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Saturday, May 19

An Indigo Day

The bus drove us north past Tokyo and then west on Thursday morning, heading to Bushu Nakajima Konya. Nakajima Konya is a family workshop known for 160 years and four generations of indigo dyeing. Arriving at the entrance, it appears that little has been changed of the buildings and the lifestyle of the family in those long years. It had been pouring all morning, causing me to sprint past the entrance and through the slippery mud field into the main workshop building. It only occurred to me as we were leaving that I hadn’t taken any pictures of the outside complex.

Inside, the Kamakura Chapter of our International Ikebana group was given guidance on how to fold and rubber band a handkerchief to create four different patterns. The Japanese women started folding without hesitation after being given a brief demonstration through oral instruction. This instruction, however, left the American women rather mystified. We trudged on staring at those around us who seemed to grasp what was going on. From here, the indigo dyeing instruction seemed to completely end. Further progress came amidst much laughter and what logical guesswork we could determine.

The group slowly migrated to another building with their folded creations. There, it was determined that we don gloves and dip our foldings into a vat of honestly quite rancid smelling water. From there, everyone slowly migrated to concrete vats of indigo constructed in the floor to begin the actual dyeing process. Squatting over a vat and praying you didn’t drop your little creation into the deep, shiny, sapphire water, we swirled and squeezed our handkerchiefs. Often someone would pull theirs out to confusingly declare it a nasty shade of green. Balancing uncomfortably on our hunches, it was only after swirling for an excessive amount of time trying to remove the green did we come to find out that the fabric will remain green until it is oxidized. To oxidize, we removed the rubber bands from our sopping handkerchiefs, unfolding the piece and lightly flapping it in the breeze trying hard not to slosh indigo onto the person doing the same next to you. A quick rinse in water that seemed as blue as the indigo water and we had completed the dyeing process.

The opportunity was given to dye other pieces like scarves and tablecloths for an additional cost. But seeing as how I was no indigo expert, I choose to meander in the direction of the shop to buy a piece from the professionals. Plus, I needed to find a sink to start the process of undyeing my hand and wedding rings that had turned a Smurftastic shade thanks to a leaky glove. My final product may be far from perfection but it is certainly a Kimono Karen original.

After the members had dyed their share and spent even more of their share, we lugged both wet and dry goods onto the bus and headed out for lunch. The restaurant was a traditional Japanese setting requiring pillow sitting while we slurped down cold udon and ate tempura. The Japanese lady beside me told me I didn’t slurp loud enough to which I replied how honestly hard it was to debunk all previous manners taught to me and make such sounds. She then started feeding me all sorts of little treats to try including what I think was dried eggplant rolled in sugar.

Back on the bus, another Japanese grandmotherly type started passing my friend and I various snacks and candies. After just eating a huge meal, I could hardly fit more in but we thanked her with repeated bows and smiles and placed the handfuls of various Japanese munchies into our handbags.

While the direction of the day had been increasingly vague and confusing, I still headed home with satisfied feelings in both my head at trying this long-standing Japanese trade and even more particularly in my stomach that was stuffed with Japanese delicacies.

1 comment:

Heather Meadows said...

Ooh, that sounds like fun! And your work looks good! I'm trying to imagine how the folding created that design. Wild.

Did you take any pictures of the sweets? I'm all about Japanese sweets :>