Some souvenirs are more powerful than others.

When in Japan, you could opt for tchotchkes, colored fans, or kawaii trinkets — or you could get something with a bit more cultural meaning, like indigo-dyed fabric.

Japan has a history of indigo that dates back at least 400 years. In the 1600s, indigo was prized for its ability to cling onto cotton fabric. In the fabric’s heyday, it’s estimated that 80 percent of all clothing in Japan was dyed indigo.

To understand Japan’s history with indigo, board the bullet train from Tokyo to Mashiko and head to the Higeta Indigo House. With its roots in the Edo period (from 1603 to 1868), it’s one of the oldest and longest-running dye houses in Japan. The family who runs the house has been dyeing indigo fabrics for the past 200 years, still using traditional techniques.

Man Tinting Clothes in Factory in Tokushima-shi, Japan
Credit: Mubariz Khan/EyeEm/Getty Images

Dyers at the house produce indigo through every step of its process, from plant to wearable item of clothing. Those who visit can see how the leaves of the indigo plant are dried and fermented, how the dye is made, and how fabric is dipped into vats of indigo dye and swirled around. Visitors may even be able to see the traditional tie-dye technique of shibari.

And, of course, it’s possible to pick up fabrics and textiles that were dyed at the house by hand. From purses and scarves to button-down shirts, Japan’s hand-dyed indigo is a beautiful souvenir that carries hundreds of years of cultural legacy in every fiber.