Kakishibu is a natural dye derived from juicing unripe persimmons. The juice is then fermented to create the final product, a tannin which can be used in many domestic situations. This dye is of great cultural value to the Japanese people and has been used throughout much of Japan’s extensive history for many items including sake bags, kimono, and paper.
The dye offers a beautifully subtle yet rustic appeal to natural fibers which is very familiar to the Japanese eye. Originally used in ancient China and Japan as a herbal cure for stroke, persimmon tannin has also been said to be helpful for recovering after intoxication.
The persimmon tannin also prevents bacteria making it an ideal dye for socks and undergarments. The natural dye is also perfect for individuals with chemical sensitivities.
A Traditional Color
Persimmon fruit, called “kaki” in Japanese, are native to almost all of Japan. The tannin has been used to make paper, umbrellas, and wooden crafts in Japan for thousands of years.
The dye prevents bacteria growth and also works to harden whatever material it is applied to. Kakishibu can make natural fibers, such as cloth, washi (Japanese style paper) and wood, more water resistant.
Historically, kakishibu has been combined with indigo dyes to create a beautiful, natural contract of designs on fabric. As a result, these carefully designed fabrics became expensive and sought after luxuries.
In the past, persimmon tannin was used to coat fishing net as it prevents corrosion of the fibers. The natural properties also prevent mold growth and insect infestation. They could also be reapplied every year in order to strengthen the fabric and deepen the color. When applied year after year, these fabrics began to resemble a brown leather. Some artists have recycled these fishing nets to create rare yarn (pictured below).
An Artistic Touch
There’s no denying that kakishibu has a distinct aesthetic. This color is easily recognizable to those familiar with its rustic hue.
Recently, high end fashion designers have taken advantage of this versatile and subtle dye. However, because persimmon tannin takes two to five years to properly age, it is not for the impatient. In true Japanese fashion, kakishibu is a slow art that possesses an appealing imperfection.
The Japanese idea of wabi-sabi has no direct English translation. However, the concept can be described as a an artistic mindset which finds beauty in natural imperfection.
Art may be broken, incomplete, or distorted over time. All of these minor imperfections work together to create beauty. Most noteworthy is that the wab-isabi aesthetic celebrates simplicity, asymmetry, and roughness as beautiful qualities. Kakishibu falls perfectly into this idea of wabi-sabi beauty.
Its color may change overtime, the dye may never produce the same shade twice, but in these imperfections there is an irreplaceable beauty.