【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Ryukyu Lacquerware (Okinawa Prefecture)~

【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Ryukyu Lacquerware (Okinawa Prefecture)~


Ryukyu lacquerware



【Production area of Ryukyu lacquerware】

Okinawa Prefecture



【What is Ryukyu lacquerware?】

Lacquerware produced in Okinawa Prefecture.

By combining lacquerware production techniques introduced from mainland China with unique elements nurtured in Okinawa, it has achieved its own development.

Not only technology, but also high artistry is highly appreciated all over the world.


The climatic environment of Okinawa is very suitable for the production of lacquer.

In addition, the quality of the timbers unique to Okinawa (deigo, styrax, banyan, etc.) is good, and the land was blessed with the production of lacquerware.

It has a unique presence due to the favorable conditions for the material to grow and the accumulation of daily efforts of the craftsmen.


In March 1986, it was designated as a traditional craft.



【Features of Ryukyu lacquerware】

The greatest feature is the abundance of decorating techniques and methods.

The main ones are as follows.



A technique unique to Okinawa that can express three-dimensional patterns.

It was born as an original of Ryukyu lacquerware with a hint of “tsuishu” which was introduced from China.

Tsuishu is a method in which vermilion lacquer is applied repeatedly to increase the thickness of the layers and carve a pattern.



A technique in which vermilion and black lacquer is applied in layers to give it a luster by adding oil.

Since it is naturally glossy, it is also called the “painting technique” because it can be finished by painting without polishing.



After carving a pattern using a Chinkin sword, rub “Kurome lacquer” into the carved area.

A technique in which the gold leaf is pressed and pasted before the lacquer dries.

When it is wiped off after drying, only the gold leaf remains in a linear shape.


※Kurome lacquer: Dark brown transparent lacquer made by removing water from raw lacquer



A technique in which patterns are drawn with lacquer, gold and silver leaf are applied before it dries, and unnecessary gold leaf is wiped off with a brush after drying.

The pattern appears when the gold and silver foil remains only on the drawn pattern.

Finally, draw a contour line with black lacquer to complete.



After thinly shaving glossy shells (abalone, green snail, etc.),

A technique that cuts out according to the pattern and pastes it with lacquer or embeds it.

After the lacquer dries, polish until the pasted shells appear, and finally polish with “deer antler powder” to complete.

It is used to draw unique patterns on Okinawan lacquerware, such as hibiscus.



【History of Ryukyu lacquerware】

It is said that the origin of Ryukyu lacquerware dates back to the 15th century, during the Ryukyu Kingdom.

At that time, there was frequent trade with China, so the techniques for making lacquerware were also introduced.


In the Ryukyu region, there was a deep connection between “politics” and “belief in gods and Buddhas.”

Not only in the royal family, but also in rural areas, lacquer decorations have been used in ceremonial occasions.

Lacquerware was cherished from the fact that there was a government office called ‘Kaizuri Magistrate’, which oversaw administrative work related to lacquerware production and the training and guidance of craftsmen.

Since it is mentioned in the literature in 1612, it is thought that the lacquerware was being produced systematically before then.


In 1609, the Satsuma Domain invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom.

The Satsuma clan presented the Ryukyu lacquerware that was picked up at that time to Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Until then, the relationship with China had been strong, but it began to actively engage in diplomacy with Japan.


Mainstream decoration techniques and methods of expression change with the times as follows.

・16th to 17th century → “Chinkin” for vermillion and green lacquer, “Raden” for vermillion lacquer

・18th and 19th centuries → “Chinkin”, “Hakue” and “Tuikin” on vermillion lacquer


After Okinawa became a prefecture in 1879, the production of Ryukyu lacquerware, which had been done by the clan until then, began to be done by the private sector (studios, companies, etc.).



【Production process of Ryukyu lacquerware】

①Making wooden base


There are two main types of wood, and use wood that has been dried for about six months.


・Sashimono wooden base

Use glue to assemble the boards.

After drying it thoroughly, it is the work of shaping it while scraping it with a plane.

It is used when making “jubako”, which is a box-shaped container for food that is stacked in two to five layers, and “zen”, which is a table on which tableware and food are placed.


・Hikimono wooden base 

There are two types of sawing: vertical sawing, which uses sliced wood, and horizontal sawing, which uses wood cut at right angles to the grain.

It is used when making bowls for serving rice and soup, and trays for carrying food.



It is a work to carefully fill in the cracks, scratches, and holes that were made when making the wood base with “Nivi Shitaji”.

It is just right to paint on trees with coarse grains such as deigo.

Next, apply a Kucha Shitaji, let dry, and the process is complete.


※Nibi Shitaji: Made by mixing raw lacquer with Oroku sandstone from Okinawa.

※Kucha Shitaji: A mixture of raw lacquer and Shimajiri mudstone powder.


③water sharpening


It is a process of sharpening while applying water using paper and a whetstone.

Do this several times after completing the foundation and between coats.

Start with a coarse grain first, then gradually change to a finer grain and sharpen.


④middle coating


This is done to improve the finish condition after the next “overcoating”.

The same color pigment and lacquer as used for the top coat are mixed and then applied to the work.




First, the lacquer for the top coat is made in the following two steps.

・The raw lacquer is irradiated with infrared rays and ultraviolet rays to evaporate the water content, making transparent lacquer. (This work is called “Kurome”)

・Mixing vermillion pigment into the resulting transparent lacquer will give it a thicker texture. Then, after filtering with Japanese paper, the final coat of lacquer is completed.


The painting process is completed with the final coating, and the quality of the painting is judged as it is.

It is a delicate work that changes depending on the natural environment such as the weather and temperature at the time of work.

In addition, it can be said that it is a work that fully demonstrates the skills cultivated by craftsmen over many years of experience.


Use a strong brush to carefully apply.

If there are bubbles or dust, remove it carefully and let it dry after painting.

It is also placed in a revolving bath, which is a box for hardening the lacquer.

The craftsmen have to make sure that the lacquer is not uneven by rotating it.


Humidity control is also important in topcoats.

This is because the color of lacquer changes depending on the humidity, and if only the surface dries too quickly, it will shrink and cause wrinkles.



As mentioned above, it is completed after decorating with many existing techniques.





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