Initiative introduction

I want to revive Amami’s indigo dyeing culture. <> “Amami Aizen Study Group” that conveys the blessings of nature and the charm of handiwork

The clear emerald green sea that spreads out in front of you. The unique and beautiful color that is highly transparent and soothes the mind is called Amami Blue.

Amami Oshima, which is located between the mainland of Kagoshima prefecture and Okinawa, is a paradise where cycads, banyan trees, mangroves, and other tropical green plants grow thick and untouched nature remains. Photogenic landscapes that can only be found on this island can be found here and there.

We have a connection with Amami, which is rich in nature, and at each timing, we moved from Tokyo or Kanagawa to Kakeromajima in Amami, and Junichi Mizutani, the representative of the Amami Aizen Study Group, and his wife, the deputy representative. This is Rika.

Currently, we have set up a study group with volunteers from local villages, and have turned the closed elementary school into a workshop or atelier, and are working with writers and volunteers from the island.

Why did we really come to face Amami’s Aizen? Let me introduce you to the historical Amami indigo dyeing culture, its charm, and future initiatives while looking back on the history of the past.

Guided by the edge, move from the city to Amami in a natural way

Originally, I, Junichi, ran an IT company in Tokyo, but at one point I got sick and stayed in Amami for a long time for medical treatment, which was the reason for my migration.

I stayed on Kakeromajima, a small island about 20 minutes by boat from the main island of Amami, and while helping the fields, my body became healthy while interacting with nature. I went.

After that, I returned to Tokyo once, but I got a lot of consultations such as “I want to make a paste with herbs that can be harvested on the island”, and while helping them, I was able to make deeper relationships with the people of the island. .. Emigration to the island was also a natural process for me.

It was actually Kakeromajima that I met Rika. It is said that there is a ritual of dedication of dance at the shrine on the island, so when I was helping, she was one of the dancers. My wife looks back on those days.

“The teacher who was learning the dance has a connection with Kakeromajima, and I was with the teacher and friends for the dedication of the dance on February 22, 2015. I am about the island. I didn’t know the details, and the time I stayed at the place I went to for the first time was about 3 hours.

Until then, Rika had worked for a music-related company in Tokyo for many years. Work hard on weekdays and immerse yourself in your hobbies on weekends. From that time, he was interested in herbs, medicinal herbs, dyed goods, textiles, etc. and enjoyed it as a hobby. With my life on Kakeromajima, I have more and more opportunities to come into contact with natural plants.

At one point, Rika witnesses a pile of “medicinal herbs called weeds” that are piled up by mowing several times a year. From that time on, I took over the fact that I couldn’t stand being thrown away as it was, and I began to enjoy using it for herbal teas and bath herbs. Gradually, I began to wonder if I could create something that made me feel more like an island.

If there are so many healthy and energetic plants around her, she wants to take advantage of them and starts making things using local herbs.

When I made an herb ball stuffed with medicinal herbs on the island (a tool that originated in Thailand and is used for massage etc., wrapped in a cloth with several kinds of herbs), I tried indigo dyeing the cloth to be wrapped at the request of a friend. That was my encounter with Ai.

Currently, he presides over the brand “Hitsuki Hoshikusa” that shares the blessings of plants. Tsurumine herb tincture, which is a combination of moon peach and Amami’s brown sugar liquor, and Tsurumine Hachimangu (Chigasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture), which is known as one of the three major cancer-sealing companies, made a request for withdrawal salt. In addition to herbal bath salts using o), we are also working on “brown rice herb cairo” and “eye pillow” wrapped in indigo cloth, and we are more and more attracted to the possibilities and charms of indigo.

Amami and Aizen, their historical deep relationship

Let me explain the history of Amami and Aizen for a moment. Since ancient times, indigo dyeing has been performed in Amami using indigo that grows naturally in the mountains. According to the oldest record of Amami’s indigo dyeing, Ryukyu Ai (called “Koai”) was recorded in the investigation record of Ito Sukezaemon, a feudal lord who was ordered by the Satsuma Domain to serve as a medicinal herb in 1829. The description of is left.

Ryukyu Ai is a perennial plant of the Acanthaceae family. Widely distributed in Southeast Asia, Thailand, India, Taiwan, etc. Currently, it is cultivated in some areas of Okinawa in Japan, but in the past it seems that it grew naturally on Amami Oshima.

Ryukyu indigo was put into water and fermented, and cotton, basho, silk, etc. were dyed to make twill weaves and morning clothes. Ryukyu indigo dyeing has a history of using Ryukyu indigo dyeing for mud dyeing and other dyeing of Amami Oshima Tsumugi, a traditional craft that has been passed down since 1300 years ago.

This Ryukyu indigo is a special indigo that grows only in a limited hot area, unlike the Tadeai and Indian indigo that are often used for general indigo dyeing. Surprisingly, the flowers bloom only once every 10 years. Due to its low fertility and the inability to produce seeds, it can only be increased by cuttings. Even in Okinawa, production has been declining in recent years, and its rarity is increasing.

In the first place, 98% of the products called indigo dyeing on the market are said to use chemically synthesized artificial indigo, and only 2% of natural indigo dyeing products. Most of the natural products are made from buckwheat, and Ryukyu indigo is about a quarter of that. It is a really rare indigo that can only be met on the southern islands.

In Amami, indigo dyeing seems to have been popular from the end of the Edo period to the beginning of the Meiji era. In Kakeromajima (Setouchi Town), there is a description that indigo leaves are harvested around August of the lunar calendar, soaked in water for about 2 days, pulled up, and then mixed with baked coral to make dye. Was there.

From the end of the Meiji era to the beginning of the Taisho era, a dyeing business using Ryukyu indigo was carried out in the area called Yamago in Setouchi Town, but it gradually declined due to the invention of imported indigo and artificial indigo. In January 1973 (Showa 48), Mr. Yukio Shigeno, who was studying and writing Amami’s historical culture and dyeing and weaving, discovered Ryukyu Ai that grows naturally on Yoroshima and worked on increasing production and industrialization. Unfortunately, this also seems to have disappeared.

In this way, as we investigated the historical materials of Aizen, it gradually became clear that Amami had a deep history in Aizen.

Aizen culture that seems to be cut off “It’s a waste to end”

At one point, we visited “Yoshikawa Kobo” in Katoku, Setouchi Town. If you like indigo dyeing, you may know it. At the age of 48, his husband, Yoshihiro Yoshikawa, went into the mountains and searched for Ryukyu indigo for many years. I found. A passionate craftsman who worked on the revival of Amami’s Aizen.

Mr. Yoshikawa cultivates Ryukyu indigo in his own field, collects it to make traditional natural dyes, and has been involved in indigo dyeing here for about 40 years.

Rika recalls the shock of encountering Aizen, which Mr. Yoshikawa worked on, saying, “It’s really beautiful, the color of indigo is deep, and it’s very beautiful.”

“It’s a dark blue that is deeper and deeper than the indigo dye that you generally see. I’ve never seen this kind of indigo dye before. It’s completely different from other indigo dyes. This is not a shade that can only be achieved with Ryukyu indigo. I also heard that the goodness of the water in the Kadoku village (where the workshop is located) has something to do with it. “

By meeting Mr. Yoshikawa, we deepened our feelings for Ryukyu Ai.

Unfortunately, Mr. Yoshikawa died two years ago, and the technology has not been inherited. Right now, the survival of Amami’s Aizen is in a critical situation. The reality that the culture of indigo dyeing, which we have steadily built up sincerely, is once again cut off, made us feel uncomfortable.

“It’s too wasteful to end here.”

It can be really hard to start from scratch, but I started to think it was worth trying for myself. We grow Ryukyu indigo in our fields, harvest it, build indigo, dye it, and present our works. It would be ideal if we could do all of them. And I thought it would be great if we could do it in Kakeromajima, where we live.

Compared to Tateai, Ryukyu Ai has not been researched or investigated yet, and there are many things that we do not understand. Even if I search the literature, I can’t find anything that has been quantified properly. A little research has been done at Ryukyu University, but the climate and soil are different between the case of Okinawa and Amami Oshima, so it is not clear yet what is the correct answer.

At this point, we have no choice but to put it into practice ourselves.

Established “Amami Aizen Study Group” and turned elementary school into a workshop and atelier

Then, in 2019 (Reiwa 1st year), we launched the “Amami Aizen Study Group” with volunteers from the local village.

Currently, I rented a school lunch room in a closed elementary school in the Tawara village of Kakeromajima as a workshop, and although it is still in the experimental stage, I am researching and practicing indigo-building techniques and dyeing techniques. We have also started trial production of various indigo dyeing works.

This elementary school was set up by Aya Sada of “Natural Nunodokoro no Ya”, a weaving and dyeing artist living in Kakei Roma, as “Kakeroma Handwork Studio”, and several creators used the classroom as an atelier. It is also being used, and we have the island’s handicraft writers get involved in indigo dyeing together, which is useful for making works.

Furthermore, in order to grow indigo by ourselves, we rented land for cultivation and created a field starting from mowing. We visit Ryukyu indigo producers, mud indigo producers, and dyers in Okinawa to divide the seedlings, and while learning the knowledge of agriculture, we continue to raise seedlings through trial and error with farmers. Currently, I am trying to grow Ryukyu indigo with a farmer, and I am trying various ways to make indigo dye.

The more you know, the more interesting Ai is, and the more interesting it is to explore. There is an indigo field on the island, and there is also an indigo dyeing workshop and an atelier for writers in the elementary school, so it is an environment where it is easy to move in cooperation.

In the future, I would be happy if I could expand the range of my works and expressions by having writers utilize Ryukyu Ai, and while increasing the value of Ryukyu Ai, I hope that it will lead to income for each. In addition, I would like to be able to circulate and develop the region centered on indigo dyeing.

Aiming for the development of Amami and Kakeromajima with indigo as the axis

As for future efforts, various ideas based on indigo dyeing are expanding. For example, we are developing a program like a kit that makes it easy to dye at home by publishing a video of how to dye online. Also, it would be nice to have a box set where you can enjoy Amami’s vegetation and a membership-based community, packed with products using island herbs along with Aizen. We hope that you will learn about Amami’s culture, herbs, and Ryukyu indigo through the fun of dyeing.

Eventually, I would like to have Amami and Kakeromajima actually visit and plan a retreat tour that suits the season, such as indigo dyeing experience, island herb distillation experience, and entering the herb tent sauna. I am. Dreams will spread.

By meeting Ryukyu Ai, the relationships between people will expand and the things I want to do will overflow.

In this way, we are struggling every day to convey the charm of Amami, such as history, culture, and nature, to as many people as possible through indigo dyeing. We would be grateful if you could support and watch over the Amami Aizen Study Group. Thank you very much.

Amami Aizen Study Group

Junichi Mizutani

Deputy Representative, Rika Mizutani