Translated by Shinji Takaramura
Awa-Ai: The Beautiful Japan Blue From Tokushima
Written by Hazuki Natuno
This article is about "Awa-Ai," a traditional indigo dyeing method, developed in Tokushima Prefecture, located in the Shikoku Region.
Have you heard of ai-zome 藍染め, the traditional Japanese indigo dye?
Ai-zome is a method of textile dying using Japanese plants. The Japanese indigo dye is also called Japan Blue, and it is known as a natural dye along with the Indian indigo and the European woad.
The Awa-Ai 阿波藍, made in Tokushima Prefecture, located in the Shikoku Region, is especially known for its vivid colors.
There are many indigo-dyeing studios in Japan, but those only using domestic products and traditional systems, such as the Awa-Ai and the Bushū-Ai 武州藍, are very rare.
Read also: Japanese Encyclopedia: The Shikoku Region
Tade-Ai: An Important Plant for Awa-Ai
A therophyte of the buckwheat family named tade-ai (Chinese indigo) is used for the dye. The fermented leaves of this plant are called sukumo 蒅, and Tokushima Prefecture is an important center of sukumo production.
Awa-Ai is a name of a dyed-product that uses the Tokushima-made sukumo in the dye, which goes through a process called hakkō-date (dye-making by natural fermentation).
Awa-Ai: A Dyed Product With a Rich History
Awa-Ai started more than 1,000 years ago in the Heian Period. According to history, it was used to dye the rough-textured cloth called aratae, and the cultivation of plants, along with the weaving and dyeing, started in Tokushima.
In the Sengoku Period, when war raged over Japan, the samurai favored a color called kachi, which is a very dark, nearly black indigo color. The word "kachi" also means victory in Japanese, and that is why the warriors on the battlefields preferred this color.
In the Sengoku Period, indigo products were made throughout the country. Tokushima Prefecture was called Awa 阿波 at the time, and the dye-making process using the aforementioned sukumo descended from the Kansai Region, the progressive region of the day. The Awa-Ai has gradually developed over a long period of time.
Awa-Ai: A Great Japanese Souvenir
The total production may have decreased compared to days gone by, but the Japanese still love the indigo products. The deep color, created by repeated dyeing, has long fascinated the Japanese. Awa-Ai textiles are also used in high-end kimonos, as well.
Awa-Ai products, with their beautiful colors also known as Japan Blue and with their fine historical tradition, will definitely make a wonderful Japanese souvenir.
Shopping for Awa-Ai in Tokyo
Where can you buy Awa-Ai?
There is a shop in Tokyo that handles Awa-Ai, so you don't always have to go to Tokushima Prefecture to buy it.
The E-e-mon-arudē Tokushima, located near Akihabara Station, handles special products from Tokushima. It is run by the Tokushima Prefectural Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry, and is located inside CHABARA, a commercial facility constructed under the elevated railroad tracks.
Visitors can buy Awa-Ai products such as coasters, place mats and tablecloths. The coasters are moderately priced, at about 500 yen each.
Besides the Awa-Ai, there are various items at E-e-mon-arudē Tokushima, so if you're going to Akihabara, be sure to stop by this shop.
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Kanda-Neribeichō 8-2, CHABARA
Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Closed: January 1st. Also closed on the first Wednesdays of June and November.
Credit Cards: -
Menus Available In: -
Stations: Akihabara Station (秋葉原駅) of the JR Yamanote Line (山手線) and Keihin-Tōhoku Line (京浜東北線).
Access: One-minute walk towards the Ueno area from the Akihabara Station.
Price Range: From 500 to 8,000 yen.
Official Website: E-e-mon-arudē Tokushima (Japanese Only)