ABOUT Shouaihiyashizome (indigo dye)

Beautiful natural indigo dying inherited from woman to woman for generations

Shouaihiyashizome has been passed from generation to generation in the Chiba family. Shouaihiyashizome is a vegetable dye made from fermented indigo plants which are cultivated in the Moji district of Kurihara city, Miyagi. It is said that Shouaihiyashizome is Japan’s oldest dyeing technique to exist to this present day. This dyeing technique was originally introduced from China to Japan. Shouaihiyashizome flourished in Japan and popularity of this dyeing technique quickly spread.
However, during the Meiji era, cheap indigo imported from India started to infiltrate the Japanese market. This artificial blue dye was not only cheap but also easy to use. This led to the decline of the Shouaihiyashizome indigo dying technique. It is said that some people who lived in the farm villages in Tohoku dyed their clothes using Shoaihiyashizome at home until the early days of the Showa era or the last years of Taisho era.
The technique used with these imported dyes, required the warming of a vat and monitoring of the temperature so fermentation was possible throughout the year. The Shouaihiyashizome technique differed in that the craftsmen would never warm the indigo solution and just let it ferment naturally, so dyeing could only be done during the summer season. This is the reason why it is called “hiyasizome”. (Hiyashi means cold, zome means dying) There were approximately 20 families who practiced Shouaihiyashizome indigo dyeing in the Moji district during the Taisho era from the Meiji era, but since the years of Showa 20’s only the Chiba family is left.
Chutaro Sato, the founder of the Shiroishi Japanese rubbed copy printing and a member of the Oshu Shiroishi native industrial arts research institute was researching handiwork of Japanese craftsmen. He discovered and started his research of the Chiba’s family indigo dying processes. Sato studied how the Chiba’s perfected their indigo dyeing process, from the sowing of the indigo seeds, to the cultivation and raising of the indigo plants, through the making of lumps of indigo called Aidama from Sukumo (fermented indigo leaf). Sato’s report caught the eyes of Tomoyuki Yamanobe who was general manager of the Tokyo National Museum dyeing and weaving department. He admitted that Shouaihiyashizome is a precious technique in the history of dyeing. Ayano Chiba was recognized as the holder of important technical skills and a Living National Treasure in 1955. She received the Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure and is still the only living national treasure of the indigo dyeing industry. This technique was inherited by the second generation Yoshino and the current generation Matsue, who guards and protects the Chiba Family technique carefully.

By the cultural assets registration is “Shouaizome”.
“Shouaihiyashizome” is registered a trademark of the Chiba family.


Matsue Chiba Shouai hiyasizome

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