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Okinawa Craft Exhibition slated for this weekend

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-10-08

The Okinawan Convention Center will be holding the sixth annual Okinawa Craft Exhibition from October 8 - 10. The event is designed to introduce the various traditional crafts of Okinawa to all visitors, providing them with a chance to purchase different items, as well as learn more about the art to making each craft.

Traditional Okinawan crafts have long been acknowledged for their fine workmanship and design, and were often used as royal tributary gifts to the emperor of China during the Ryukyu Kingdom Dynasty, as well as gifts to the emperor of Japan.

The most common type of traditional crafts made by Okinawan artisans are pottery, textiles, and lacquer ware. All can be traced back to the 14th and 15th centuries, when local craftsmen began developing their own original styles and techniques from those brought to Okinawa from different parts of Asia. Today many of Okinawa's beautiful crafts are affordable to the general public, and can be enjoyed by Okinawans, mainland Japanese tourists, and by foreigners.

Okinawan pottery, for example, which began in the Tsuboya region, was developed using local clay and baked in kilns fueled by burning wood. The most popular traditional items made using this method are the Okinawan "shiisa" (lion-dog statues found on rooftops and entrances of Okinawan homes to ward off evil), urns, and flasks for carrying awamori. The craft fair will feature various items for sale, as well as pieces made for everyday practical use, such as cups, plates, and bowls.

Traditional textiles produced in various areas of Okinawa each have their own distinct characteristics. The Bingata method of dyeing involves the creation of elaborate and colorful fabric designs used in Okinawan kimono. Bashofu, an art form the village of Kijoka can lay claim to, involves the use of fibers from banana plants to produce a lightweight fabric usually dyed with natural plant extracts. Many of the smaller islands also have their own original technique for either dying or weaving.

Other Okinawan textiles include "Shuriori," "Ryukyu Kasuri," and "Yaeyama Minsa." Although many traditional weaving techniques once faced an uncertain future, support by the government has helped maintain their existence.

The exhibition will also have many new types of crafts on sale. Ryukyu glass, first produced on Okinawa about 100 years ago, has always been popular with locals and foreigners. More recent crafts include wood-carved items and "Ujisome," a method of dyeing fabrics developed in Tomigusuku Village using the leaves of sugar cane.

Demonstrations at this year's event will give everyone a chance to either observe how Okinawan crafts are made or an opportunity for some hands-on experience. For a small fee to cover the cost of materials, you can take home something you create from clay, a fabric you dyed yourself, or a small piece of lacquer ware brushed with your own hands. Instructors provide the expertise and you provide the labor. Another part of the fair will introduce you to possible ways to use some of the hand-crafted materials for interior decorating.

Other activities scheduled over the three-day event are a "buka buka cha" (Okinawan tea ceremony) demonstration, a fashion show, auction, and traditional musical performances.

The Okinawa Craft Exhibition will take place on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

To get there, head south on Highway 58 from Kadena. After passing the gate for Camp Foster, look for the signs pointing the way to the Okinawa Convention Center and Ginowan Tropical Beach. Turn right and go straight.

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