Hello guys! Have you already watched our latest post on YouTube? WhaToDoKyoto has worked on transmitting Kyoto’s appeal to the world in the form of YouTube video, and this week dealt with a Japanese traditional way of Indigo dyeing, Aizen.
These five members were in charge of this topic and actually experienced Aizen with a help from an Aizen professional!
Hayato/born in Osaka, and love playing tennis. Mako/born in Aichi, love listening to music.
Yuta/born in Osaka, and love dancing. Momoko/born in Fukuoka, and love reading comics.
Yuta/born in Osaka, and love driving.
In this blog, I would like to explain its more detailed content that the posted video could not fully cover with, especially:
- Aizen藍染– Japanese traditional way of Indigo dyeing
- Kyo Ai 京藍– one variety of Indigo plant which is indigenous to Kyoto
- Hozu Ai Kobo Ltd. 保津藍工房– a company that currently works on cultivating Kyo-Ai plant, as well as manufacturing and selling its Aizen works.
- How to produce indigo solution
[What is indigo in the first place? ]
First of all, have you ever heard the word “Aizen”? Indigo dyeing is a very traditional dyeing technique that uses the leaves of this lovely plant called indigo. It was about 1400~2000 years ago that indigo dyeing was introduced to Japan from mainland China. Since then, indigo dyeing has been used all over Japan as the most popular dyeing technique, especially Edo shogunate period. The popularity is partly because of a Japanese governmental regulation at the time – the government do not allow the public to pursue elegance and splendor in their lives, and her intention was also reflected on the use of color. Since purple, red, and plum were considered to be the symbol of luxury, Japanese ordinary farmers altered to use indigo color in their fashion. This history would compels you to think that sense of beauty differs depending on the era.
[what is special about indigo dyeing]
Aizen has a lot of fascinating facts! First of all, this beautiful color. It’s elegant, graceful, and very special, isn’t it? This color called “Japan Blue” is actually used in the emblem of the Tokyo Olympics!
But the charm of indigo dyeing is not limited to color. It is the antibacterial effect of indigo leaves. During the Warring States period, Japanese samurai preferred indigo-dyed underwear, which has an antibacterial effect that makes it difficult to purify even after chasing wounds and also has a hemostatic effect.
Japanese Samurai warriors wearing indigo-dyed costumes.
In this difficult time of Corona, it may be a great idea to wear a mask dyed with indigo. Furthermore, indigo actually has 10 times more antioxidant power of blueberries and 20 times more antioxidant power of broccoli. It is effective even if you drink or eat it! It is nothing but a versatile plant!
[Kyoto native indigo = Kyoto indigo]
Of course, indigo has been cultivated in Kyoto for a long time. These are called Kyo no Mizuai, and they are known as high-class varieties. However, the production of Kyoai was pushed by cheap imported products and synthetic products, and it collapsed in 1923. Since then, Kyoai has been considered to be a “phantom”.
[About Hozu Ai Kobo]
Keiichi Yoshikawa, who was a dyeing craftsman in Kyoto, began to look at the reconstruction of the indigo industry when he reached retirement age, saying, “I want to give back to the indigo that supported my life.”
As part of this, Mr. Yoshikawa visits indigo farmers and craftsmen nationwide to take on the challenge of cultivating indigo and dyeing it on their own. Under such circumstances, when he visited Akihito Sato, an indigo dyeing craftsman in Tokushima, who is also designated as an intangible cultural property technology holder by the country, he unexpectedly met that phantom Kyoai. The seed, which was handed down in Tokushima, far away from Kyoto, was entrusted to Mr. Sato’s grandfather by an indigo farmer in Kyoto in 1941. During the Pacific War, it was the time when people were called unpatriotic when they were raising something that could not be used as provision. Mr. Sato, who tried to keep the seeds alive even in a difficult situation, will divide the important seeds and start cultivating them here in Kameoka. Mr. Yoshikawa named this Kyoho Ai and branded it, and established “Kyoto Hozu Ai Kobo Co., Ltd.”
They manufacture, process, and sell Kyoho indigo, and they also have an indigo dyeing experience class next to it. Mr. Yoshikawa received offers from world-famous brands such as MAISON KITSUNE and ISSEI MIYAKE, and the items he was involved in processing have been sold.
How to produce indigo solution
The long process to produce indigo solution starts with the harvest of indigo leaves which is usually done twice a year, the first in mid-summer and the second in late summer. After that you can choose either of mainly two methods to complete the process, Sukumo Ai（すくも藍）, Chinden Ai（沈殿藍）
- Sukumo Ai（すくも藍）
- Most popular method. Pour 1.3 as much as water into the harvested leaves and let them rest for approximately two weeks in order to spur their fermentation. During the period, you have to turn over the leaves almost every day to avoid uneven fermentation. However fermenting leaves hold heats and give out offensive smells – even skilled craftsmen say how tough it is to persist 50℃ of atmosphere and Ammonia odor. This is how the raw material of indigo dye solution, Sukumo is made.
Craftsmen to work on the process on the fermentation
- To make Sukumo more water-soluble, add limes and other ingredients.
- Chinden Ai（沈殿藍）
- Relatively minor method which is particular to Okinawa prefecture, however Hozu-ai-kobo has its distinctive feature in adopting this way to produce indigo dye solution. Put the harvested leaves and stems into a pool of water and let them rest for 3~7 days. After that, extract the liquid in which the essence of indigo plant is sufficiently immersed.
Mr. Yoshikawa extracting the liquid @Hozu Ai Kobo
- Add adequate amount of limes. The preferable ratio would be 200g of limes per 200 liter of the extracted liquid. If you keep muddling it for half of a day, finally the indigo dye solution will be made.
Mr. Yoshikawa extracting the liquid @Hozu Ai Kobo
We are very happy if you feel how alluring the Japanese traditional indigo dyeing is, as well as the toughness of producing indigo dyeing solution. Culture is not built in a day. This dyeing tradition could be seen as one example to notice Japan/Kyoto holds profound culture, which has been formed taking a long time!