Natural washi dyeing with Yoshioka Sarasa
The use of synthetic dyes in textiles and paper dyeing is prevalent in the modern world; however, Japan's age-old practice of using plant-based materials and natural dyeing techniques is being carefully preserved and revived by the craftspeople of the 200-year-old family-run Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop in Kyoto. The 5th-generation head of the workshop, Yoshioka Sachio (1946–2019 CE) was greatly inspired by historical texts such as the Heian-period (794–1185 CE) novel The Tale of Genji, which vividly makes reference to more than 80 different colours, as well as natural dye recipes found in the ceremonial records, Engishiki, of the same era.
Yoshioka Sachio’s dedication and expertise led to the workshop’s involvement in creating important ceremonial dyed textile and paper items for the Yakushi-ji and the Todai-ji temples in Nara. For the Todai-ji temple’s annual Shuni-e ceremony, the workshop produces naturally dyed colourful paper camellia blossoms (tsubaki). One of the colours used in the dyeing of the paper blossoms is yellow, extracted from the bright yellow inner bark of the Amur cork tree (kihada). The colour has been treasured in Japan since ancient times and often used for dyeing the paper for Buddhist sutras.
Another significance of the naturally derived yellow pigment is that it is needed to produce green-coloured dye. Though green is abundant in nature, the green pigment chlorophyll is too weak, so yellow dye from kihada is applied over a layer of indigo dye to produce naturally dyed green washi (Japanese paper) or textiles.
In April 2019, 6th-generation dyer and weaver Yoshioka Sarasa demonstrated the art of extracting yellow pigment from kihada and using it to dye washi in yellow and green colours. The demonstration coincided with the exhibition Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations (5 April–19 May 2019) which explored the work of the Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop in Kyoto.