Filled with retro buildings and signs reflecting the Showa period, Ome is wrapped in an atmosphere of nostalgia. During the Edo period, its name was once widlely known as one of the greatest textile manufacturers. It's also the birthplace of the indigo textile omejima. This trip around Ome is focused on the Ome Blue project, which was inspired by Ome's past, and will dye Ome blue again.
Omejima textiles dyed with natural indigo, flourished late in the Edo period, and were a huge hit throughout the country. However, when synthetic indigo became common in the Meiji period, production ceased. This omejima textiles' blue, the blue of the sky and mountain streams, is the Ome Blue that represents Ome's history, tradition, and nature. Our trip starts at the Ome Municipal Museum of Provincial History where actual omejima products from those days are on display.
The Old Inaba House, which sits along the Japan National Route 411, is believed to have been built in the late Edo period. The Inaba family was one of the great prominent families of Ome and prospered as a wholesaler of omejima textiles. Featuring the Maedoma style entrance, in which a dirt floor covered nearly the whole area, this building served as a store.
After experiencing some history, I visited Aizome Workshop Kosouen to see where natural aizome dyeing takes place. The manager, Hiroshi Murata, aims to revitalize authentic aizome dyeing, and uses Edo period techniques to recreate omejima textiles. He claims, "omejima textiles was made from cotton with silk threads added to create beautiful color and a delicate feel that was not only loved by samurai warriors but by the townsfolk as well. Particularly now, when over 90% of textiles sold in Japan are imported, I think it's time that we should take steps for reviving the Japanese textile industry."
In the aizome dyeing experience, you dye a cotton shawl. Since the indigo dye colors the fiber when exposed to air, repeatedly dipping it in the dye deepens the color. According to Mr. Murata, "Kosouen's aizome dyeing method is the natural indigo lye fermentation method, which uses only natural ingredients in the blue dye, such as the raw material peat, and lye made from wood ash, lime, bran, and sake. The blue dye is good for about three months, then can be used as fertilizer. It's a very eco-friendly industry." Aizome dyeing is thought to lose its color easily, but natural indigo hardly fades or transfers onto other fabric.