to understand what I mean. It’s hard to explain… When we offer them tea and sweet beans, sometimes they put the beans in their tea! So I gesture to explain that they should eat the beans first, then sip the tea. It’s a common custom in Japan, but it may be confusing for them. By the way, one foreign tourist came and said that he wanted to buy only Japanese-style souvenirs. He traveled around Kyoto and searched for nice souvenirs, though he hadn’t bought any goods yet. But when he found Mayumura, he bought a cocoon doll. “This is what I wanted!” he said.