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The Beauty of Handcrafted Glass

By: Wendy Hively

Date Posted: 2000-09-08

Two of the most beautiful handcrafted treasures made on Okinawa are glassware and pottery. Both can be found while visiting the Ryukyu Glasswork Village located at the southern tip of the island. A one- hour drive, from Kadena Air Base, south on Routes 58 and 331 brings you to the factory just outside Itoman City. Entrance to the Glasswork Village is free and allows a glimpse of a unique part of the traditional Okinawan cultural heritage.

There are two main workshops where artisans demonstrate their craft. The first building highlights their collection of pottery in progress. Shelves of unfinished pieces sit behind the artists who carefully decorate each one by hand. There are rows of tables just outside the building that are filled with beautiful bowls, mugs, plates and vases that have already been decorated and fired in a kiln. Prices range from about •600 for some of the small mugs and bowls to around •2200 for the larger bowls and vases.

The glassblowing workshop is situated in the center of the village just adjacent to the exit of the pottery building. Inside are at least 15 men and women skillfully crafting glass of different sizes, shapes and colors. In the middle of the workshop sits an enormous oven with a fiery red glow. The heat from the fire is so intense that the numerous fans surrounding the workshop hardly seem to generate enough air to cool the place down. The glassblowers dip their hollow metal poles into the hot fire and pull out a glowing red ball of glass. As they carefully blow air into the glass, the fiery red glow disappears and a new piece of glass begins to take shape. The newly formed glass is cut from the end of the pole and is set aside where it can cool. The whole process takes just a few minutes, so it is easy to watch for quite a while. Donít be tempted to stay at the workshop too long; the highlight of the tour is the gift shop.

The large gift shop showcases an impressive selection of the pieces made in the Village. There are a variety of bowls, pitchers, plates and glasses of every size and shape. The array of colors is brilliant and unlike anything Iíve ever seen. Bright hues of red, orange, green and blue sparkle from the displays. The glassware is a bit pricey but worth the expense considering each piece is individually handcrafted. Most of the small glasses are priced at •1000 each while the larger bowls and vases can be as much as •5000 or •6000 apiece.

In one corner of the gift shop is a modest display featuring some very stunning necklaces and bracelets. Each piece is made of tiny glass beads strung together in a most delicate and dainty fashion. The urge to purchase one of these beauties was great, but the •2500 price tag restrained me from reaching for my yen. Any of the items purchased from the gift shop would make a great gift. The most difficult task is deciding which of the thousands of lovely pieces to choose.

Above the glass factory is a restaurant that offers just a few lunch selections. Featured on the menu are a tray with soba noodles and sticky rice, beef pieces stewed in a rich curry sauce or a more typical American meal of spaghetti with meat sauce. Drinks are served out of the beautiful glasses made in the Glasswork Village below. The scenic island landscape is easily viewed through the expansive picture window that runs the entire length of the restaurant. Lunch prices are very reasonable at around •800. On the way back to the parking lot, stop off at the Blue Seal ice cream stand for a delicious cone or sundae.

Many of the glass and pottery crafts made at the Ryukyu Glasswork Village are also found in stores all around the island as well as the gift shops outside the Kadena and Foster BX. To fully appreciate the effort and skill involved in the craft, however, I would recommend a tour of the Glasswork Village.

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