Last Updated on 01/01/23 by Rose Palmer
It is the largest quilt show in the world. Hundreds of exquisitely crafted quilts made by Japanese artists, any one of which would take home a blue ribbon in a major US quilt show. Visit the Tokyo Quilt Festival at the end of January to see the masterpieces of Japan’s best textile artists on display. Even as a non-quilter you will marvel at the detailed and delicate craftsmanship.
Japan is one of my favorite countries to visit. It’s clean and orderly. Trains are punctual to the second. The people are gracious, polite and extremely hospitable. And the Japanese continue to place a high value on craftsmanship which is why the Tokyo Quilt Festival attracts so many quilters and non-quilters alike.
The Tokyo Quilt Festival Experience
As we approached another year of Olympic games, I am reminded of why I enjoy watching the Olympics so much. I know that for two weeks I can see the best of the best in each particular sport. I may not know the difference between a triple Salchow and a triple axel in figure skating or the difference between a back layout and a back somersault in free style skiing, but I can appreciate the skill, artistry and hard work that went into perfecting each skill.
Similarly, the annual Tokyo Great International Quilt Festival presents the works of the best quilters in Japan. This is also the largest quilt show in the world, filling up the whole floor of the Tokyo Dome which is Tokyo’s indoor baseball and special events stadium.
Roughly 250,000 Japanese and international visitors check out the quilts and special exhibits over the course of seven days. Apparently, this is the largest attended event in the Tokyo Dome (even beating out baseball).
Just like you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the art on display in the Louvre in Paris, you do not have to be a quilter to marvel at the highly detailed and intricately designed masterpieces on display at the Tokyo Quilt Festival.
These quilts represent the best examples of creativity and workmanship in the craft. Even more impressive is that the majority of the quilting is done by hand and represents countless hours of patient work.
The Japanese have a long history of handwork with textiles in their culture. So it should not be a surprise that when they discovered the traditional American patchwork quilt in the 1970’s, they took the basics and reinvented them into their own Japanese methodology. Individual quilt schools, each led by a renowned quilt artist, have grown up around the country and have become the means for propagating the craft.
I had the privilege of attending the Tokyo International Quilt Festival in 2016 and I was completely blown away by everything I saw. The show has many contest categories but then it also has a number of special exhibits.
One of my favorite special exhibits was the annual quilting interpretation of a popular children’s book series. In 2016 the books and illustrations of Beatrix Potter were reinterpreted as quilts. In 2018 it was the stories of Eric Carle (author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar).
The show also gets the public involved by issuing a quilt block challenge around a specific theme. Thousands of quilt blocks are collected and combined into full sized quilts which are then raffled off with the proceeds donated to charity.
Below are photos of some of my favorite quilts from the 2016 show I attended. It was hard to narrow this down to just a few representative beauties, and not show every single beautiful quilt.
The common theme running throughout the quilts on display was detailed patchwork design that incorporated a variety of techniques with extremely intricate and extensive hand quilting. (I tried to give credit to each quilt artist, but unfortunately, all signage was in Japanese text and the guide books did not identify all the quilts in English either).
Tokyo International Quilt Festival Quilts
Many quilts combined a traditional patchwork design, as with this lone star pattern, augmented with applique designs.
There were many traditional applique quilts with exquisitely crafted details.
A more whimsical design with three dimensional elements.
This quilt also has three dimensional elements with some of the small quilts hanging on the wash line
In this quilt hundreds of tiny beads were sewn into the quilting.
A fun and colorful quilt.
One of my favorites – love the bright colors.
One of the quilts in the “WA” or “The Spirit of Japan” category.
This is one of the many quilts using traditional Japanese indigo dyed fabric also in the “WA” category.
One of the special exhibits was a Japanese modern interpretation of the classic log cabin block design. These are nothing like your grandmother’s bedspreads.
In the Beatrix Potter special exhibit, quilters made quilts based on various book illustrations.
The Partnership Quits for charity were equally impressive to look at.
This is only a very small representation of all that could be seen on a visit to the Tokyo International Quilt Festival. There are hundreds of quilts on display, many different types of special exhibits and of course, vendors. I spent a whole day there, but as a quilter I could easily have spent a second day so I could take in all the details at leisure.
Hopefully I have peeked your interest and the next time you are in Tokyo at the end of January, you will consider a visit to the Tokyo International Quilt Festival, the biggest such show of its kind. This was one of my favorite Japanese experiences from my recent trips to Japan.
How to get to the Tokyo Quilt Festival
- The Tokyo International Quilt Festival at the Tokyo Dome is very easy to get to using the efficient Tokyo subway system. Take the red Marunouchi line north to the Korakuen Station. The red subway line can be accessed by both of the large Tokyo train stations-the Shinjuku and Tokyo stations.
- An overpass from the Korakuen subway station takes you to the Tokyo Dome.
- You can buy a ticket to the Tokyo Quilt Festival at one of the kiosks outside of the Dome.
- I went when the show opened on the first day and the lines were quite long, but they moved quickly.
- There is also the Tokyo Dome Hotel next door to the Tokyo Dome if you want to stay close to the show.
If you are also visiting Kyoto, then be sure to also stop at the Kyoto shibori Museum. Read my story at https://quiltripping.com/experience-kyotos-shibori-museum-keeping-an-ancient-artistic-tradition-alive/
You can read about my other quilting experiences at https://quiltripping.com/category/quilting/quilting-experiences/.
Thanks for visiting.