Weaving and Dyeing

These new Uchina series are an introduction to Okinawa's culture and history from a different viewpoint. Our previous issue focused on the gusuku castles registered as World Heritage Sites. In this new issue, we will bring to you the aura and contours seen in the pottery and textiles that Okinawa has nurtured within its history and environment. We hope you enjoy the unique tint and form these crafts display.
First Series:Textiles on Okinawa Island
Second Series:Textiles on Surrounding Islands
Third Series:Okinawan Pottery
Fourth Series:Ryukyu Lacquerware and Glass

History plays an important role on the birth of textiles found in Okinawa. Once known as the Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa flourished as an independent kingdom by actively engaging in trade. Establishing a tributary and trade relation with the Ming dynasty enabled Okinawa to act as a trading hub for Japan and Southeast Asia during the Great Age of Trade in the late14th century. Bridging the nations, Ryukyu Kingdom was filled with products and treasures from many countries. The elements of the diverse dyed and woven textiles were introduced to Ryukyu during this period and prospered into beautiful crafts through many generations.


The Craft of Dyeing

The process to dye fabric and paper developed in India, Southeast Asia, Japan and Central America. This craft is represented by beautiful fabrics such as sarasa (printed cloths or batik), gold inkin fabrics, Yuzen (silk prints) and Okinawa's Bingata (stencil-dyes).



Bingata is identified by its beautiful array of radiant colors. Dyes used in the coloring process are special and include vegetable dyes taken from a local Ryukyu indigo plant and fukugi tree. The vegetable dyes are combined with vermilion, dark red, orpiment, lamp black, and ultramarine pigments imported from China and Southeast Asian nations. Designs are applied to fabrics with stencils and a dye-resistant paste or by designing with the paste in tubes. The production of this highly recognized craft was strictly for the royal family and the families who were commissioned to produce them were considered noble. History states that the annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom declined the production of Bingata in the Meiji era but was revived by dedicated craftsmen after World War II. Enhancement has been made in the Bingata designs through many generations. The flower, bird, mountain, water design in the Ryukyu Kingdom era represents the strong influence of Yuzen, silk textiles seen in mainland Japan. The designs which we see today display a freedom of colors and designs, making improvements in many ways.
Uuji Zome (sugarcane dye)
While Bingata enhances a strong image of formality and value, a new production by the name of Uuji Zome (sugarcane dye) at Tomishiro Village is becoming popular with its usage of natural colors and its ready availability.


The art of Weaving

Weaving has a much longer history than dyed fabrics and a fine collection of goods, spun and woven by various ethnic groups, can be found all over the world. The Bashofu in Kijoka, Ogimi, the Yuntanzan Hanaui in Yomitan, the Shuri Ori and the Ryukyu Kasuri from Haebaru are only part of the various styles and patterns which exist in Okinawa. During the Ryukyu Kingdom era, these textiles were produced by women as tributary cloths or for daily wear. In the Meiji era, modernization swept through this tradition, bringing along machines to weave these textiles. However, the strong passion of the weavers enabled this significant tradition to survive to this day.


Bashofu, woven from basho (banana) fibers, is very light in weight and smooth to the touch. The intense summer heat of Okinawa made this cloth suitable to wear in the daily lives for both commoners and the ruling class. Forty basho trees are necessary to make a standard roll of fabric. The trees are stripped, sterilized, and softened for fibers. The extracted fibers are then joined together to create yarn. This traditional craft is produced at Kijoka in Ogimi Village.
Yuntanzan Hanaui 

This style of weaving, similar to embroideries, beautifies geometric features by weaving colorful threads into a fabric woven horizontally and vertically. It originated in the 15th century through trade relations with China and Southeast Asian nations. In the Ryukyu Kingdom era, it became a goyofu, a fabric woven with precise designs enforced by the government. Villagers living in Yomitan Village were the only ones permitted to wear this design. When royal patronage and protection was denied in the Meiji era, the distinctive style of this handicraft faded for a period of time till a devoted craftsman from the village revived the tradition after World War II.
Shuri Ori 
All the refined textiles originating in the capital of the Kingdom was referred as Shuri Ori. The textile was exquisitely woven by the wives and daughters of nobles who produced yarn from silkworms to create diverse designs. Shuri Ori is categorized as Shuri Hana Ori, Shuri Tsumugi, Tejima, Rotan Ori and Hanakura Ori.
Ryukyu Kasuri 
Ryukyu Kasuri is said to have originated in Haebaru Town around 1918 or 1919. Navy blue cotton kasuri were woven in the beginning but advanced to silk woven kasuri over the years. The production of this craftwork has increased immensely, making this textile widely known.