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The plant thrives in the fertile soils of Taketa

Mr. Hirose Masaaki

The founder says . . .

Okubungo Research Group for the Revival of Murasaki-gusa
Executive Director Mr. Hirose Masaaki

I had heard of Murasaki-gusa before and knew of its ancient pedigree and role in the production of precious purple dye. But I didn’t realize that it had been grown here in Taketa. When I learned of this unique local history, I was inspired to found a group dedicated to initiating a revival. We are pleased that our efforts have helped rekindle widespread interest in Murasaki-gusa. I am moved to see renowned textile artisans using our plants in their products. Murasaki-gusa is just one of the many sources of natural dyes here in Taketa. I hope our efforts will help establish this city as a center for dyeing colors.

"Murasaki-gusa" company, with an exhibit upstairs on the plant.

Murasaki Hachiman Shrine?fs

Murasaki Hachiman Shrine’s name points to the history of Murasaki-gusa cultivation in the area.

Roots of the plant are pressed to yield a liquid which quickly imbues cloth with brilliant color.

Okubungo Research Group for the Revival of Murasaki-gusa
Founded in May 2005 to promote a revival of the ancient plant species Murasaki-gusa, which had been grown in Taketa in ancient times but had long been left forgotten. The Group welcomes anyone with an interest in Murasaki-gusa, and currently has 30 members. With the mission of ‘color-themed community development’, the Group holds symposia, study meetings and classes on dyeing crafts, as well as pursuing a variety of exchange activities and developing local specialty crafts.

Taketa City Sightseeing and Tourism Association
2250-1 Oaza Aiai, Taketa-shi
Telephone: 0974-63-0585

Murasaki-gusa yields small, pretty flowers

Distinguished history of Murasaki-gusa prompts revival movement

Purple (murasaki) has a long pedigree as the color of nobility in Japan, as demonstrated in the system of court ranks by color instituted by Imperial Regent Shotoku Taishi in the 7th Century AD. In that period, Naoiri county - present-day Taketa city - was a center for the cultivation of Murasaki-gusa (Lithospermum erythrorhizon or “gromwell” in English), a plant used to produce purple dyes. It is thought that Murasaki-gusa cultivation was particularly intensive in the Shitochi district. This district was known as murasaki-tochi (land of murasaki) in ancient times, and was home to the Murasaki Hachiman Shrine, with soil and climate conditions particularly suited for growing Murasaki-gusa.
An insight into the historical importance of Murasaki-gusa in the Taketa area can be gained from passages in the Bungo kokuzeiseizei-cho (Register of Taxes for the Bungo Region) held in Todai-ji Temple, Nara. A reference to Murasaki-gusa produced in Amabe county has also been discovered on an ancient wooden message board. These records make it clear that during the 7th and 8th Centuries, Murasaki-gusa was a precious commodity, used both as a gift for presentation to the Yamato government and the imperial household, as well as to pay taxes. Crop production in the Taketa area was managed directly by the government office at Dazaifu. In May 2000, Mr. Hirose created the ‘Okubungo Research Group for the Revival of Murasaki-gusa’ as a joint initiative between local government and the private sector, and said 'I wanted to revive Murasaki-gusa as the pride of Taketa and Bungo.’

This endangered species is now protected in an environment well suited to

Traditionally, Murasaki-gusa was cultivated throughout Japan, with its ‘purple roots’ used to make dyes and for medicinal purposes. As artificial dyes were developed, cultivation became less widespread. Today the plant is so rare as to receive designation as an endangered species from Japan’s Ministry of the Environment.
Murasaki-gusa grows best in volcanic soils in unspoiled natural surroundings. The Taketa area, situated 300 to 400 meters above sea level, provides the ideal conditions. The plant is sensitive to changes in its environment and so delicate that it can be damaged even by some soil coming into contact with its leaves. Ancient cultivation techniques have been forgotten, making the Research Group’s task even more difficult. This did not, however, dissuade them and the farmers with whom they collaborated from pursuing their dream of reviving Murasaki-gusa cultivation. The first seeds obtained by the group, planted in a field in the Shitochi district, yielded only a few plants mature enough to produce dye. They decided to try planting in several different locations and record data on the progress of the plants to determine the best conditions for cultivation. Today, the group is able to harvest as much as 70% of the crop planted.

From revival to proliferation - Murasaki-gusa spreads throughout Japan

Since its founding in 2000, the Okubungo Research Group for the Revival of Murasaki-gusa has engaged in the study of related historical literature and proceeded with experimental cultivation in the Shitochi district, being careful to avoid cross-fertilization with imported flora.
Today, Murasaki-gusa grown in Taketa is gaining a nationwide reputation. It provided the dye for silk ceremonial robes worn by the chief official in the 1250th year reawakening ceremony for the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple in Nara, and was part of a display on ‘Bungo tie-dyeing’ at the Aichi World Expo. Mr. Hirose explains that ‘we want to use the new awareness of the historical pedigree of Murasaki-gusa as a stimulus for local community development’. It seems certain that the Taketa community will continue to be inspired by the reawakening of this important historical legacy.