Ishii, Tokushima โ†’ ๐ŸŒƒ Hachiman, Tokushima City

Map of Tokushima Prefecture with authorโ€™s route between Ishii and Tokushima City highlighted. ๐Ÿ—บ Open map in GaiaGPS โ†’

A Japanese woman, Nishimoto Kyลko, and two men, dressed in indigo-colored clothes, work an indigo farm in the sun.

A Japanese man dyes a shirt in a vat of indigo.

A freshly dyed jacket, bluish green in color, dries on a rail in a workshop.

Three shirts and two jackets, all of them dyed indigo, drying in the breeze on a rail.

Three pair of hands, the fingernails of all dyed indigo blue, placed on the edge of an indigo dyeing vat. ๐Ÿ“ Buaisou, Kamiita, Tokushima

If you see men with deep blue nails, and youโ€™re not in a fight, a gay bar, or an art school, youโ€™re probably on the plains of the Yoshino River in Tokushima. This icepick-thin wedge of flat land has been the center of the Japanese indigo industry for centuries, until synthetic dyes and cheap imports decimated it to an extent that only five producers remained.

โ€œWe are now the sixth,โ€ Nishimoto Kyลko said, after I had crashed the morning meeting of Buaisou, the absurdly artisanal studio she manages. It is an indigo-stained middle finger to mass production: they grow their own plants, ferment their own dye, and ultimately make their own clothes, the color of fairy tale night skies.

I shelled a bag of horse beans while the boys weeded the indigo in the hot sun, then Kyลko made us a comically un-Japanese lunch. Then, in this medieval-postmodern wonderland, the two of us reminisced about our travels in the Islamic world.

Indigo-dyed yarns of denim thread hang in a row. ๐Ÿ“ Buaisou, Kamiita, Tokushima

Just as I was about to leave Buaisou, Kyลko brought me a sample of their denim. To someone who has never owned a pair of proper jeans, it was like a piece of medieval battle dress a Japanese army could have worn to fight the silk-armored Mongols. Yarns for their first production batch were oxidizing on a pole.

I walked along the Yoshino River into Tokushima City, whose drinking holes were hung with indigo banners.

These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary of a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.