Watanabe indigo Dyehouse

Watanabe indigo Dyehouse

At the Gujo Hachiman castle town
deep in the heart of the mountains,
we have been passing down
the traditional indigo dying techniques
intently for more than
430 years since our founding.

An introduction to Gujo Hachiman

Located the center of Gifu prefecture, Gujo Hachiman, it is a "castle town that was constructed in the Edo period and whose ancient townscapes stand to this day as a vivid vestige of the times". An aqueduct which is said to have started construction around the Edo period stretches throughout the town, and it is also called the "town of water" due to the echoes of murmuring streams. Furthermore, for "Gujo Odori", one of Japan's 3 largest Bon Festival dances, the people were said to have been ordered by the lord of the castle in the Edo period to "dance for the 4 days of Bon without regard for social status" in order to create peace among samurai, farmers, artisans and merchants, and the all-night dancing still continues to this day as a fascinating sight to see (partially excerpted from the Gujo City Tourism Alliance).

Reminders of winter in Gujo
The carp banners
streaming in the cold water

Reminders of winter in Gujo The carp banners streaming in the cold water
What is the Gujo Indigo Dye?

What is the Gujo Indigo Dye?

Gujo Indigo Dye is a traditional Japanese "true indigo dye" which has been passed down from the Edo period for over 400 years. True indigo dye is a traditional dyeing method where natural indigo materials are used as opposed to the chemical dyes that are popular today, and there are few "Kouya", true indigo dying specialists operating today. Natural indigo dye is said to have an insect repellent effect and has been a prized for use in wrapping cloths and clothing since ancient times. With time the dark blues eventually fade to light blues, and the tone of true indigo dye has come to be called "Japan blue" overseas where it is highly praised as well. Also, in the "carp banners streaming in the cold", a beloved reminder of winter in Gujo Hachiman, you can enjoy the sight of brilliant carp banners that appear to be majestically swimming in the water.

The history of Gujo Indigo Dyehouse

In 1580, Watanabe indigo Dyehouse was born in Gujo Hachiman, a castle town nestled deeply in the mountains. We have passed down our dyeing techniques for over 400 years since then, evolving along with human history. In the Edo period in the castle town of Gujo Hachiman it flourished in mostly as an item for Samurai clothing, etc., and in the Taisho period there were still 17 shops in the Gujo Hachiman shopping district, but today Watanabe Dyehouse is the only one that remains. Characterized by "tsutsugaki" or tube painting, Watanabe Dyehouse draws every pattern for each item by hand, dying over and over again with the greatest care. We have maintained the proper indigo dyeing techniques that draw out the beauty of true indigo dye and convey the handcrafted warmth.
Indigo dye
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Indigo dye History

True indigo dye is created by mixing sukumo, fermented indigo grass of the knotweed family with lye and quicklime, etc., embedding it into soil to brew in a vat. The fermented dye liquid is in a so-called "living state", so it is stirred every day with careful attention paid to the temperature and humidity. The technique which has also been passed down tirelessly since our founding is also one of the appeals of true indigo dyeing. Currently, in addition to seasonal festival items, we also create store signs and tapestries, hanten coats for festivals, bags and Western clothing, stoles, and many other products. We draw each pattern by hand, and in order to dye carefully with natural dyes an artisan performs the dyeing by hand while feeling the texture, creating made-to-order items and individual gifts such as family crests and nametags that always please our customers.

Process

1 Rough sketch/glue laying

1Rough sketch/glue laying

We draw a pattern on the cotton or hemp cloth, etc., apply natural sticky rice glue leaving it on the places which are not to be colored.
2 Coloring

2Coloring

We perform the coloring using colorant dissolved into squeezed soy bean juice.
3 Indigo dyeing

3Indigo dyeing

We immerse the item in the natural indigo dye to dye it indigo.
4 Rinsing

4Rinsing

We rinse it off in clear river water. Depending on the desired final color depth and design, we may repeat the dying and rinsing process up to around a dozen times.

Carp banners

Carp banners are a time-honored custom in Japan that developed in the Edo period. Based on a historical tradition in China saying that "many fish tried to swim up the Toryumon waterfall in order to become dragons, but only the carp were able to", the tradition started as a way of imitating this in human life and became a symbol of the "carp waterfall climbing" seasonal festivals. Originally it was only the largest "black carp" such as the ones featured in Edo period woodblock prints, but from around the Meiji period "red carp" and from the Showa period "young carp" were added and became mainstream. Today with the increase in apartment housing, etc., small carp banners are also enjoyed. Watanabe Dyehouse employs the "kachin dyeing method" which uses squeezed soy bean juice as pigment to carefully paint the patterns such as the fishes' eyes and scales one by one. The "streaming in the cold", where this paste is rinsed off, has become a reminder of winter in Gujo Hachiman, drawing many tourists from Japan and abroad every year.

Process

1 Rough sketch/glue laying

1Rough sketch/glue laying

We draw a pattern on the cotton cloth, etc., apply natural sticky rice glue leaving it on the places which are not to be colored.
2 Coloring

2Coloring

We perform the coloring with a paint brush using colorant dissolved into squeezed soy bean juice.
3 Cold water streaming

3Cold water streaming

The dyed carp banners are left overnight in water, removing the paste by hand. With the "cold streaming" that takes place in the dead of winter, the cloth shrinks, creating a more vivid texture.
4 Sewing/finishing

4Sewing/finishing

The dried carp banners are sewn together, and finally completed by attaching bamboo muzzles.
Indigo dye
Continue Reading

Indigo dye History

True indigo dye is created by mixing sukumo, fermented indigo grass of the knotweed family with lye and quicklime, etc., embedding it into soil to brew in a vat. The fermented dye liquid is in a so-called "living state", so it is stirred every day with careful attention paid to the temperature and humidity. The technique which has also been passed down tirelessly since our founding is also one of the appeals of true indigo dyeing. Currently, in addition to seasonal festival items, we also create store signs and tapestries, hanten coats for festivals, bags and Western clothing, stoles, and many other products. We draw each pattern by hand, and in order to dye carefully with natural dyes an artisan performs the dyeing by hand while feeling the texture, creating made-to-order items and individual gifts such as family crests and nametags that always please our customers.

Process

1 Rough sketch/glue laying

1Rough sketch/glue laying

We draw a pattern on the cotton or hemp cloth, etc., apply natural sticky rice glue leaving it on the places which are not to be colored.
2 Coloring

2Coloring

We perform the coloring using colorant dissolved into squeezed soy bean juice.
3 Indigo dyeing

3Indigo dyeing

We immerse the item in the natural indigo dye to dye it indigo.
4 Rinsing

4Rinsing

We rinse it off in clear river water. Depending on the desired final color depth and design, we may repeat the dying and rinsing process up to around a dozen times.
Carp banners
Continue Reading

Carp banners

Carp banners are a time-honored custom in Japan that developed in the Edo period. Based on a historical tradition in China saying that "many fish tried to swim up the Toryumon waterfall in order to become dragons, but only the carp were able to", the tradition started as a way of imitating this in human life and became a symbol of the "carp waterfall climbing" seasonal festivals. Originally it was only the largest "black carp" such as the ones featured in Edo period woodblock prints, but from around the Meiji period "red carp" and from the Showa period "young carp" were added and became mainstream. Today with the increase in apartment housing, etc., small carp banners are also enjoyed. Watanabe Dyehouse employs the "kachin dyeing method" which uses squeezed soy bean juice as pigment to carefully paint the patterns such as the fishes' eyes and scales one by one. The "streaming in the cold", where this paste is rinsed off, has become a reminder of winter in Gujo Hachiman, drawing many tourists from Japan and abroad every year.

Process

1 Rough sketch/glue laying

1Rough sketch/glue laying

We draw a pattern on the cotton cloth, etc., apply natural sticky rice glue leaving it on the places which are not to be colored.
2 Coloring

2Coloring

We perform the coloring with a paint brush using colorant dissolved into squeezed soy bean juice.
3 Cold water streaming

3Cold water streaming

The dyed carp banners are left overnight in water, removing the paste by hand. With the "cold streaming" that takes place in the dead of winter, the cloth shrinks, creating a more vivid texture.
4 Sewing/finishing

4Sewing/finishing

The dried carp banners are sewn together, and finally completed by attaching bamboo muzzles.

Product lineup

We produce various products for use in daily life including seasonal products. In addition to Western clothing and stoles, etc., we also have one-of-a-kind items with unique designs. Also feel free to inquire with us regarding family crests, logos, name tags, etc.
Product details

Gifu prefecture important intangible cultural asset information

Yasuhei Hishiya (Shokichi Watanabe), the 14th and previous shopkeeper of Watanabe Dyehouse, was designated as an important intangible cultural asset of Gifu prefecture in 1977. Due to the incorporation of modern technical elements into the traditional techniques, many of Yasuhira's products have been exhibited not only at nationwide one-man exhibitions, but also featured in overseas fashion shows, etc., conveying their appeal of true Gujo dyeing to people around the world. The true indigo dyeing techniques that he guarded and maintained throughout his lifetime have been passed down to the current and 15th shopkeeper, kazuyoshi Watanabe.

Notices

Store info

Watanabe Somemono Traditional indigo dye

737 Shimadani Hachimancho, Gujo-shi, Gifu Prefecture
Phone: +81-575-65-3959
Fax: +81-575-65-3958
Business hours: 10:00-17:00
Closed: Irregular holidays

Access

-If coming by train
25 minute walk from Gujō-Hachiman Station on the Nagaragawa Railway

-If coming from Gujō-Hachiman Station by bus
Gifu Bus highway Hachiman line: 5 minute walk from Joka-machi Plaza bus stop

-If coming by highway bus
Bus and Gifu Bus highway Hachiman line: 5 minute walk from Joka-machi Plaza bus stop

-If coming by car
10 minutes from the Gujo Hachiman interchange on the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway via the Tomei Expressway/Meishin Expressway Ichinomiya J.C