Aizome Indigo Dyeing Workshop Visit Conversation with Higeta Tadashi

The Higeta Aizome Indigo Dyeing Studio in Mashiko, Tochigi Prefecture, dates back to the Kansei era (1789–1801 CE) of the Edo period.

The workshop is run by Higeta Tadashi, master craftsman of aizome (indigo dyeing) and ninth-generation head of the workshop, who succeeded his father, Higeta Hiroshi, in 2003.

While his father produced masterful stencil-dyed works, Higeta Tadashi has added weaving techniques to the indigo dyeing processes handed down from the Edo period and now focuses his energies on both crafts. He is involved in every part of the process, from growing cotton to spinning yarn, dyeing with indigo, and weaving. He revived the production of brown-coloured Mashiko cotton and still cultivates it for use in many of his works.

The dyeing workshop of Higeta Aizome is located in a 200-year-old thatched house that exemplifies local Mashiko architecture. Its interiors, largely preserved in their original form, represent a typical example of what a rural indigo dyeing studio would have looked like during the time when indigo dyeing was at its peak in Japan, at the end of the Edo period (1603 - 1867 CE).

The vat storage room of the workshop houses 72 indigo fermentation vats filled with leaves of Japanese indigo (persicaria tinctoria), the plant used to produce indigo dye in many different shades.

After the leaves are added to the vats, they are left to ferment, usually for between 10 to 14 days. Foam building on top of the vats, which is produced as part of the fermentation process and referred to as ‘indigo flowers’, is an indicator for when the dye is ready to be used.

Depending on the number of dyeing cycles, a lighter or deeper shade of indigo can be achieved.

In addition to indigo, Higeta Tadashi also uses vegetable dyes to achieve colours such as reds and yellows.

Indigo dyeing has a long tradition in Japan. It is particularly well-suited to dyeing cotton, a material that grew in popularity during the Edo period. The enduring presence of indigo dyeing in Japan has led not only to a high level of skill among aizome craftspeople but also to the colour being referred to widely as ‘Japan Blue’.

Today, both the building and its fermentation vats are registered as a ‘Tangible Cultural Properties’ of Tochigi Prefecture.

Following his father, Higeta Tadashi received the Person of Cultural Merit recognition in 2018.