Marukawa Shoten is a brand founded by the designer Mr Tatsuya Marukawa. He created it in 2008 to promote his hometown's traditional craft, "Matsusaka Momen," which is cotton fabric dyed with indigo. Matsusaka Momen comes from the city of Matsusaka, in Mie prefecture.

Mr Marukawa wanted to create something fresh and new, so he decided to study design in Tokyo. While he was studying design, he found beauty in traditional Japanese craft products used in everyday life. Japanese craft products are created with care by skillful craftspeople and are intended to be used in everyday life - for many years. Mr Marukawa rediscovered the beauty of the Matsusaka Momen indigo dyed cotton fabrics that he was familiar with from his own childhood.

Matsusaka Momen has a long history dating back to the fifth century. Around that time, spinning and weaving techniques were introduced from China to the Matsusaka area. Matsusaka became the first textile center of ancient Japan. In 698, textile makers in Matsusaka were commissioned to create textiles for the Grand Shrine of Ise, in Mie prefecture.

Around the 15th century, cotton produced in Egypt and India was introduced to Japan. Matsusaka was a suitable environment for growing cotton and already had expert weaving techniques. Matsusaka Momen was born at the start of the 16th century.

Matsusaka Momen’s signature look is its famous stripe pattern, called the “Matsusaka stripe.” It was widely popular among people living in Edo. Edo was the former capital of Japan and developed into the mega city of Tokyo.

At that time, the population of Edo was around one million, while about half a million pieces of Matsusaka Momen textiles were sold per year. The Matsusaka stripe was popular because of its “Iki” style.

“Iki” is an aesthetic invented by the residents of Edo. Iki roughly means stylish and chic, yet not decorative or ornate. The Matsusaka stripe is an ideal example of Iki.  The inhabitants of Edo were strongly attracted to the Matsusaka stripe for this reason.

During the Meiji era (which began in 1868), Western dress was introduced and people began to wear kimonos less often. The manufacture of Matsusaka Momen rapidly decreased. Although there were more than 1,000 Matsusaka Momen manufacturers before the Meiji era, there is now only one single producer remaining. The last manufacturer in existence is the Miito Orimono company. The designer Mr Marukawa cooperates with Miito Orimono to create the original Matsusaka Momen items.

Mr Hiroya Nishiguchi, the sixth president of Miito Orimono, showed us the manufacturing process when we visited Miito Orimono with Mr Marukawa.

The appeal of the Matsusaka Momen is the depth of color in the indigo blue dye and fabric. The beautiful blue indigo yarn is hand dyed by one skillful craftsman. Traditional dyeing with indigo process takes enormous time and effort. The dyeing craftsman manually soaks cotton thread in fermented indigo dye, a process which is repeated several times to obtain the desired deep blue color.

Because of the fermentation required, indigo dyes are living, so the craftsman must look after the whole process very carefully. The indigo dying process requires many years’ experience and skill. There is only one craftsman dyer currently working for Miito Orimono. This craftsman dyer has no appointed successor.

Mr Nishiguchi said that the nature of the process means that the dyer must work 24/7, 365 days a year. This does not mean that they actually work for 24 hours a day and for 365 days a year, but they must always take care of the indigo dye, due to its fermented, live nature. It affected by weather conditions, by temperature and by humidity. Even when it is not a working day, the dyer may come to the dye pools to check their condition. So it is not easy to find a successor for this craftsman.

The weaving atelier is next to the dyeing pools. In the weaving atelier, there are many vintage looms made by Toyota,  Although now the world's biggest car manufacturer, Toyota began by making weaving looms in 1924 and its founder invented the first automatic loom in 1896.

The Miito Orimono company's weaving atelier is quite noisy, but vintage looms handle the warp and weft threads perfectly and make a beautiful Matsusaka stripe. Mr Nishiguchi said that the current weaving machines do not produce the same quality of textiles.

The "Iki" beauty of the Matsusaka Momen is five hundred years old. This beauty comes from the indigo dyeing craftsman’s care and skills, then is further enhanced when it is woven by the vintage loom. The designer Mr Marukawa reintroduces the time-honored “Iki” beauty to our modern life.

View the Marukawa Shoten collection