I was tempted to leave the title as “Traditional Japanese Dying,” but realized I didn’t want to mislead with a click-bait title. If you’ve ever seen traditional Japanese textiles with a blueish indigo dye, there’s a very high chance that it was perpared using the traditional dying technique known as Shibori. In a small city in Aichi prefecture known as Arimatsu the tradition is a real cultural and historical treasure.
Shibori on the Old Tokaido Road
Arimatsu was once a rest stop on the Tokaido, a famous road that stretched up the Eastern coast of the main island of Japan. Arimatsu, in an effort to get more business from its prestigious place on the Tokaido, started to sell textiles and developed their own style of dying that soon became famous with travelers. The tradition originated with a man by the name of Takeda Shokuro, and he was given official recognition for his deeds in originating the Arimatsu Shibori style by the lord of Owari. The craft can be traced all the way back to 1603 in the area.
The cool thing about shibori is its emphasis on artisans working together. Each part requires a skilled person to complete before moving onto the next intricate step. First, you have the pattern makers, who take large sheets of plastic and chisel out the designs they wish for the cloth. Next come the pattern printers, who use special inks and massive brushes to paint over the cloth with the patterns in place, completing the first stage of dyeing. Next, women, skilled with sewing, stitch the cloth to prepare the cloth for further dyeing. This is the really impressive part, as how they twist and tie the cloth will determine how the patterns will shape in the final dyeing process. It was said that for about 400 years, a girl was not considered a woman until she could properly stitch a cloth for Shibori in Arimatsu. The dexterity and speed with which these women stitch is really something to see! After the stitching and dyeing, the stitches are removed and the cloth is laid out to finish.
Shibori Museum (Shibori Kaikan)
I saw all of this and more at the Shibori Museum, just outside Arimatsu Meitetsu station on the old dye loop, which surrounds the historical area of Arimatsu. It’s free to go in and look at the artifacts and demonstrations, so it is definitely worth a look. They have some staff on-hand who speak a bit of English and will gladly play the museum video in English for you if you ask (it’s about 10 minutes long and is full of great information). Their website provides a small glimpse of what you can see at the museum itself.
The gifts there are beautiful and I hope I can afford to get something nice there one day! They have hats, ties, dresses, shirts, and traditional Japanese clothes. Are you a fan of the indigo patterns? What Shibori goods would you like to buy if you visited? Let us know in the comments below!