Aizome, the “Mystical Japan Blue”

The color treasured by Japanese people

Ai (indigo) is a dye that is collected from the leaves of the Japanese indigo plant. Its deep, bright blue color has attracted people from the ancient times. Indigo dyeing has developed in various parts of the world; it is said that it was introduced from India to Japan through the Silk Road route. Although the timing is not clear, there are records of indigo plant cultivation from the 6th to 7th century. It was used only for aristrocrats or samurai at first. However, by about the 17th century, it had spread to the common people, and various household items were being dyed with indigo, including kimonos, hand towels, and bedding. Since indigo has antibacterial and insect repellent effects, and is also effective for preventing odors, Aizome clothing was appreciated as a remedy for skin trouble or eczema, while repelling insects. A British scholar who visited Japan in the 19th century when the country opened up was impressed by the color of indigo commonly seen around town and called it “Japan blue.”

Aizome production process
Mixing indigo (left) and dyeing (right)
Indigo dye vat
Indigo dye vat in which indigo is fermented

Although there are various methods to extract dye from indigo leaves, one that has become mainstream and has been handed down to the present day is the method in which leaves are fermented. Indigo leaves are dried and fermented to make “sukumo,” which contains a concentrated dye component, which will be mixed with lye, lime, and other substances in a vat and then fermented again. Currently, most sukumo is produced in Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku, which is famously known as “Awa-ai” and yields high-quality color.

Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree in the color of “aijiro”

Aizome can create various shades of blue depending on the level of fermentation or the dyeing time, and each shade has a different name according to its slight color difference. There are various colors ranging from “aijiro (indigo white),” the lightest shade closest to white, to “noukon (navy blue),” the darkest shade closest to black, indicating how popular Aizome is in Japan. “Aijiro” was also used for the body of Tokyo Skytree, a new landmark in Tokyo.

Aizome products with exotic appeal

A cotton summer kimono and necktie made by Hon Aizome Yano Kojo

The popularity of Aizome items using natural dye, which are time consuming to make, declined for a while. However, the texture that natural indigo produces has been revalued recently, and Aizome items are becoming popular again as beautiful Japanese traditional arts and crafts. Since they do not use chemicals and have an antibacterial effect, they are also suitable for use as everyday items. Not only traditional items, such as kimonos or tapestries, but more casual items such as neckties or coasters, are also available. Such items make good souvenirs as well.

Hon Aizome Yano Kojo

25-1 Aza Enokuchi, Yakami, Aizumi-cho, Itano-gun, Tokushima

TEL: 088-692-8584

Open hours: 8:00 am – 12:00 pm (depending on the day) Open 365 days a year

Access: Approx. 9 minutes by car from Shozui Station on the JR Kotoku Line

pure blue japan jeans

Jeans are items that represent modern Aizome. Among made-in-Japan jeans, Kojima jeans from Kurashiki, Okayama are renowned worldwide. In particular, natural indigo jeans made by “pure blue japan” are rare items made by weaving thread hand-dyed with natural Awa-ai. With beautiful blue color shades and fading, these jeans are something that anyone who love jeans would want to have.

pure blue japan Kojima store

Address: 2-2-66-101 Ajino, Kojima, Kurashiki-shi, Okayama

TEL:086-473-3332

Open hours: 11:00 am to 7:00 pm Open only on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays

Access: Approx. 14 minutes on foot from Kojima Station on JR Seto-Ohashi Line

A sweater and casket by Kosoen

In addition to jeans, Kosoen offers various types of clothing and accessories that suit a modern lifestyle. Sweaters and hats dyed using traditional methods are also popular.

Indigo Dyeing Studio Kosoen

Address: 8-200 Nagabuchi, Ome-shi, Tokyo

TEL: 0428-24-8121

Open hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

Closed: Tuesdays, year’s-end and New Year’s holidays

Access: 20 minutes on foot from Ome Station on the JR Ome Line

Note: Aizome experience available (reservation required three days in advance)

Birth Celebratory Gift Set by aeru

A gift set containing baby clothes, towels, and socks, all made with fabric that has been carefully dyed with natural indigo produced in Tokushima prefecture. Since no chemicals are used in Aizome products, they are even safe for babies.

Aizome soap by Aiiro Kobo

Aizome soaps utilizing the antibacterial effect of indigo are also unique items. Not only are they gentle on the skin because of the plant-derived material, but feature a lovely indigo color that is beautiful to look at.

Aiiro Kobo

Address: 2197-1 Shimotakaoka, Miki-cho, Kida-gun, Kagawa

TEL:087-813-8827(Unavailable from overseas)

Open hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm Closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays

Access: 11 minutes on foot from Shirayama Station on the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad Nagao Line

Let’s Experience “Aizome!”

Traditional Dyeing Experience
Traditional dyeing experience
Handkerchief dyeing experience at Bushu Nakajima Konya
Handkerchief dyeing experience at Bushu Nakajima Konya

If you would like to experience aizome yourself, why don’t you visit a workshop? You can dye items such as handkerchiefs, stoles, or T-shirts at many workshops. Some workshops allow you to bring your own items, as long as they are made with natural materials. To dye an item with indigo, wet the item with water, tie the parts that you wish to leave white with rubber bands, and rub it well in an indigo dye vat. When you remove the rubber bands, expose it to the air, and wash it, you should be able to see a beautiful color and pattern. There are also ways to dye items with pattern paper or wax. Try making your original Aizome item!

Bushu Nakajima Konya

233 Oaza Komatsu, Hanyu-shi, Saitama

TEL: 048-561-3358

Open hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Closed: Saturday, Sunday, holidays, Bon holidays (mid-August),year’s-end and New Year’s holidays

Access: Approx. 5 minutes by taxi from Hanyu Station on Tobu Isesaki Line

*English guide available for Aizome experience

Wanariya

Address: 1-8-10 Senzoku, Taito-ku, Tokyo

TEL: 03-5603-9169

Open hours: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm

Access: 7 minutes on foot from Tsukuba Express Asakusa Station