A popular tourist destination, Okinawa Prefecture – previously known as the Ryukyu Kingdom – has long had a unique culture. Each island that makes up this prefecture has its own special traditional craft. Below are some carefully selected traditional crafts that you’ll want to take home as souvenirs from Okinawa!
The shiisaa statue, which looks like a lion, is one of the symbols of Okinawa. It is believed to ward off evil spirits, and is often seen on roofs, above front doors, at village entrances, and on hills. It is now thought to bring happiness and has been made into souvenirs like ornaments and keyholders. Shiisaa made in the traditional Okinawan ceramic style of "yachimun" are particularly popular. At Shiisaa Park Ryukyu Kiln, you can experience crafting Shiisaa without making reservations, and then take them home immediately!
Price for the shiisa-crafting experience: 1,550 JPY and up
2. Ryukyu Glass
A traditional Okinawan craft that you won't want to miss is Ryukyu glass. It started by re-using colored glass, such as of coke bottles. Any bubbles and thickness that would have been considered to be imperfections were made into "unique and rustic designs". The "rock glass" is a particularly popular product. There are many glass-making studios, such as Ryukyu Glass Village, where you can see craftspeople create these items using a 1,300℃ kiln. You can even make your own original glass!
Fee for the original glass-making experience: 1,620 JPY and up (must be elementary school age or older)
3. Kumejima Tsumugi
Okinawa has long been famous for its variety of textiles that have been valued as luxury gifts to take to the main island of Japan and to China. The Kumejima Tsumugi, which is designated by the Japanese government as both a traditional craft and an important intangible cultural property, is especially famous. It is a type of silk textile, produced in Kume Island, that is made by hand using silk from silkworms. The silk thread, woven in a traditional style, is soft, very comfortable to wear, and refined.
4. Ryukyu Shikki
Designated as a traditional craft of the country, Ryukyu Shikki is lacquerware produced primarily in Naha City and Okinawa City. It dates back to around the end of the 14th century, when Chinese culture was spreading rapidly to Okinawa, and is highly rated for the variety of techniques and dynamic expressions that can be applied to it. Ryukyu Shikki is characterized by floral decorations made from vermilion and black lacquer. The vivid beauty of the vermilion lacquer is beyond compare! Ryukyu Shikki may seem like it’s a luxury product that is beyond the reach of most people, but in recent years, many affordable and cute Ryukyu Shikki items, such as chopstick holders with hibiscus patterns, are being produced.
5. Kijoka Bashofu
The last craft is Kijoka Bashofu, which is a specialty of Amami Oshima. It is an outstanding craft that is designated as both a traditional national craft and important intangible cultural property by the Japanese government. It is handwoven with great patience from thread made from a type of banana, Ito-basho, which is extremely delicate and difficult to handle. It is characterized by its light weight and texture and is commonly worn in the summer. Major products include kimono fabric, zabuton mats, neckties, and bags.
When you visit Okinawa, be sure to see and touch its traditional crafts in person. If you find any that you like, consider taking them home as mementos of your trip!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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