Indigo, a cherished blue hue in the Japanese way of life

10 Jun 2016 in Discover Japan

Delve into the secrets behind “indigo”, the celebrated blue colour with incredible qualities that  was born in Asia...

Indigo, a colour which was first discovered in India and China, arrived in Japan in the Asuka era. It is believed that since Sengoku and Edo periods, Tokushima prefecture became the major place for indigo plantations. This was a time of unrelenting conflict between feudal lords, which led to a strong demand as indigo was prized by warriors, not as a doping substance, but for its antiseptic properties. Clothing worn under their armour was dyed with aizome in order to prevent infections if they got wounded.

Indeed, indigo has many qualities in addition to the aesthetic beauty of its readily recognisable deep blue colour. Its antiseptic properties enable it to cleanse wounds and promote healing; its fragrance is a natural repellent to insects and some wild animals, and it also functions as a fabric softener, especially for cotton. This was seen as an additional advantage, especially for martial arts practitioners whose clothing, called hakama, are dyed with aizome.

Even though the white-and-red flowers of true indigo produce very pretty clusters, the leaves are the part harvested by dyers. After crushing the leaves with a mallet and drying them in large bags to start the decomposition process, they placed them in a tub to ferment until they produced a tinctorial material, sukumo. They then added soda ash (aku) and lime (sekkai) in order to produce microorganisms called kankin which give the leaves their dyeing properties.

Once the proper colour has been obtained, the fibres can be plunged in the dyeing baths. Darker colours are produced by repeating this operation. While aizome is mainly used for kitchen clothing and linens, it is also used to dye fabrics. It has been used in the bedrooms as bed linens at the Hoshino Resorts KAI Kinugawa. The Kurobane region’s products are especially renowned. Experience life in blue by treating yourself to this magnificent fabric you can bring home in your suitcase!

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