Tsubame Kobo, “Swallows Workshop”, is the lone busy shopfront this Sunday along Torigoe’s shuttered Okazu Yokocho, Side Dish Alley. There’s an impending typhoon. Mr Takahashi stands at the doorway and chats.

Indigo stripping leaves

His wife strips leaves from branches of tade, indigo plant, and sets them aside. She’ll pack them into a blender with water, filter the juice, and dip a batch of cashmere until it’s a gorgeous cerulean hue. She’ll spin the wool into threads, and weave it on her loom into almost weightless shawls.

Neighbours stop by to talk about the weather. Mrs Takahashi says, We have to finish before the storm hits. You can only do raw indigo dyeing in summer, with the harvest, so we’re doing this for winter.

Indigo industrious longIndigo blender
Indigo basin wool

Mr Takahashi says, You know, you can’t naturally raw-dye indigo unless the material comes from animals, like wool or silk. It won’t take, on cotton or synthetics. You have to add protein — in the old days they used soy milk.

Indigo single threadsIndigo hands

Tsubame Kobo’s warm shawls and other items have been selling well since they were picked up by a popular TV show last December. But it’s not a job you do for money. Mrs Takahashi soon has blue hands. It only lasts a few days, she says.

Indigo neighbour long