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In Search of Forgotten Colours – Sachio Yoshioka and the Art of Natural Dyeing

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Sachio Yoshioka is the fifth-generation head of the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop in Fushimi, southern Kyoto. When he succeeded to the family business in 1988, he abandoned the use of synthetic colours in favour of dyeing solely with plants and other natural materials. 30 years on, the workshop produces an extensive range of extremely beautiful colours.

This beautiful and mostly wordless 18-minute video, hosted by the Victoria and Albert Museum, documents Yoshioka’s work via four short films that were originally broadcast by NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization. Captions explain the color extraction and dyeing processes, the cultural traditions, locations, materials, and more.

The four riveting short films within are titled In Search of Forgotten Colours, Beni Red (safflower; carthamus tinctorius), Paper Flowers and the Omizutori Ceremony, and Murasaki Purple (purple gromwell; lithospermum erythrorhizon). Some additional perspective via toki.tokyo:

Yoshioka clarified that traditional organic dyeing has changed over time, and in his opinion, it has become less suitable for modern society. He elaborated that the Japanese method of organic dyeing requires clean water, space, and most importantly the correct natural ingredients. It’s a process that involves extracting pigments from natural materials, though finding ingredients that will produce the right pigment is a time-consuming undertaking. In a society where instant gratification has become the norm, this process might be overlooked for cheaper and synthetic alternatives. However, Yoshioka made a point that he isn’t necessarily continuing the tradition of dyeing to preserve the art; he believes that using natural dyes and pigments can create the most beautiful colors in the world, and he strives to recreate this beauty.

Find Yoshioka’s books on Amazon.

Watch these made-in-Japan videos next: The Link Between Japanese Samurai and Real Indigo, The art of Japanese marquetry, How Kanazawa gold leaf is made, and the Japanese handmade paper of Kyoto Kurotani.

Also: How traditional Nabulsi soap is handmade in the Toukan Soap factory.

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