– [Narrator] This is indigo. Real indigo. Jeans, they’re dyed from a chemical. But real indigo straight from the plant has its roots in Samurai culture and is highly prized in Japan. Yep, this story is all about the real color blue. But it’s not as dull as it sounds. Tokushima, Japan is located in the southwest of the country and for centuries, it has been known for its indigo due to the Yoshino-gawa River, which flows underground warming the soil. Indigo started gaining popularity in the early 1600s and was commonly used by Samurais. This is Osamu Nii. He’s a sixth generation indigo plant grower. Real indigo was also used for firefighters’ clothing because it’s flame retardant, up to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. To produce indigo ink, the leaves must be harvested and then dried in the sun and flipped repeatedly with a broom until they turn a navy hue.
Because of this, Osamu is one of the last five indigo growers in the region. The practice is time-consuming and labor intensive, so former growers have turned to cheaper chemical alternatives. But the thing is, with real indigo, the color you can achieve is unparalleled. This is Toshiharu Furusho. He’s a fabric dyer. He’s able to pull out an incredible range of blues from the natural ink. From a nearly black blue they call nando-iro to deep ocean hues called kachi-iro.
Achieving these colors though is not easy. His commitment to his craft can be seen in his hands. His nails are eternally stained blue from nearly 50 years of working with the dye. And Osamu, he’s not hanging up his trowel yet either..