International Students Visit Folk Houses in Kawasaki and Try “Aizome” Dyeing

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Date & Time: Saturday, February 17, 2024
Spot: Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum in Kawasaki City
Visitors: 18 international students studying at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Meiji University, and Waseda University, who are from Bangladesh, France, Germany, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Togo, and Turkey.
Guides: Eight KSGG members
Language: English

It was a fine, but slightly chilly day. The open-air museum is located in a green park in Kawasaki, an industrial city near Tokyo. The museum showcases a total of 25 wooden buildings, including thatched houses, part of a samurai residence, a water mill, a storehouse, a ferryman’s hut, and a kabuki stage, all within a site that spans about 1.8 million square meters.

The international students were divided into groups of three and visited the old folk houses in the museum. They found the gasshozukuri-style house, known for its “prayer-hands” roof design, especially interesting and took many pictures. They were also captivated by the beautiful hina dolls displayed on a seven-tiered stand in one of the folk houses. These dolls are part of the hinamatsuri, or doll festival, which is coming up in a few weeks.

The students had lunch in a traditional Japanese folk house, sitting around an irori – a traditional hearth where families and friends gather to share meals and warmth. The lunch break was filled with lively conversations. They got excited as they discussed what locusts are called in their native languages, and how animals like cats, dogs, or chickens make sounds. Some students showed great interest in kanji, frequently asking how to read kanji characters and what they mean.

Finally, they visited a workshop for aizome, a traditional method of indigo dyeing in Japan*1). All three groups gathered at the workshop to try the aizome artwork*2). The students used rubber bands, marbles, and clothespins to create patterns on the fabric. They were deeply engrossed in the craft, and seemed pleased with their finished pieces. Finally, the international students took a group picture in front of a plum tree outside the workshop, proudly displaying their aizome artworks with big smiles.

Showing-Off Aizome Artworks
Sitting Around Traditional Hearth


*1) According to literature, remnants of aizome were discovered in the ruins of Indus civilization, which thrived around 3000 B.C. The aizome technique was transferred to Japan sometime in seventh century through China and the Korean peninsula and has been preserved until today. When an English chemist saw the Japanese aizome about 150 years ago, he praised the traditional dyeing method and called its color “Japan Blue.”

*2) The aizome process begins with harvested leaves that are dried, cut into pieces, fermented, pressed, and then mixed with lime powder, ash, and water. This mixture is then heated to create the ai or indigo solution. Cloth is soaked in this ai solution, then removed to air out for oxidation. By repeating this process, the fabric gradually takes on the rich indigo color.