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The Beauty of Okinawan Crafts Seen at Fair

By: Marc Jacobson

Date Posted: 2000-10-27

The traditional crafts of Okinawa are a continuing source of pride for the prefecture’s islands and a way to highlight an important part of the unique cultural heritage of the Okinawan people.

The 7th Annual Okinawa Craft Fair was recently held at the Okinawa Convention Center in Ginowan City. This fair provides a convenient manner in which to see the different types of beautiful crafts which are important to Okinawa and a chance to purchase them, with many discounted 20 to 30% from regular store prices.

At the entrance table a very informative and colorful brochure was handed out to the visitors, which briefly described the different crafts of Okinawa in both Japanese and English. In addition, a translator was available to answer questions for the many English-speaking visitors.

On display and sale were the laquerware, glass, pottery, and bingata items which are a well-known part of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom of Okinawa. In addition, there were many displays of textiles and small wooden crafts.

The very popular displays were the many varied types of textiles, including those dyed blue indigo from Motobu area and the Yaeyama and Miyako islands. Unique designs and colors were also easily seen in the materials woven in different areas such as Yomitan, Shuri in Naha City, and Haebaru. Most of the designs are based on items seen commonly in nature such as flowers, leaves, ocean waves, clouds, birds, and fish. There was even a textile which had a pattern of cicadas (locust) carefully woven into it. A recent addition to the textiles available is materials (hemp, silk, and cotton cloths) which are colored varied shades of green and yellows using dyes made from sugarcane leaves. This technique was developed in Tomigusuku village in 1989 and is becoming more popular for the soft natural colors.

There were many displays of small wooden crafts ranging from plant holders to tables and toys. This newer industry utilizes various types of wood indigenous to the tropics including the Ryukyu pine. Various innovations on wood processing and design have resulted in products which are now used for everyday purposes and decoration.

There were opportunities for people to try their skill at pottery, laquerware, bingata and weaving on a loom. Tables in the center of the displays had various items at special prices. These were available to purchase during 3 hours of each day.

There was also an area set up in the style of a tea ceremony and was a good place for a break. After sitting down on a bench, one of the women wearing a traditional Okinawan kimono, would provide you with an Okinawan purple-colored sugar cookie, set simply on a small piece of leaf and in an open-weave basket. After eating the cookie, you were given a small bowl continuing a sample of the Okinawan green tea known as “buku-buku cha”. This slightly bitter tea is different from Japanese green tea in that it is made using cold water and powdered tea leaves which are whisked into a frothy tea. The trick is to drink all of the tea and the foam without getting any on your nose.

There was also a small stage for various events such as fashion shows, music, and discussions of new types and techniques in producing traditional crafts. A group of brightly-costumed elementary school children dancing and beating their drums to traditional Okinawan music were especially popular. Fashion designers had their chance to show new and surprising clothing styles that borrowed themes from various Okinawan and Japanese motifs.

Annually, this fair is a great opportunity to see many types of crafts displayed under one roof. Trips to see the various manufactures of these items can be wonderful daytrips throughout the island and provide another way to enjoy the unique culture of the Okinawan people. The December sales of pottery at the Yachimun Festival in Yomitan Village and laquerware in Naha City are also popular chances to purchase wonderful crafts at discount prices.

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