“Aizome” (Indigo Dyeing) is one of the Japanese traditional dyeing. Its deep rich color is widely known as “Japanese Blue”. There are a variety of dyeing styles throughout Japan, and each style has its own unique features.
To be completed as dyed fabric, long and very sensitive process is needed.Indigo dye is usually made from plant leaves called “tade”, the leaves are dried and then fermented by adding small amounts of water. After fermenting for one hundred days, wheat bran called “husuma”, lime, and Japanese sake are added together with the fermented leaves. After an additional week, the fermented indigo solution is finally ready for dyeing fabrics and threads. However, the material is so delicate that it must be always well maintained. Craftsmen pay attention
The indigo solution itself doesn’t look blue, but fabrics and threads that absorbed the indigo dye turn blue when they are exposed to air. The process for dyeing threads and fabrics is done repeatedly, deepening the color of the dye little by little until it becomes a beautiful Japanese Blue.
When I arrived at Amano Kouya with my colleagues one of the first things that I noticed was the deep indigo color of the fingertips and nails of Mr. Hisashi Amano, the successor to the line of traditional Japanese indigo-dyeing and our speaker for the afternoon. As we were lead inside we walked past rows of old machines. Though a quiet room, the machines and hanging threads spoke volumes about the amount of history and culture that was fostered in this facility. Mr. Amano led us to a room with a very peculiar smell. It was the smell of the indigo dye, and in this room was a platform which had holes filled with the liquid dye.
When dyeing thread, the basic process is that the particles in the dye cling to the thread, and repeated dipping produces a deeper blue color. The indigo color is the traditional color for Japanese clothing and dyes, and the producing interesting patterns and designs requires much skill. Seeing how Hirose Dye was implemented in products such as the intricate and beautiful patterns on a Temari, a ball shaped ornament also only found in Matsue, made from Japanese paper. Seeing the patterns and the passion that Mr. Amano had for his work, I began to see the true cultural value of Hirose Dye.
After visiting the workshop, we learned traditional methods of weaving dyed threads and fabrics. Part of the process of creating a pattern or design is to spread out the undyed thread across a large board like tool with pegs sticking outward at the sides. Once this is done small strips of tape are wrapped around certain parts of the thread. After this is done, the thread is removed from the tool and dipped in the dye. This results in certain parts of the thread being left with no dye absorbed, thus creating a pattern or design of indigo and white. One of the kind women there let us see the tools used to design the patterns. One method of planning a design is to draw it with pencil first and then deciding which parts will be lighter and darker. Though a simple concept, placing the tape and arranging the thread on the board so that the resulting pattern matches the original design is a very delicate and complex process that left me impressed with the skill and precision needed to complete a work.
After seeing and learning more about Hirose Dye, I can no longer see those products the same way. More than a piece of indigo-dyed fabric, these are works of art with a deep and rich connection to Japanese traditional culture.
This web page introduces the remarks and comments written by CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) of Shimane Prefectural Government.
After over a month of continuously cloudy days, it is today, on a much-longed for day of clear skies, that my colleagues (fellow Coordinators for International Relations) and I have come to Yasugi City. It will soon be three years since I began working in Shimane Prefecture. When I think of Yasugi City, I think of the well-known Adachi Art Museum and Yasugi’s famous folksong ‘Dojō-Sukui’ (Loach Fishing). Our interviews, I learn, will this time occur at several places where one can experience traditional culture. We pass through a quiet, rural town, and stop in front of a small building. I hesitated outside of the building while everyone went inside, one by one. As I always do, I searched for the shop’s sign on the façade, but found none. My curiosity was stirred up by this mysterious place.
This place was ‘Amano Kouya’ (‘Amano’s Dye Workshop’), a business where one can experience traditional Japanese indigo-dyeing. It’s not a very large workshop, but its atmosphere is overflowing with history. Amano Kouya was founded in 1870 and has continued operating steadily for five generations. The current ‘successor’ to the line is Mr.Hisashi Amano. He explains that, originally, there were many indigo-dye workshops in Yasugi City’s Hirose Town. He claims the indigo-dye matches the relaxed Japanese temperament but the tradition of indigo-dyeing took a hit post-WWII when various bright colors and skills entered Japan from overseas and the art of indigo-dyeing faded out quickly. In order to keep up with this change in society, they diversified by introducing cloth-dyeing, life-style goods, decorative goods, on top of the traditional thread-dyeing.
When I was back in China, I visited the famous Wuzhen Water Town and had a chance to visit an old-fashioned dye-house. I have always thought it was a shame I never had the opportunity to try dyeing at that time and I was very excited to have my small wish granted this time. With his unique sense of humor, Mr. Amano explained to us in detail the art of dyeing and the ways to make the various patterns. Taking a single white handkerchief, I began to think of a pattern to create. No matter what pattern I decide, this will be unique amongst all the patterns in the world. My own ‘special-edition’. We could choose between a light blue and a dark, almost navy blue. If you like sky blue, you need only dye the handkerchief one time. You lower the handkerchief into the dye for one minute at a time, and then squeeze out the liquid when you raise it up out of the tub, spread it out and then let it touch the air. When immersed inside the tub, you cannot just hold it still; you must massage the dye, especially in the corners. Personally, I like indigo, so I dipped mine into the dye twice before washing it in water and hanging it to dry. Each of us had a look of anticipation on our faces as we opened our own handkerchiefs. Mine turned out just as I expected; indigo blue, with a beautiful but reserved design. I felt a small sense of accomplishment. That is one of the charms of ‘experience tourism,’ I suppose. Usually you simply hear a dull explanation and then imagine what the real thing would be like. If you have the opportunity to experience it with your own hands, however, you feel the reality of the experience and come one step closer to real Japanese culture.
This report has been published in a magazine SHIMANEAN, which was made by CIR(Coordinator for International Relations) living in Shimane, to provide information on Shimane to the world.