Japan Tour 2018 – Day 11

Japan Tour 2018 – Day 11 – We visited reknown indigo dyer, Matsue Chiba, out in the countryside outside Kurikoma. She is the third generation to use indigo in this old traditional method which used to be done long ago. Now her son and niece are the fourth generation and the only dyers using this “cold” indigo method. It uses only three ingredients which is unusual today. They are indigo, ash, and water. She is showing our Japanese friend how she puts the cloth to be dyed on stretchers to hold the cloth apart in the dye. They are not dyeing now but she explained her technique to us.

Mrs. Chiba talked with us in her small show room next door to her weaving room and next to her dye vat room. Her color of indigo is distinctive—not the dark shade we often see. The piece hanging was gorgeous and stenciled and dyed by a previous generation—her mother I think it was.

Mrs. Chiba told us she had just now planted the indigo seeds. This is mid-May. The seedlings will be translated then harvested in August/September. The leaves will be put in net bags and hung to dry. There is a year and a half cycle that she explained and I remember vaguely. At some time the leaves were fermented. Then mixed with water to make little patties. These would be used for the dyeing. During December and January they make wood ash from linden tree bark. They are constantly burning so can’t leave home while making the ash. It will be used in the indigo dye. The dyeing actually is done in May using the patties made from the previous years crop. Usually she dips twice for 3 minutes each time for her light shades. However she sometimes dips more times for darker color.

Here are her indigo vats. Notice they are above ground so they are not heated. All other methods I’ve seen in Japan have the vats deep In the ground with heaters to keep the temperature just the right warmth.

Here is the altar/shrine for her dyeing area. I think most indigo dyers have one above their vats. Her dyed cloths were of many different shades of blue which she attributed to the differences of the indigo at different times. I think that might mean at the beginning or end of a dye session for example or how happy the indigo was at the time. For another example does it need to have ash added.

We heard the frogs right outside her studio all the while. When we stepped outside we could also hear the pretty swift river where she washes the cloth.

We said goodbye to our Japanese companions at the train station. Their bullet train left at 2:59 and ours at 3:02. They passed one another, one coming in while the other going out.

5 thoughts on “Japan Tour 2018 – Day 11”

  1. What a gorgeous dye vat…I wonder if it is an ofuro or Japanese bath? Interesting methodology…so much history…I am heartened that Mrs. Chibas son and neice are working with her and carrying on the tradition.

  2. I don’t think those are indigo vats. They look exactly like the vats used to make the alkali from ashes I saw at another indigo dyer’s in Japan. The vats are filled with ashes, water is added, and the lye/ash/alkali is drawn off at the bottom. (see the little spout at the bottom? and ladle at the top?) Just like my great-great grandmother did in Appalachia a century ago, except she used her alkali to make soap with the grease saved from cooking. And hers was crude, not the wooden work of art in your photo.

  3. Peggy, This indigo dying is amazing! Thanks for documenting it so well. Someday I hope to dye indigo here in the Philippines. Best regards, Mike Kendall


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