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The Jewelry Accessory Shop

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-12-08

There is an unusual shop in Ginowan called Beanís. It has a long table running down its center and the walls are stacked with thousands of glass beads in jars. They are all hand made and cost between •2 and •600 each. Beanís has the parts Ė metal links and chains to make all types of jewelry. Its very friendly manager Yaeko Yamada or her assistant will invite customers to take a seat and teach them the various techniques of stringing together bracelets, necklaces or anklets. Or the parts can be bought and assembled at home.

Beanís also offers instruction in the more intricate craft of actually making glass beads, courtesy of the shopís on-premises artist, Tomohiro Tanigawa. Watching Tanigawaís deft manipulation of molten glass, his expertly timed interactions of flame and rapidly changing shapes, is fascinating.

Anyone who wants to learn his techniques can have lessons in the store. These take 2-3 hours each. One lesson would be enough to pick up the rudiments, though considerable practice would be needed to reach Tanigawaís level. The artist is self- taught and has been practising the craft as a living since May.

His equipment is fairly simple, consisting of a gas burner, a couple of bricks, tongs, gimlets and some metal rods. The raw materials, a stack of colored glass sticks that come from a supplier in Osaka, are stacked on one side of his workbench.

Yamada explains that with his more complicated creations, he could spend an hour making a glass bead. But during this demonstration he makes a fairly simple bead that only takes a few minutes.

Tanigawa places a blue glass stick and a white one on an upended brick, their ends jutting above the gas burner. Then he heats a metal rod in the flame. The metal rod has a white coating made of powdered stone. He sets fire to the white stick while warming the blue. When the end of the white stick has the consistency of molten toffee he starts to twirl it onto the rod, rotating it until it has formed a small ball around the rod. Tanigawa then heats the end of the blue stick and dabs small gobbets of blue glass onto the ball, which he keeps rotating. The ends of the gobbets glow bright orange. Then he tamps down the hot droplets and the white sphere is covered with round blue marks. Tanigawa repeats the process with the white glass stick, putting blobs of white into the blue designs, flattening them so they almost reach the outer edges of the blue patterns. This creates a series of thin blue circles on the white bead. He goes back to heating the blue glass stick and puts molten blue blobs in the center of each circle. This time he scrapes the gobbets with a small gimlet and squeezes the bead with tongs. A swirly, symmetrical blue and white design emerges and the bead is plunged into a box of baked stone flakes to cool.

The craft of glass making was brought to Japan by the Dutch during the Edo period about 300 years ago and one of its applications took the form of making of intricate glass beads to decorate obis, the sashes worn with kimonos.

Using the beads for this purpose is not so common now but they have become high fashion items on bracelets and chokers. On the mainland they became very popular about two years ago and were seen adorning numerous teen idols. In Tokyo there are warehouse sized stores like Beanís.

There are other places in Okinawa with similar merchandise but none have the variety of Beanís, which stocks 300 types of beads.

Yamada says the table in the shop gets easily filled and that most of her customers are women in their 20s and 30s. The occasional male comes in to make a bracelet. Foreigners and tourists are not often seen, though they would be welcome. Yamada speaks good English.

The staff at Beanís clearly love their craft. They have a book full of glass bead designs through the ages: Roman, Viking, Mediterranean, Venetian, which provides inspiration when it is needed.

If you want to browse, buy or learn the craft Beanís is a friendly, welcoming place with an attractive stock and interesting possibilities.

Directions: From Futenma Gate 7 take Route 81 in the direction of Highway 58. When Route 81 hits Highway 58 at Isa Intersection, go straight over the intersection and continue for about 300 yards. On the left is Union 24 hour supermarket. Beanís is on the opposite side of the road to the supermarket, 100 yards to the left.

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