Somehow, I just spent a weekend in Okinawa!
It was hot and beautiful and special~ and I managed to visit a beautiful indigo farm.
I didn’t actually see much of Okinawa but drove myself to a village called OSHITTAI where I met a couple who has been growing indigo there for almost ten years if I recall correctly.
http://aibatake.jp/ （this is the place I visited)
The indigo plant in Okinawa is different from the one growing in Tokushima and other parts of Japan. It’s called RYUKYU AI. The kind of indigo plant I have been cultivating that grows in Tokushima is called TADEAI. These two types of plants are completely different…
Tadeai grows from seeds, it’s an annual plant so each year, you need to collect the seeds for next year’s indigo field. It blooms and has pink flowers. Ryukyu ai can keep on growing for about ten years and it’s propagated by cutting. It blooms right before dying out, and has purplish flowers (this can be seen really very rarely, something like every ten years…)
Tadeai leaves become blueish when they dry, ryukyu ai leaves become black.
Tadeai needs a lot of sunlight while ryukyuai in Okinawa will die out if it gets too much sun, especially in Okinawa where it gets to be about 40degrees celsius in the summer months. The ryukyuai I saw in Okinawa was growing with tankan trees, which provided shade for the plants (tankan is a kind of citrusy fruit).
Another big difference is the way the leaves are fermented. In Tokushima, people ferment the leaves making sukumo, which is made by adding water to dry leaves everyday for a month or so. You then get sukumo (I know this is completely an oversimplified explanation but this will be for another blog entry!!!). With the ai in Okinawa, I didn’t actually see the process but from what I understood, you put a huge amount of dried leaves in a tank with water and lime (in powder form). you then mix the liquid everyday and get rid of all the trash that floats on top… in the end, the indigo is all extracted and sinks at the bottom. It becomes clay-like. This is also super over-simplified because there is some filtering involved as well…
Another big difference was the texture of the indigo vats in Okinawa. They use water from the river in the forest so the water is so pure… It’s a mixture of pure indigo clay, water from the river, and honey from the same area… It was such a privilege to be able to feel with my eyes, hands, and heart the beauty of this process…
People say that the blue of the sea in Okinawa is special. It is light blue, turquoise blue, different shades, see-through… but this cannot be expressed so well in words… I felt the same way about the indigo blue of Okinawa, something transparent, pure, lighter, soft, different. I can see how people go to Okinawa once and want to go again to witness this blue of the sea once more… It is similar to how I feel about wanting to see this ryukyu indigo once more…