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Kasama Aizome (indigo dye) : Traditional crafts of Uda-shi, Nara

Much like raising a child, the artisan observes the condition of the dye as though asking its mood

The indigo dye was in high spirits last night, but this morning it is unresponsive. As delicate as a baby, the condition of the indigo dye can change suddenly with changes in temperature and humidity.

The dye is full of life. The Kasama Aizome (indigo dye) tradition dates from the Edo period, when it became common for farmers to dye their own clothing during the farming off-season of winter.

During the industry’s peak, there were over 25 workshops in Nara prefecture, and more than 4 in the village of Muro alone. However, the practice declined with the rise of chemical dyes, and there is only one workshop left in Nara that still preserves the traditional production methods.

Kayo Inoue became heir to the Kasama Aizome tradition in 2004 after studying for two years under her father in law, who was a licensed traditional craftsman. Since then, she has worked to preserve the family’s 130 year reputation as dyers, often with the help of her husband.

Recognition by the prefecture as a licensed traditional craftsman of Kasama Aizome in 2012

Referring to the important fermentation process by which the traditional indigo dye is made, Kayo explains, “Perhaps you could say it is like raising a child. While he was still alive, my father in law had a sense of mission not to end the Yamato tradition of aizome dyeing by killing off the bacterial flora in the dye pot, but was also concerned that this job might be hard on a woman.”

Bearing this grave responsibility as the fourth generation artisan, and the only one to carry on the tradition in the prefecture, she has trouble sleeping at night over concern for the dye pot during the hot weather of the summer months.

She gets up at night and can finally lay down to rest when she is sure the dye isn’t weakening. The dye is also easily affected by cold, so the pot must be heated with charcoal day and night during the winter to maintain the correct temperature.

Accordingly, Kayo cannot leave the house for more than a moment during the five months from the turning of the autumn leaves to the falling of the cherry blossoms.

With an attitude that is humble to a fault, she says “I’m too embarrassed to call myself a real craftsman”

In the process of aidate, the key step in creating the dye, Kayo uses her foot to crush and mix hot water with the sukumo, or granulated charcoal, in a meter high pot filled to the brim.

In order to dye clothing in the desired dark blue color, heavy cloth soaked with dye is taken from the dye pot, squeezed, and put back in to be dyed again, a process repeated 20 times before the cloth is finally hung in the sun to dry.

“I am happiest when the cloth reaches a color that I can be sure will please the customer. That hardly ever happens, though.” On rare occasions, the dye will answer her wish with a healthy color as though returning a favor.

The beauty of indigo dyed clothing can only be understood by taking it in the hand, so we highly recommend that you come and see for yourself.

INFORMATION

Kasama Aizome Stall
Address
Muroshimokasama 620, Uda-shi, Nara
Admission
Aizome experience 1,500yen (reservation required)
Contact
+81-(0)745-92-3607(Inoue Konya)

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