Satoh Kimono


Satoh Akihito was born in 1939 in Tokushima, Japan. He represents the nineteenth generation of indigo producers in his family, striving to protect the traditional heritage of indigo dye production.

Specializing in the production of Awa-ai, he was appointed the head of the Society for the Preservation of Awa-ai, a designated Intangible Cultural Treasure of Japan, and is also recognized as a highly accomplished craftsman in this field.
Indigo has been intimately associated with every-day life in Japan since ancient times, however with the influx of foreign indigo, Japanese indigo (tadeai) declined dramatically in production as we entered the Showa Era (1926-1989, Emperor Hirohito’s reign). There was even a period in which the Sato family was the only producer of traditional Japanese indigo, striving to preserve this heritage.

Below is my rough translation of an interview with Akihito Satoh conducted in the 1980s. The full, original interview is at the bottom of this page.

Katazome-dyed silk kimono from John’s collection. Dyed using Ise stencils and indigo produced by Akihito Satoh.

Documentation accompanying the kimono certifying authenticity. The label states that the dye is natural, ash-activated, Awa-ai. The stamp is the official stamp of the Nippon Aizome Bunka Kyoukai (Japan Indigo Culture Association).

Remnant from the bolt of fabric from which the kimono was sewn. Tokushima Awa Natural Indigo Dye; Ash-activated Method; Awa Indigo Production Designated Intagible Cultural Treasure: Satoh Akihito; Natural Ash-reduction Indigo Katazome Craft Preservationist: Ohsawa Ishio

Detail of dyed kimono.

Ishio Ohsawa posing with kimono he dyed using katazome process.

Hand-painted silk fukuro obi with certificate of authenticity folder.

Certificate of authenticity booklet along with various labels. The upper right label guarantees that the obi has been dyed with natural, ash-activated Awa-ai. The lower label tells of the wonders of natural indigo produced in Tokushima. And the folder to the right lists the following information: inventory number: 111702;  original owner: (blocked out in image above);  type of goods: fukuro obi; fiber content: silk;  technique: hand-painted using stick (sumi)  indigo; date of production: December 26, 2011;  indigo produced by: Akihito Satoh. It doesn’t list the name of the artist.

Detail of hand-painted indigo design on silk. In viewing the fabric up close in person, it is apparent that some gofun (powdered sea shell) has been added to the indigo when painting the blossoms.

Preserving Japan Blue

The world of natural indigo production is fraught with difficulties. The Japanese life style has veered toward Western tastes. This has been compounded by the vagaries of economic trends and the high prices of traditional goods and has caused the Japanese people to abandon traditional clothing styles in favor of garments produced with cheap synthetic colors.

In times past, each clan had its own castle with a rather dense population surrounding it. During times of war it was often necessary to sleep outdoors. The aroma of indigo helped to keep snakes and other poisonous creatures at bay. Indigo helps to mask body odor and prevent skin diseases.

During fires, any embers landing on indigo-dyed clothing were quickly extinguished, which is why traditional clothing for firemen is always dyed with natural indigo. Only natural, herbal indigo has these properties – synthetic indigo contains less than 1% of these active ingredients.

Even after hundreds of years, natural indigo will not color shift. If left stored away in chests it won’t be attacked by insects. There are a great many textiles remaining from the Edo Period (1603-1868, also known as the Tokugawa Era) that have retained their rich quality of color. After the first wash, during which time excess dye is rinsed out, the color will never bleed.

If the first time you wash awa-ai-dyed* fabric you do so along with white textiles you’ll find that the water may turn a bit blueish, but the white item itself will not turn blue – if color does stain the white, then you can be sure that the blue item was dyed with synthetic dye.

On the mainland of Japan the plant is an annual. The seeds are planted, tended through the summer, and dried and composted over the fall and winter months – just about a year long endeavor. In other countries indigo production is more a matter of weeks.

In March the seeds are sown, in April the seedlings set and allowed to flourish from the end of June and well into August. When the temperatures begin to reach 30ºC (around 85ºF) harvest begins. Once the plant is cut, new leaves will develop allowing for a second harvest.

stirring indigo compost pile

Composting the leaves is a time consuming and delicate operation.  A temperature of around 60º~70ºC (roughly 150ºF) must be maintained for the first one hundred days. Every five days, water must be added and the entire batch turned, churned, and mixed to maintain the proper moisture level. The temperature doesn’t drop much until around the tenth of October, but around the twentieth the weather starts to change quickly and the temperature can drop suddenly. This is just about the time the leaves on the ginkgo tree start to change into autumn yellows (around October 20th) and so these ubiquitous trees are used as an indicator. **

placing mats over indigo pile for insulation

Mats of woven grasses are prepared and used to cover the mounds of composting leaves. This is a crucial time in the production of the indigo – constant monitoring is required becoming quite a war of nerves – negligence spells disaster. Depending on how cold it gets, one, two, or three layers of mats may be employed to insulate the heat generating compost.

The composting leaves must be periodically churned. Starting work at 5:30 in the morning, the workers do this barefoot to help gauge the temperature (65ºC/150ºF) as the mixture is shoveled and raked, adjusting the moisture content as needed, while also monitoring the health of the indigo by its aroma. All senses are put to use by the experienced indigo master, working at this back-breaking job until around 3:00 in the afternoon.

As the autumn progresses, there are times when the temperatures drop without warning. The mounds must be sprayed with Japanese sake without delay, and the situation monitored, requiring every bit of experience and intuition at the disposal of the indigo master.

war time footage showing indigo being uprooted to plant food crops

During WWII the national policy of Japan outlawed the production of indigo. Since synthetic indigo was commonly used by this time it was decided that the farmland required for the production of natural indigo could be put to better use raising food crops.

Tadeai (Polygonum tinctorum), the plant used in producing the exquisite colors of Awa-ai, is an annual. Freezing seeds for the future was not an option at that time. To stop cultivating it for even one year would have spelled the end of a six-hundred year history of production in Shikoku.

Heisuke decided early on that indigo production was to be his life’s blood, and that no matter what the cost, he must do all in his power to save the plant and the traditions for future generations. This sounds like a heroic tale in terms of today, but at the time he would have been branded a traitor with dire consequences.

With the burden of this knowledge, Satou Heisuke *** left his home and village to take to the mountains and raise clandestine crops of tade-ai. Crop after crop he saved the seeds for the following year and posterity. He represented the seventeenth generation of indigo producers in his region and could not allow the plant to die out. It has been twenty-one years since we lost the war and indigo is experiencing a revival in interest. But around 1950 all interest in natural indigo disappeared. It must have seemed foolish to have gone to all that effort to save the seeds. In the end, Heisuke wound up working at a dairy farm just to make ends meet. Even so, he just couldn’t let the tade-ai go extinct and kept at it on the side.

Thanks to his long suffering efforts and devotion we have inherited this rare treasure, the beauty of Japan blue.

The Japanese citizen of today has all but forgotten the beauty of natural indigo – but this is only because they are rarely exposed to the real thing. It was through the perseverance of Heisuke that it exists today. He would often say, “Isn’t it enough if even only one person keeps the real tradition alive?” (Of course there is the Japanese saying, “You really have to tolerate the one fool among a hundred thousand …”

Today there are a few indigo experts producing the real thing. Traditional tade-ai dyeing was designated an Intangible Cultural Treasure in 1978, when I was thirty seven.

I have done research throughout Southeast Asia and there is no indigo as wonderful as Japanese indigo. We have samples of textiles dyed over three hundred years ago that look as fresh as they day they were dipped, with no preservatives other than the dye itself, while textiles dyed from other sources have fallen into fragments. I strongly believe that we must protect the traditions of this unique natural process.

Natural indigo has become quite expensive even though it used to be the dye of the masses. There are so few farmers left that it has become quite an ordeal to produce the indigo. Even if the young people of today want to learn the process they are geared toward learning with their brains and not their bodies. This type of process must be learned with every muscle in your body, at a cellular level of gut feeling. It requires living the life of an indigo farmer day in and day out.

There are so many imposters and imitations out in the world today, it’s getting harder and harder to know how to differentiate the real from the fake. With all the research into synthetic dyes, it is important not to lose track of the experiences of our ancestors and all they went through to preserve this treasure for posterity. Our indigo is perfect for hot weather, perfect for cold weather and the quality of our indigo is on par with that of the past.

–Akihito Satoh in front of display of photos of his grand father, father, self, and son. August,2013

*Awa-ai is tadeai produced in the Awa region of Shikoku

**There are many natural indicators that the farmer will watch for to help him know just when the seeds of the new crop should be sewn.  When the swallows begin to take flight, when the aoi (Alcea rosea) begins to bloom, when the migratory ducks arrive, when the ginkgo starts to bud – to name just a few.

***A seventeenth-generation indigo producer and grandfather of Akihito.


佐藤昭人(日本藍染文化協会会長)      ジャパンブルーを守る
1939年生れ  徳島県特産の藍染め原料作りの伝統を守り続けている藍師の19代目で、江戸時代から続くという伝統の製法で藍染めの原料を作っています
藍の葉を発酵させてつくる染料「すくも」 ジャパンブルー

ジャパンブルー 明治の時にイギリス人が言いだした
各藩にお城が有って 多くの人がいて、藍染めは体臭を外に出さない
皮膚病には絶対ならない  戦争の時に野宿しても藍染めは蛇も毒物も絶対寄ってこない
自然の草が原料でないと薬効が無い 殆どが化学染料  1%位しかない
何百年経っても変色しない  箪笥に入れていても虫は付かない


今徳島には藍師は専業が3人、勤めていてやっているのが2人 で合計5人です
たで科の草  明治36年までは1万3000~5000ヘクタールあった
現在は20ヘクタール位  1/1000位になってしまった    先進国で残っているのは珍しい

草の葉は本土のみ たで科の1年草  春に種をまく 草を作って乾燥させて 12月に仕上げる  1年工程 で作る
外国は数週間で出来る  (藍の製造は)  手間がかかって大変   すくも 1年掛る

3月に種をまく 4月に定植する 6月の末 7月、8月  摂氏30度の頃に収穫する
一回かったら芽が出てきて 2回ちょっと収穫できる
発酵させてゆく 摂氏60度~70度で100日間一定に温度を保って、5日に一回地下水を掛けて混ぜてやる
10月10日までは気温があまり下がらない  10月20日過ぎて急に下がる
藁で編んだ筵を掛ける  (10月20日前後)  イチョウの葉の色が紅葉が始まる
そうするとむしろを掛ける  藍の原料を作るのには大切な時期 神経戦  油断ができない
寒さ対策 2枚に3枚にと、かぶせてゆく

裸足で自分の足に当って其の温度を叩き込まれる(65℃)  やけどもある

5時半ごろに起きてきて、臭い、温度、自分で把握しておく  夕方に3時終わる
日本酒を吹く 5升位吹く
瓶に仕込む時にも日本酒を使う  自然の様子を気にしながら、(目安にしながら)作業をする
ツバメが飛んできたら、次の代半?」に種をまけとか  立ち葵の一番下が咲いたら、つる?に入るとか  鴨が来たら、いちょうが黄色くなったら、何をするとか 叩き込まれた


藍は1年草なので当時冷凍ができなくて祖父が、山奥で隠れて栽培して、繰り返して種を保存した (17代目の人)
戦争に負けて21年に復活した  藍の種を守る
昭和40年ごろから売るものが無くなって 、酪農で生活を支えて 藍の技術を絶やしたらいけないと続けた
今は数人は藍師がいる  国の無形文化財になる  昭和53年  (私が37歳の時)
外国は技術が残っているなあという程度  外国は木の葉が原料
葵の紋の着物 300年経っているが染めたばかりの様な綺麗な色  防虫剤も要らない

世の中はまがい物が多すぎて、どれが本物か判らない  違いが判る事は難しい
化学染料は洗うほど醒めてくる(ジーパン等) それがおしゃれだと思う    今は難しい
藍は暑いほど良い、冬は寒いほど良い  今年の原料は順調に進んでいる


Dyeing with Fresh-Leaf Indigo, Limited Edition

Well, it’s finally edited, printed, bound, and ready to go! I have been working on this book for years now and am quite pleased to be able to offer it to those of you interested in natural indigo.

View showing cover and spine

The cover is Japanese silk I’ve dyed with the fresh-leaf indigo from my garden in Northern California, laminated to a wood core.

Detail of cover along with the stencil used to apply the paste resist

Above is a detail of the cover design. First, the silk–a Japanese jacquard–was dyed using a cold, fresh-leaf vat. The stencil to the right was then used to apply the rice-paste resist to the silk. The image of the tadeai indigo leaves and blossoms was dyed with the aibana saved from a reduced vat, and the entire piece dunked several times in the dry-leaf, reduced vat to build up color. Once the paste was washed out, additional tints of non-reduced indigo pigment and a touch of iron-rust pigment from my well were added to the leaves and blossoms, respectively.

Yardage with paste, stretched overhead in traditional Japanese manner

Aibana covering top of reduced vat

Accent applied over paste using aibana from top of vat

Yardage suspended over vat–first dunk

Second dunk in indigo vat

Yardage with paste and aibana accent after fourth dunk






Table of contents

The two pages of What’s Inside will give you a pretty good idea of all that is included.

Open to page 30/31–fountain pen added to give sense of scale

The image below is an example of the types of samples included with the directions. It was created with rice-paste resist pushed through a stencil I carved in the 1980s. Aibana pigment was applied as accents and the cotton yardage was then dunked twelve times in the dry-leaf, reduced tadeai vat before the paste was rinsed out. A final coat of soymilk was applied to prevent crocking, strengthen the silk, and help keep the silk resistant to soiling.

Detail of sample on page 31, Okinawan Landscape

Below are several sample pages illustrating the range of blues possible with fresh-leaf indigo on a variety of fibers. Each page is printed on heavy-stock, acid-free paper. The pages are dye-cut,  kimono silhouettes. The bound book is 12-1/2″ by 6-3/4″.  After quite a bit of research and experimentation, I developed a method of binding in which the pages have been laminated to silk at the spine and stitched to create an enduring hinge. The book will easily stay open without curling pages, inviting regular use.










Last page of book

The page above is placed at the very end of the book. It states the edition number of the one hundred copies I’ve prepared. It also includes a coupon for seeds when you are ready to plant (the coupon will be returned with the seeds).

If you are interested in ordering the book, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at, or you may purchase the book through PayPal by clicking on the button below.

$450  (Feel free to inquire about payment plans.)

Fresh-Leaf Indigo Clamp Resist 生藍板締め

 Itajime Michiyuki

I’m always on the look out for new weaves, dyes, and dye techniques to add to my collection. I was happy to stumble upon this garment and recognize it as having been dyed with fresh-leaf indigo. It is clamp-resist dyeing on a very nice quality Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu).

Full front view of a michiyuki dyed with fresh-leaf tadeai indigo on silk using clamp resist (itajime)


Detail of the michiyuki above (the fan shapes are part of the jacquard pattern in the weave)

It’s always fun to try to figure out exactly how something was accomplished. Below is my guess as to what the block for clamp resist must have looked like based on the pattern we see.

The thin, baby-blue lines indicate the fold lines of the design. The red image indicates the shape of the block required to achieve this repetitious pattern.

If the silk is folded along the baby-blue lines indicated above, we wind up with a layered rectangle as seen below. The fabric is sandwiched between two blocks and clamped. Only the exposed areas of silk will receive a saturation of color – although because of the length of time required to soak the fiber in a fresh-leaf vat, some dye will wick under the clamped areas giving the beautifully variegated look see in the finished piece.  What fun!

Folded and clamped yardage

Of course, I could be wrong…

The red circle indicates a distinctly white (resisted) line.

In the detail above we can see a distinctly white line. This resisted area can’t be accounted for with the method I suggested above. I wonder what would work?

The red line traces the general path of the white, resisted area.

The block from the earlier attempt cut into two new blocks.

If I draw a border in from the edge of the block used in the earlier attempt to mimic the dye pattern, and then using a scroll saw to separate this border from the center section, I will wind up with two distinct blocks with which to clamp my fabric, allowing me to work in stages.

The yellow area indicates a piece of plywood used to help hold the blocks in place and to distribute the pressure when the clamps are applied.

I’ll start by fitting the two blocks together and placing them as I did above. A piece of plywood or plexiglass will help to distribute the pressure of the clamps and hold the blocks in place. Once the exposed areas are dunked several times in the indigo, I removed the clamps and while being careful not to disturb the border block, removed the center block.

The center block removed, and the border block re-clamped with a new layer of plywood.

The red, border block needs to remain in position to ensure the white area of the design continues to be resisted. I’ve prepared a new sheet of plywood, this time with holes to allow the dye to flow into the moat created by the border block. OK, this will work. But if I’m going to use two different plywood forms, then who needs the center block?

Updated version: start with the border block, front and back, in position.

This is my streamlined solution: I start with two red border blocks, one on top, one on bottom. I place a solid plywood form on top and bottom and clamp in place (I would use several more than just two C-clamps in this case). Dye the outer, exposed edges.

The solid plywood form swapped out for the perforated form.

Next remove the clamps and swap out the solid plywood form for that with the holes. Dunk several more times, and you’re all set!

I’ll let you know once I’ve had a chance to actually try out my theory – but if you get to it first let me know your results!

Rokutani Baiken, Living National Treasure 人間国宝 六谷梅軒

Auspicious Gourd Pattern on Silk Chirimen (Japanese Crepe)

End of bolt for the design called Cluster of Guords, showing artist’s label, Baiken Rokutani

This is a marvelous example of extremely fine stencil
carving by Rokutani Baiken, who was declared a Living National Treasure in 1955 and passed away in 1973.

Master Ise Stencil Carver Rokutani Baiken
重要無形文化財 伊勢型紙錐彫 保持者

1907(明治40) 三重県鈴鹿市に生まれる
born 1907 in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture
1919(大正 8)  父・芳蔵のもとで修行
began studies under his father, Rokutani Bouzou
1939(昭和14) 独立
became independent
1942(昭和17) 小宮康助の勧めで極鮫小紋の研究
began research into extremely fine, sharkskin-pattern stencils while working for Komiya Kousuke
1955(昭和30) 重要無形文化財保持者「伊勢型紙錐彫」に認定
designated as Living National Treasure (preserver of the hole punch style of Ise katagami)

Close up of both sides of the bolt

As you can see from the back, the entire bolt was first dyed a solid color in a vat of fresh-leaf tadeai (Persicaria tinctoria), after which the paste was applied to the front side through the stencil carved by Rokutani Baiken. Once the paste dried, several more coats of the dye were brushed on. Eventually the paste was washed away revealing the detailed imagery of “one-thousand gourds”.

Detailed description of bolt

The paperwork attached to the bolt gives us quite a bit of information.

Ise Katagami
One-Thousand Gourds
Custom has it that the souls of the gods take refuge in this type of gourd, and keeping one about helps to bring to fruition all your aspirations. Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s battle standard was this gourd. With every battle won he added one more gourd to the standard, so that in time he was reputed to have one-thousand gourds dangling – scaring away anyone who would seek to challenge him.

人間国宝 六谷梅軒 彫刻
Carved by Rokutani Baikan, Living National Treasure
二代目 六谷梅軒 彫刻
Carved by Rokutani Baikan II

Additional information elsewhere on the bolt indicates that the fabric was woven in Japan using Japanese silk.

Bolt label

The characters in the upper right of the label read 千成, sen-nari, which  means “a large cluster”, but by way of a pun it also means “one-thousand successes” and so is used for felicitous occasions.

Artist’s signature and stamp

The wording in the rectangular area above reads Living National Treasure, Rokutani Baiken and bears a stamp in red with his full name. The gourd shape bears a stamp of just his first name, Baiken.

Baiken Rokutaini II

Baiken Rokutani II

Baiken Rokutaini II was born in 1937 as Hiromi Rokutani and took his father’s name in 1996.

1937 (昭和12年) 三重県鈴鹿市寺家町に生まれる
(本名 六谷博臣)
born in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture (birth name: Hiromi Rokutani)
1953 (昭和28年) 中学卒業、同日より父について修行
graduated middle school in and began instruction under his father
1963 (昭和38年) 伊勢型紙技術伝承者養成事業第一期生として4年間錐彫部門専修
undertook training in the traditional techniques of Ise katagami carving and became a specialist in punch style after four years
1992 (平成4年) 三重県指定無形文化財保持団体、認定会員
became recognized as a member of Mie Intangible Treasure Preservation Society
1993 (平成5年) 伊勢型紙技術保存会会員、理事に選任
became a member of the Ise Katagami Arts Preservation Society, and elected as director
1995 (平成7年) 伊勢型紙技術保存会会員、副会長に選任
member of the Ise Katagami Arts Preservation Society, and elected as president
1996 (平成8年) 還暦を機に父の雅号「梅軒」を襲名
took his father’s name “Baiken” on the occasion of his 6oth birthday


Japanese textiles, dyeing, weaving, culture, John Marshall, katazome, somemono, natural dye