Indigo blue is also called "Japan blue", which is used as a symbol of Tokyo olympic game. Lafcadio Hearn was a writer, known best for his books about Japan first set foot in the country in 1890
seeing the Indigo color and dye widely used in Japan at that time he was very impressed and called it “Japan Blue”
Indigo has been used for dyeing all over the world since ancient times. In Japan, the indigo dyeing culture dates back to Nara period (AD 710 - AD 794). At that time, indigo was considered as a noble color next to purple (usually purple color is for the emperor).
In Edo period (medieval era 1603-1868), indigo dye was industrialised and each shuraku (hamlet) has at least one indigo atelier called "konya", and the indigo blue becomes popular among citizens as well. The first western who visited Japan in the early 18th century called the color "Japan blue".
After the world war two, artificial dye introduced and konya gradually disappeared. Kasama Aizome is the only one traditional konya in Nara prefecture, where you can learn and experience indigo dye.
Indigo Dyeing Aterlier "Kasama Aizome" in Nara
Kasama is located 1.5 hour away from Nara city, surrounded by mountains in the Yamato Plateau, it's completely off-the-beaten atmosphere. It's designated as the traditional crafts heritage by the local governmnet of Nara.
Originally, farmers dyed their farming clothe or futon (sleeping mat) during winter season after harvesting rice. It's not considered as a craft, but it was rather daily necessities. At that time, there were 25 studios in Nara prefecture, but only one remained until now.
4th generation of Kasama Aizome, Kayo san told us she really worked hard to preserve this culture by learning from her farther-in-low.
"Indigo is a living creature rather than dyeing material. It's same like raising baby" said Kayo san.
Her atelier hasn't been changed from the past with 8 jars buried in the soil.
The microorganisms living in the jars are weak to heat in summer and severe coldness in winter. It needs to be warmed up by charcoal in winter and stirred everyday in summer. Also, they require feed as well.
Indigo plant is the family of dock plant (Polygonaceae), and the pigment is not dissolved in water by raw. After fermenting raw leaved for 100 days by adding lime, wheat bran, sake, and ash, it becomes solid, called "sukumo". After this process, the material becomes water-soluble, making the color much deeper, nearly black color. This is indeed the process of raising kids rather than just boiling plants like other plant dye.
Experience indigo dye
First, tie clothe, and soak it in the indigo jar. At first, the color is green, but after oxidization, it becomes thicker color. Soak and dry 7-8 times, it's gradually changing color much deeper.
At last, dry under the sun.
The handmade indigo dyeing has been disappearing after the rapid economic growth, however, Tokyo Olympic Game decided the blue emblem, and now "Japan Blue" is again re-evaluated and seen as an important Japanese culture. Would you like to experience Japan Blue at the last one indigo dye atelier in Nara?