Japan Blue: Textile Study Tour to Mt. Fuji Indigo Studio

The Japan Textile Study Tour is filling up. We are a small group, limited to 10 people, and there are 4 spaces remaining! If you are thinking about coming with us to Japan, please don’t wait much longer.

Japanese ikat, indigo dye

I have confirmed plans to visit a noted Japanese national treasure, a textile artist who works in indigo, known as Japan Blue. Her studio is at the foot of Mt. Fuji near Lake Kawaguchi. We will spend a good part of the day with her, dyeing with indigo in her studio.

Variety of indigo cloth

I have explained to her that we are visitors who understand and appreciate the art of indigo dyeing. I am told that our dye master is very selective about who visits her and welcomes anyone who understands and appreciates her art. 

Indigo colored dye equipment

We will have a several hour immersion experience with her as we learn about her dye process and participate ourselves in dyeing pure cotton cloth that she will provide. Since she is very serious about what she does, she asks that we participate fully rather than just coming to visit and observe. I have promised her that we are coming to honor the age-old tradition of indigo dyeing in Japan, and honor her work as a serious artist and dyer. 

The man who is helping me put this experience together is Japanese, a Harvard graduate, and he will serve as our guide and translator for our time at Mt. Fuji. He tells me the following:

The dye master is “living” with 4 pots of indigos in her small atelier, and she cares for her indigos like her pots 24/7 — like they are her babies!

During cherry blossom season

In order to create the exact colors she needs in her art works, she precisely controls the fermentation of each of 4 indigo pots during the production processes of her art works. When she is preparing art works for big exhibition events, she pays special attention to the fermentation status of the indigo.

That is the basic reason why she does not usually provide easy-going, superficial “experience” programs for travelers; it will damage her indigos. From her artist’s point of view, she believes that brief“experience” programs that are business-focused and the art creation profession cannot co-exist.

Traditional indigo dye vats

What makes this indigo dye master’s art unique can be summarized into several points.

  1. She is “building” indigo exactly in the same traditional way as the artisans back in 17th and 18th centuries.
  2. She uses traditional fermented indigo grass which is now only produced in limited supply from Tokushima Prefecture.
  3. She utilizes timber ash NOT sodium carbonate for the fermentation in the pots. To obtain good quality timber ash, she must use a wood-stove in her daily life.
Vintage indigo katazome cloth

So, our dye master is literally “living” with indigos.

She believes this was one of the most important aspects of traditional “Japan Blue” – artisans fed, cared for and raised indigo like it is their baby! They literally lived with indigos.

Our dye master is an artist first and foremost. She is creating contemporary art utilizing traditional indigos.

After the advent of chemical dyeing productions, and also Japanese apparel culture being westernized, traditional indigo dyeing has lost its position in the dyeing industry. But, our dye master believes that there must be artistic expressions which only “Japan Blue” can make. She is committed to proving that traditional “Japan Blue” can existent as a way of artistic expression in an era of high technology and streamlined processes. This is the only way that traditional “Japan Blue” can survive into the next generation.

To our best knowledge, there are no artisans or artists who are incorporating all of this.

Meiji period vest

We will be one of the few groups that our dye master will accept into her atelier, and let us “use” her indigo. We will have a unique opportunity to dye with Japan Blue and have our own piece of art to take with us.

She asks that if we appreciate what she does, we can also purchase her art work ONLY IF we like it! 

We now have 6 people registered to come with me and Nathan Somers, a North Carolina indigo dye master, on this Japanese textile adventure. I will accept no more than 10 people. If you know of anyone else who would like to join us, please ask them to contact me. It is important that we have a small group experience that is meaningful for each of us.

Nathan, with a vintage indigo textile from his collection

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