Arimatsu, located just about 20 minutes by train from Nagoya Station, is a town well known for being the home of the traditional technique of Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori, a technique of fabric dyeing that has been skillfully crafted over the last 400 years.
During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) the town used to be one of many located along the Tokaido, a road connecting the new capital Edo (now Tokyo) and the old capital Kyoto. Thanks to the many travelers passing through and spending money, Arimatsu became a wealthy town with impressive merchant buildings, many of which still remain today. Many of these buildings are being preserved with great care and have been designated as Tangible Cultural Heritage of Japan.
The Origin Story of Arimatsu
With the change of the capital of Japan to Edo (Tokyo), the new ruler of the country Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered all Daimyo (feudal lords) to travel to Edo every two years to pay tribute to him. For this reason, the Tokaido Road was built along with 53 designated rest stations called post towns connecting Kyoto and Edo. Tokugawa Ieyasu also encouraged the founding of settlements around these stations, one of which was Arimatsu.
The town of Arimatsu was founded by official decree of the feudal clan Owari Tokugawa, the rulers of the region. The decree was issued in 1608. Arimatsu became a town along the Tokaido route and was located between Chiryu Station and Narumi Station. During the founding of Arimatsu, the town had a total of eight families as residents.
The Origins of Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori
The technique of fabric dyeing was introduced to Japan about 1300 years ago from China. It came together with other Chinese traditions such as Chinese fashion. All such imports from China were adapted to Japanese traditions and tastes and over time developed into completely unique techniques and styles.
The Shibori was originally an art of the poor. In feudal Japan, most people could not buy expensive fabrics such as cotton or silk, so clothes were often made from cheap hemp fabrics. People also could not afford to replace clothes regularly, so repairing and dyeing clothing was commonplace, and Shibori’s art evolved as a means to make old clothes look newer.
During the long period of peace under the Tokugawa Shogunate, various arts flourished such as painting, poetry, calligraphy, lacquer, ceramics, and tea ceremony, and many different local tie-dye techniques and styles emerged. Shibori developed along two separate paths: one, as a method of decorating the silk used to produce Kimono for the aristocracy of Japan (largely made in Kyoto) and another, as a part of folk art that has significant differences between regions.
The history of Arimatsu’s success in the Shibori dyeing industry dates back to the construction of Nagoya Castle (1610-1614) just shortly after Arimatsu was established. Tokugawa Ieyasu used workers from all over Japan to build this impressive castle in record time. A group of workers from Bungo (current Oita Prefecture) brought with them the technique of Shibori.
In 1608, Shokuro Takeda, a merchant from the Chita Peninsula moved to Arimatsu with seven other households to establish a settlement and new cottage industry in the backcountry. Takeda saw an opportunity in the cotton production that had been newly established in his home region of nearby Chita, and set out to manufacture high-quality cloths using the innovative dyeing techniques of the Bungo workers.
Shokuro Takeda marketed those fabrics by the name of “Kukurizome” and developed the technique to create and sell hand towels and other handy products. By 1620 the small Arimatsu settlement had grown to fifteen families.
As the traffic increased along the Tokaido road during the beginning of the Edo Period, travelers would buy towels and fabrics made by the people of Arimatsu, becoming a staple product along the long road. And by 1633 its dyeing trade was well established.
The demand for Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori products has continued to this day, and local dyers, who have inherited the techniques developed over the past 400 years, continue to manufacture beautiful and unique Kimono, Yukata, and other traditional items such as Noren (Japanese curtains or Japanese fabric room dividers).
Currently, there are more than one hundred types of Shibori techniques found in Arimatsu, among them we can highlight: Nui Shibori (sew and tie before dyeing), Kumo Shibori (pattern in the form of a spider web), Sekka Shibori (flower pattern), Miura Shibori (dyeing method invented by the wife of a Bungo doctor) and Kanoko Shibori (mottled pattern).
Get to know the art of Ikebana, Japanese flower arrangement, and enjoy a tour around Arimatsu with a local Ikebana teacher by joining an Ikebana Lesson and Arimatsu Town Visit.
The Top Sights in Arimatsu
You can feel traditional Japan from the moment you step off the Arimatsu railway station. The old town of Arimatsu stretches about 1 km along the Tokaido road. In about half a day you can entirely explore Arimatsu’s main street flanked by Edo-style wooden houses and other spots such as shrines, temples, restaurants, and cafes.
|NOTE: The original buildings were destroyed by a fire in 1784. Therefore, the oldest houses you see today date back to a year after the fire when all structures of Arimatsu were completely rebuilt. Most buildings are roughly 100 years old.|
Also consider making a stop at the many shops selling Arimatsu Narumi Shibori products, or perhaps try your hand at making your own Shibori souvenir.
1. Arimatsu Tenmansha Shrine
Arimatsu Tenmansha is a Shinto shrine where the annual spring and autumn festivals of Arimatsu are held. During the autumn festival the three floats (Hoteisha, Karakosha, and Jingu Kogosha) called Dashi are the highlight. The three floats are taken from their respective warehouses in different parts of Arimatsu and carried by local men up the steep steps to the Shrine.
Each float is beautifully decorated and the top features mechanical puppets called Karakuri. These sophisticated mechanical puppets are controlled by highly skilled puppeteers using silk cords to make them move and dance.
On the grounds of the shrine, you will find an Usokae bird-shaped stone lantern. Usokae birds are considered messengers of Sugawara Michizane, or Tenjin, the deity of academics, scholarship, of learning, and intellectuals. The bird’s name, Uso, is a homonym for a lie or falsehood in Japanese. It is believed that these birds can exchange your untruths for the blessings of the deity.
2. Gionji Temple
Gionji is a small Buddhist sanctuary that lies on the westward end of Arimatsu. It was built in 1755 and moved from Endoji Temple in Narumi to its current location. Gionji contains 33 statues of Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy, and statues of the 16 Arhats, protectors of the goddess. Many of Arimatsu’s residents are laid to rest at this temple, which belongs to the Buddhist Soto sect.
3. Nishimachi Float House
The Nishimachi Float House is a building built in 1873 which houses one of the 3 festival floats, the Jingo Kogosha float. This float was manufactured in Nagoya in 1873. On the top of the float are three mechanical puppets modeled after images of the Empress Jingu (a legendary figure), Takenouchi-no-Sukune (a legendary hero who helped the Empress), and a Shinto priest.
|NOTE: The Nishimachi float house as well as the other float houses are not generally open to the public. They are exhibited only at the two annual Arimatsu festivals.|
4. Kozuka House
Kozuka House, originally built between 1661 and 1673, was the residence of the merchant family Kozuka. The main features of this building are the Udatsu walls, raised walls that were built on either ends of a building in order to prevent the spread of fire from neighboring houses; and the structure of the tie-dye shop that still wholly remains until now.
5. Oka House
Oka House was built at the end of the Edo Period and is the largest of Arimatsu’s traditional buildings and still features the same floor plan as in the Edo Period when it was used as a tie-dye shop.
The house is open to the public, so you can imagine what a tie-dye merchant’s shop was like during the Edo period. High ceilings, open spaces, and gigantic tree trunks are characteristic of this impressive building. The reading room is especially fascinating for its pyramid-shaped ceiling with a hole in the roof and mirrored walls to focus even the smallest amount of sunlight for reading.
6. Takeda House
Takeda House was the residence of Shoukuro Takeda, the founder of Arimatsu Shibori, and is one of the landmarks along Arimatsu’s main street. The building is a typical merchant’s house that consists of a main house, three warehouses, and a tea house.
The building was built in the Shoin-zukuri style, one of Japan’s most important residential architectural styles characterized by modesty of scale, asymmetry, and irregularity on its floors with solid wall construction and sliding screens. The tea ceremony room is said to have been visited by the 14th Tokugawa Shogun.
7. Nakamachi Float House
The Nakamachi Float House is the building that houses the Karakosha Float, built around 1875. Similar to the other float warehouses, it is a tall structure with a gigantic door in the front. The inside of the house as well as the float itself aren’t open to the public.
8. Hattori House
Hattori Magobe’s residence ( that currently houses Igetaya shop) was established in 1790 as a tie-dye shop. In this building, you can see the fireproof construction techniques mentioned earlier, one of Arimatsu’s distinctive features. Hattori House has been used as a shop selling Arimatsu Shibori products for more than 230 years.
10. Arimatsu Dashi Kaikan Museum
The Arimatsu Dashi Kaikan Museum provides detailed information about the Dashi floats used during the Arimatsu Autumn Festival. Outside of the festival period, one of the three Dashi floats is exhibited here in the museum. A video of the festival can be seen on the first floor. Materials and other displays related to the festival are shown on the second floor. You can also observe the Dashi float from the top, a rare opportunity as this is usually not possible with the multi-storied floats.
Arimatsu Dashi Kaikan Museum (有松 有松山車会館)
Entry Fee: Adult 200 yen, Children 6 to 18 years 100 yen
Opening Hours: Only weekends and holidays from 10:00 – 16:00
Address: 2338 Arimatsu, Midori Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 458-0924
The Best Places to Experience Arimatsu Shibori
If you want to experience Arimatsu Shibori it is best to join a workshop or short lesson where you can learn about the different dyeing techniques. Around Arimatsu you will find multiple workshops and facilities where you can experience Arimatsu Shibori hands-on.
Please be aware that for most tie-dying experiences you will need to make a reservation in advance, and workshops are usually only given in Japanese.
Arimatsu Narumi Shibori Tie-Dyeing Museum
In this museum, you will learn about the history and the production process of Arimatsu Shibori. The first floor is a store that offers various products made using Arimatsu Shibori tie-dyed fabrics such as clothing, handkerchiefs, fans, and face masks.
On the second floor, there is an exhibition hall where you can see fabrics with different patterns of Arimatsu Shibori, and where you will discover the history and cultural background of Arimatsu. The exhibition hall offers lots of information in English and even has a fascinating video showcasing the tie-dying process with English subtitles.
It also features a workshop area where you can create a tie-dyed handkerchief and watch some of the talented residents work on preparing different fabrics for dying.
*Tie-dying workshops require prior reservation.
Arimatsu Narumi Shibori Tie-Dyeing Museum (有松・鳴海絞会館)
Entry Fee: adults 300 yen, children 100 yen
Opening Hours: 9:30 – 5:00; close on Wednesday (Thursday, if Wednesday is a holiday) from December to March. From April to November: Open every day except certain dates specified.
Address: 3008 Arimatsu, Midori Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 458-0924
Website | Google Maps
Suzusan is a family business that has been cultivating its knowledge of handmade fabrics for more than 100 years. Suzusan has a factory and store where they sell their Arimatsu Shibori products, and also carry out different workshops.
They offer a shorter, easier 40-minute class where you can learn about the easiest tie-dying techniques using wood plates, rubber balls, and bands, and a longer 2-hour class with more time-consuming techniques such as stitching or tying. You can decorate any number of fabrics such as handkerchiefs, scarves, or t-shirts. For more details check out this PDF.
At Narumi Konsei you can have a very unique experience dying fabric for a Yukata using the Sekka Shibori technique, which consists of a series of triangle folds that result in beautiful starburst designs.
You can choose from different patterns and colors. Once you have practiced your skills on a hand towel, you will be ready for the 13-meter-long fabric used to sew a Yukata. The whole experience takes about 5-6 hours, from 10:00 to 16:00 and it costs around 17,000 yen/person + taxes + shipping fees.
*This experience is available with an advanced reservation and is offered only in Japanese. Available only on weekdays. Minimum participants 3, maximum 5.
Shops Where You Can Buy Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori Goods
If you don’t have the time, or simply don’t want to get through all the trouble of making your own tie-dyed souvenir, you can conveniently buy the professionally made variety at many of the shops in Arimatsu.
At Marimomen you can find accessories and clothing made with a modern Sekka Shibori technique by the hand of two young designers. They reinterpreted the traditional Shibori techniques in their own unique style and used their vivid and colorful fabrics to create unique items such as shoes, handbags, Yukata, scarves, and even decoration items like coasters.
Arimatsu Shibori Hisada
Arimatsu Shibori Hisada is a company that started with the birth of the Arimatsu Shibori technique at the beginning of the Edo Period and has continued to produce beautifully tie-dyed products over the centuries.
You can find a wide array of Shibori items such as towels, Kimono, and Yukata, as well as other clothing such as shirts for men and women, Noren curtains, and other decorative items.
Kobo Yuhataya is a small shop selling a variety of products made of Arimatsu Shibori fabric. In the back of the shop is a tiny study room where irregular Shibori tie-dye workshops are held.
Aigaeshi is a subsidiary store of Suzusan that creates beautiful Shibori products. Its line-up features Tenugui, cotton hand towels with characteristic designs of Arimatsu Shibori dyeing techniques and fine embroidery.
Opening Hours: Weekdays 11:00 – 17:00 pm, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays 10:00 – 17:00
Address: 3016 Arimatsu, Midori Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 458-0924
Website (Japanese only) | Google Maps
Yamagami Shouten is a small shop that offers items of clothing and accessories made by hand with the traditional techniques of Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori and the characteristic modern and creative touch of the artist Aya Osuka.
At Aya Irodori you can join a tie-dying workshop also without prior reservation (in Japanese only but foreign guests are welcome).
Get to know more about Nagoya’s local food by joining our Specialties of Nagoya Food Tour.
Best Places to Eat in Arimatsu
After exploring the beautiful traditional houses along the Tokaido, joining a Shibori experience, and shopping for unique handmade souvenirs you are probably quite hungry.
While there aren’t many restaurants along the Tokaido in Arimatsu, the ones that you can find here are worth a visit.
Yamato is a Japanese-style restaurant serving modern and creative cuisine made with local ingredients. It has a beautiful indoor garden and many private rooms where you can enjoy the food in a relaxing atmosphere.
The price is a little high, but the very elegant dishes will delight your senses.
Mado Cafe – Mado Guesthouse
Mado Guesthouse is a guesthouse with a nice cafe where you can have a delicious lunch. The tasty hot soups they serve are made by following the recipes shared by their international guests. And their homemade bread is truly delightful.
All lunch menus are served with fresh and seasonal vegetables that allows you to savour the local taste.
At this restaurant founded in 1959, you can savor traditional Japanese cuisine with a unique flavor. They offer fresh Udon and Soba noodles made by hand.
The specialty of the house is Ume Oroshi Udon, an Udon noodle dish served with sour plum sauce and Daikon radish.
Bakery Dasenka Kura
Dasenka is a bakery that sells handmade bread and pastries baked in a stone oven. The shop is located in one of the old Shibori merchant houses which makes a visit to the bakery shop a nice experience even if you aren’t planning on buying any bread.
The “Arimatsu Shibori Bread” is a specialty of Arimatsu. It was proposed by a local high school student, inspired by the dyeing culture of Arimatsu Shibori, and has become very popular. The bread is made using natural food coloring imitating the Shibori patterns.
Get a glimpse into the world of Sake with our very new “Nagoya Sake Tasting Night Tour”. By joining this tour you will learn a lot about Japan’s most famous drink while sampling a wide variety of different types of Sake in combination with delicious Izakaya foods. Tour details and booking here↓
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