Ryukyu traditional textiles

Ryukyu traditional textiles Ryukyu bingata

Rich and bold color combinations from tropical countries
A mysterious world protected by the spirits of Okinawa


What is Ryukyu traditional textiles ?

Ryukyu Bingata is the dyed and woven textile produced in the area surrounding Shuri City in Okinawa Prefecture. Its origin goes back to the 14th to 15th century. The ladies of the royal family or the families of the warrior class wore Ryukyu Bingata. There are two kinds of patterns for Ryukyu Bingata. One is a brightly dyed pattern that is referred to as Bingata and the other is an Indigo dyed pattern that is referred to as Aigata. Also, depending on the technique used, each pattern is divided into two. One is Katatsuke, a technique that uses a paper pattern and the other is Tsutsuhiki, a technique that uses free-hand drawing. Katatsukesome is used for Kijaku (standard length of material used in a kimono) and Obi (belts) and Tsutsunukesome is used for various products including tableau curtains and Furoshiki (Japanese cloth for wrapping).
The characteristics of Ryukyu Bingata are its rich colors and daring color combinations unique to tropical countries. Patterns vary from classic patterns to modern designs, including many patterns that do not exist in the environment of Okinawa. There are a number of classic patterns in particular that distinctively show the influence of mainland Japan, China or Southeast Asia. Ryukyu Bingata with its bright colors has been handed down through the generations and is a textile full of mystery that blends in with nature in Okinawa.


There is no clear record of the origin of Ryukyu Bingata but there was already a description in reference to Bingata in the documents written in the 14th century that confirms its existence at that time.
The Ryukyu Dynasty was bustling with trade as a relay point in the East China Sea in those days. The trading areas for the dynasty were not just limited to the neighboring countries of Japan and China but stretched as far away as Southeast Asian countries, as well. For this reason, dyeing techniques were brought back from China, India, Indonesia and other countries through trade. After assimilating these techniques from abroad, the dyed and woven textiles unique to Ryukyu were developed. It is believed that Ryukyu Bingata was created in such an environment.
Ryukyu Bingata was protected by the Ryukyu Royal government and became a valuable article of commerce as one of the superior quality Asian textiles. It is also said that Ryukyu Bingata was presented to China and to the Edo Shogunate. Materials, patterns and colors varied according to age, gender or social class.

Okinawa was severely damaged by World War II and many of the Bingata patterns and tools were destroyed. However, intense efforts were made during reconstruction after the war, and once again Okinawa Bingata has continued to be a protected traditional dyed and woven product of Okinawa.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Katahori (stenciling a pattern) Firstly, a tracing paper depicting the design is pasted on the Shibugami (tanned paper) pattern, or the design can be drawn on the Shibugami directly. Rukuju (dried tofu) is placed underneath the pattern and stenciling starts from the finest patterns using a small knife that is referred to as a Shigu. Tsukibori (a stencil method of carving by pushing the blade) technique is used here.

    Although Tsukibori takes time and requires great concentration, the lines it can create are more refined compared to those created by Hikihori (a stencil method of carving by drawing the blade towards the carver) technique. There are two kinds of methods to make the patterns for Bingata. One method is Shirojigata which involves everything being carved out except for the design part. The other method is Somejigata with which the design part is carved out. The method to make the pattern is selected depending on the design but sometimes both methods are used at the same time.
  2. 2. Katazuke (stencil printing) The pattern is placed over the thin silk textile that was cut into the pattern shape. Using a spatula, starch paste is applied to prevent it from being dyed and the stenciled part of the pattern is printed on the textile. You need to be very careful to move the spatula with a consistent strength to spread the starch paste on the textile evenly.

    The starch paste used to prevent the textile from being dyed is susceptible to the weather and humidity so it is said that the way the starch paste is mixed decides the quality of the finished product. Too much humidity makes the textile become excessively permeated so the dye becomes smeared. On the other hand, weather that is too dry makes the starch crack and that causes smears, too. Therefore, care must be taken when mixing the starch paste.
  3. 3. Tsutsuhiki (pushing with a cylindrical sack) With the Tsutsuhiki method, the starch paste is spread out over the design using a cylindrical cotton sack. The design looks more dynamic with the Tsutsuhiki method, compared to the method using a pattern.
  4. 4. Irozashi (coloring) After Katazuke is finished, the liquid that is referred to as Gojiru (a mixture of soy milk and starch) is applied using a brush. This is to settle the dye as well as to prevent smearing. If Gojiru is not applied carefully, it may cause an uneven surface as well as damaging the shades in the colors because the dye would not permeate properly.

    After applying Gojiru, colors are put on the parts of the textile that are not starched. Colors may smear if the starch is cracked so the back of the textile must be checked now and again while coloring.
  5. 5. Surikomi (double stencil) The pigment does not settle easily so you need to rub the color in again using a brush. The brush used for coloring is made from real women’s hair.
  6. 6. Kumadori (shading of color) Kumadori is a process to shade the color (Bokashi) from the center of the pattern so that it gives the pattern a three-dimensional look. This is a distinctive technique for Ryukyu Bingata. A deeper color than the coloring process is used and shading is created by rubbing the color in the textile using a brush.
  7. 7. Norifuse (applying starch) Norifuse is a process to apply starch to parts of the patterns to prevent the dye from permeating when Jizome (texture dyeing) is done. The level of perfection would be impaired if starch were not applied exactly where the patterns are. Utmost care and concentration are required in this process. Care must also be taken to mix the starch paste exactly as it was mixed in the Katazuke process.
  8. 8. Jizome (texture dyeing) Starch thinned with water is applied using a brush before Jizome. This process is referred to as Jiire and it helps the colors settle and prevents smearing.

    Then, dye is applied using a bigger brush. Specks in the dye might occur if the amount of dye or the strength used in the hand when applying the dye is not even, so this process requires extreme care. If an Indigo pattern is used, an Aitsubo (Indigo jar) needs to be used.
  9. 9. Mushi (steaming) The dyed textile is steamed in a steamer for 40 minutes to an hour to settle the dye. The textile is dried after that. Or, in some cases, a color-fixing agent (chemical) is used instead of steaming.
  10. 10. Washing in water The chemicals and starch are washed out using plenty of hot or cold water. When washing the textile, patience and time are required to check it carefully so that there are no color smudges or color loss. The textile is finished after being dried.

Where to Buy & More Information

Naha Traditional Craft Center

Naha Traditional Craft Center Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

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