(By Shiho Starla Kay for JAPAN Forward)

“Japan blue” is the color of the emblem for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, as well as the uniform for the Japan National Football Team. Its color is produced by a natural dye called “Ai,” which has been treasured by Japanese people for hundreds of years.

Ai was the most popular dye for clothing in Japan, until easily-produced, low-priced synthetic dye overtook in terms of market share in the late 19th century. When Japan finally opened up after its isolationist foreign policy, a British scholar who visited Japan was impressed by the color of Ai, commonly seen around the country, and called it “Japan blue.”

Ever since, Japan has been protecting this traditional Japanese color of indigo blue as something very special.

On the other hand, though, award-winning Ai product producer Leki Nagahara would rather bring this tradition closer to our daily lives.

Mr. Nagahara was born in Kaiyo, Tokushima – a place well-known as the mecca for surfing in the western part of Japan. He was originally a surfer, and a four-times winner of the Japan Student Surfing Championships, before becoming an Ai product producer.

“I was a surfer ever since I can remember, partly because I was born in a town surrounded by the sea and many surfers,” he recalled. “Probably because I was so close to the sea, I came to realize the importance of protecting nature. I encountered numerous surfers who deeply cared about environmental issues and inspired by them, I started thinking of how I could protect the sea. And I eventually reached the conclusion that Ai was a key to doing so.”

By - grape Japan editorial staff.