Art,craft & Homewares

The color ai (indigo) is called 'Japan blue.' Introducing a precious time of getting to know the artisan who dyes ai


Wear ai (indigo) that is good for your skin in the gentle spring sunlight.

Ginza Mitsukoshi 1F

"Shunbun (Vernal Equinox Day)," which is part of the 24 seasons of the lunar calendar has passed, and we are already approaching the end of March. Japan shifts to the beautiful season of flowers. It's also time to shift your wardrobe for spring. There are more people dressing in spring-like fashion.


An event titled "Spring Fashion Coordination with Ai" in which accessories and items using aizome (indigo dyeing) such as hats and shawls gather will be held during 3/29 (Wed) - 4/11 (Tue) at the Ginza Mitsukoshi 1F Fashion Item floor. The blue hue called Japan blue is also gaining increasing attention overseas. Aizome is Japan's unique dyeing technique. We visited the artisan's workshop to find out the dyeing process and the techniques used to create the Japan blue color.

This is "Hon Aizome Yano Factory" in Aizumi Town, Itano District, Tokushima Prefecture. It is a factory that has been practicing dyeing using only the traditional technique of Awaai that has been passed on for 600 years.


Mr. Ranshu Yano, the representative, welcomed us. The samue (traditional work clothing) he had dyed himself was eye-catching. He first explained about tadeai, the main ingredient of aizome. In aizome, a single dyed cloth is made by dividing the work between an aishi (ai master) and a someshi (dyeing master).
The role of an aishi begins by making a dye called "sukumo" from the main ingredient, tadeai. It is the someshi's task to use the sukumo and dye the cloth.


The sukumo made with the utmost care by the aishi is put in a straw bag with the factory's name painted.


Then, the textiles are dyed using the sukumo with a technique that exists from the Edo Period called "honaizome by fermented natural dye." Next to the master are many jars filled with the dyes undergoing the fermentation process.
The jars are organized based on the number of days it took to make it.


Every day, a work called "adjustment" is done, so the ai is kept in the condition that suits the climate of the day.
In honaizome, the masters do not add additional ai. They use the ai as it is, includes its lifespan. After the ai fulfills its role as a dye, it transforms into fertilizer. New ai is then poured and created in the jars. The ai continues to go through this cycle. With a smile, Mr. Yano shared, "The more days I spend with ai, I realize that it is fun and yet challenging to work with ai that keeps changing."


A key factor the masters refer to as they daily watch over the ai is a mass and slime called "hana (flower)." Mr. Yano dyes the fabrics with his bare hands. By touching the ai, he grasps its condition and uses the information for the adjustment each morning.


To experience part of the process, I decided to try experiencing aizome (ai dyeing).


A white square cloth is provided during the experience. It is a handkerchief woven with thin cotton thread. The first step is drawing a picture or writing a letter of your choice with melted paraffin (generic name for wax). The paraffin turns into liquid at about 70 degrees as it has a low boiling point. Then, you draw immediately with a brush.


After finishing drawing, it's time for the next step. Attach a handkerchief to a bamboo basket and sit around the jars. Then, put the cloth in the jar, so the whole cloth will soak in the ai. Soak the cloth in the ai for a minute and then take it out for a minute. You will repeat this process about 10 to 15 times.


To my surprise, I found the work to be quite tiring that requires using your arm muscles. My hands with gloves start to be slightly dyed to a deep ai color. While waiting for Mr. Yano's instruction, "You can take it out now," I couldn't wait to see how the color had changed. The cloth that was a color of a cypress bark began to deepen its blue hue as I repeated the process. At the end, it finally was dyed to the ai color I had imagined.


The next process involves removing the paraffin using hot water of 40 degrees, which is its boiling point. After confirming that the paraffin has melted away, I washed the cloth using the abundant groundwater.
When I asked, "Isn't it quite challenging to do this in winter?" Mr. Yano told me that the groundwater is actually not so cold because it maintains a certain temperature.



Now that the washing is complete; it's time to iron the handkerchief. This is the last process. As soon as the heat touched the cloth, it deepened its deep ai color.


My first aizome experience. It took about 1 hour and 30 minutes. I found that my mind was strangely clear when I was working. The smell, texture, and the flow of time I felt during the process gently escorted me so I could peek into the deep world of ai.


The flower-like ai in the jars looked like hydrangeas during the tsuyu (rainy season in Japan in June) season and seemed like it was watching over us during our experience with ai.


-Event Information-
"Spring Fashion Coordination with Ai"
3/29 (Wed) - 4/4 (Tue) Ginza Mitsukoshi 1F Global Message
4/5 (Wed) - 4/11 (Tue) Ginza Mitsukoshi 1F Fashion Item




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