Lacquerware is face of Okinawa
By Bill Charles
Ryukyu Lacquer ware began its history as a tribute item for the emperor of China or Japan, and not for the public, so its popularity is something of a more recent phenomena, and in that, it’s growing by leaps and bounds.
Shell colors are good around Okinawa and they can be sliced very thin with great condition, something that centuries ago caused China to buy shells from the then Ryukyu Kingdom. Besides something beautiful, what are we talking about here?
Ryukyu lacquer ware is mainly made of Indian coral tree, Deigo, or the Sendan bead tree. The vivid reds and gold are eye catching and breath taking, making it very much in demand. Easy to look at and love, and difficult to create.
There are four branches of Ryukyu Shikki Lacquerware company in Okinawa, a company said by some to be the premier creator of quality lacquer ware products. The stores or shops are located in Ahacha in Urasoe city, Madanbashi as Naha main office, Kokusai street in Naha and in Itoman. The Itoman branch has installed its own factory and offers public backstage tours, and offers visitors an opportunity to create their own lacquer ware experience. When visiting, though, beware that there are not always working craftsmen backstage.
A personal trial experience is ¥1,500~ with no limitations for creating a product during the 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. workshop opening time. Visitors can try to design their own lacquer ware, or can choose ready made designs also. Products made at the lacquer ware factory can be taken out the same day.
Besides Ryukyu Shikki Co. there are a couple of other companies in Okinawa that make traditional Rytukyu lacquer ware. Ryukyu Shikki company has been in business more than 100 years, starting from humble beginnings in Wakasa. The company has received many awards from Okinawa Prefecture and Japan along the way.
There are traditional craftsmen with long experience working with Ryukyu Lacquer ware at the company. Each work they handle takes 3~6 months to complete. One specialty of artisans is making repairs if the items split off or get scratched. Lacquer ware has to be washed with water by hand softly. Using a washer or dryer will damage it. Lacquer ware should never be put near a heat source or stove.
Recently, Ryukyu Shikki has been creating work like a set of coffee cups, trophies, wall clocks, wall pictures, paper boxes, business card boxes, accessories, jewel boxes, vases and much more. They say they must create new ideas for lacquer ware because the young generation does not use traditional pieces like as multi-tiered boxes or trays. . If they discover our goods, an official says, they will know and become interested in Ryukyu lacquer ware.
Rykyu Shikki company opens 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. every day except for New Year ‘s day and 2nd of January, and Bon festival in accordance with the Okinawa calendar.
To get to Ryukyu Shikki drive south past Itoman, and continue towards the Peace Park. Ryukyu Shikki is on the right side of the road about 500 meters past Ryukyu Glass factory.