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Local woman shares ancient Japanese art of temari balls
Every Thursday through Sunday, Miyuki Emery sits on a stool, patiently stitching kaleidoscope patterns that are only limited by her imagination.
Emery pauses occasionally when people stop by her booth at the Arizona Market Place, captivated by the colorful Japanese thread balls.
Often they'll ask her what she's making. She's only too happy to share the thousand-year-old craft from Japan and show more of the temari balls displayed in her booth.
“I love to talk to the people,” she says, gesturing to shoppers as they walk by.
Emery, 35, was born in Okinawa, Japan, which consists of hundreds of islands. That's where she met her husband, Derek, a 36-year-old adjutant stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
Married for five years now, they first spotted each other while she worked on the Japanese base, selling Chinese goods. He was a customer.
She spoke very little English then, but once they started courting, she “studied English seriously,” she points out, laughing.
They arrived in Yuma in August 2008, and she unabashedly admits that she fell in love with the city, especially its climate.
Everyone had told her Yuma would be “extremely hot” so she was expecting “to die, but it was OK. Okinawa is …,” she pauses, searching for the right word, “… humid. Here, it is very dry, which I love.”
She grew up on Kitadaito, an isolated island about 224 miles east of the Okinawan mainland. It has a population of about 500 people.
Her family — parents, two older brothers and a younger sister — still live there. They've never visited the United States, although she would love to have them come.
“They've never seen sand, desert, mountains. I love the desert and the mountains,” Miyuki says.
But she doubts her parents, who are in their mid-50s, will ever visit. “They're scared,” Miyuki says, noting that they've never left the island.
She last saw them in 2009 when she went to visit while Derek was in Iraq, but she had to stay on another island in order to keep in touch with her husband.
She says she doesn't miss Japan because she's eager to experience different places. But she'll soon be leaving Yuma, probably this summer when her husband is transferred to Virginia.
“I'm sad. I love this place. It's not very big city. I'm from tiny island. So I don't like big city. This is perfect,.”
Last winter she visited Arizona Market Place with her husband and loved the variety of things on sale. So when this season came around, she decided to open her own booth selling Japanese and Chinese items, from her very own temari balls to kimono shoes and Chinese lunchboxes, chess boards and other household items and decorations.
Sometimes customers will find her doing intricate Japanese calligraphy. But oftentimes she's working on a temari (“mari” meaning “ball” in Japanese).
She has baskets full of the thread balls, all in different colors and patterns. Where do the designs come from? “It's all in my …” — she taps the side of her head.
Inevitably someone asks what's inside the balls. Although some modern balls may have a jingle bell or rattle in their centers, Miyuki prefers to stick to the traditional way.
She starts the balls with a wad of yard in the center. Then she winds the thread around the wad until it starts to form a ball, being sure to keep it smooth and even until it's fully covered.
Miyuki then inserts guide pins and begins to stitch the embroidery thread around the ball, working out the intricate design in her head. Some artists further decorate with tassels, braiding and knotting.
In Japan, temari balls are given as gifts symbolizing deep friendship and loyalty. Most balls average three to five inches in diameter, although any size is possible. Larger ones are popular in Japan, where collections of all sizes and styles are treasured, according to www.temarikai.com.
The website notes that smaller ones are sometimes used as jewelry accessories or home decorations, perhaps displayed alone or arranged in groups, or hung from windows, ceilings or doorjambs.
Some people prefer to show them off in a bowl or basket or individually on an “egg” stand.
The website points out that they make unique gifts and are treasured as wedding and anniversary gifts, and as mementos of friendship and special occasions.
Although now considered more of an art, temari balls were originally made by mothers and grandmothers as children's toys. Hence, they are sometimes called “mother's love ball.”
They were traditionally constructed from the remnants of old kimonos, with pieces of silk fabric wadded into a ball, then wrapped with strips of fabric.
The balls were wrapped and stitched so tightly they actually bounced, says the website. But the balls transcended from play toys into art objects with the introduction of rubber to Japan.
The website explains that temari balls became “an art, more and more decorative and detailed, until the balls displayed very intricate embroidery … (They) became an art of the Japanese upper class and aristocracy, and noble women competed in creating more and more beautiful and intricate objects.”
Miyuki is proud to continue this ancient Japanese art and share it with the new friends she meets at the marketplace.
“I'm very appreciative to my husband for this opportunity to meet all these wonderful people. That is more important to me than the business.”
She just wanted to share something of her homeland, she adds.
Many people ask her if she'll teach them the art of making temari balls. Miyuki welcomes visitors to her booth (No. B152), where they may sit and watch her work.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856.