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Published: February 20th 2010
Ryukyu Glass Village
I've been on Okinawa for nearly 2 years now and while shopping out in town I've seen colorful glass designs (cups, saucers, dishes, vases, mugs, bowls, etc.). After doing a bit of research I came to discover that these wonderful pieces were part of traditional Okinawan glass making and there were multiple factories around the island that I could visit.
So...I finally decided to go visit one of the glass factories to see the artisans at work and I had the pleasure of James' company too! We decided to visit the Ryukyu Glass Village in Itoman because it was the largest glass factory in the Okinawan prefecture. This allowed us an opportunity to see a wide variety of techniques and many different artists. We first visited the shops and James found one tiger striped glass mug (it was so neat!) and a mug made from pottery. I was on the look-out for a really large glass mug but didn't see anything that really caught my eye. I still had a great time viewing all the different colors and designs though. It was very pretty!
Okinawan glass has a very unique history and I have copied
A manly man with an manly mug
the below information from http://www.wonder-okinawa.jp/009/english/history/history3.html: 17th Century: The Introduction of Glass
When painter Tentsu Hirata made the statue of the Kaizan Buddhist priest and founder of Enkakuji temple in 1690, it is recorded that he used glass beads for the chief's artificial bronze eyes. From this, it is thought that glass was brought into Okinawa in the 1600's. Glass bead making was also listed as an occupation in the 1730's in the technology section of the "Old Records of Ryukyu," and these were thought to be glass craftsmen. Mid-Meiji Period: The Beginning of Glass Production
Before Meiji, most of the glass used in Okinawa was imported from the Japanese mainland, but due to the pitching and rolling of ships great damage occurred. This lead to the invitation of glass craftsmen from Nagasaki and Osaka to establish a glass factory in Okinawa, thought to be the start of glass production in Okinawa. Transparent glass such as lamp chimneys, medicine bottles, cheap sweets bottles and fly-catching bottles were made from raw materials of discarded bottles. Such glass production was continued until the factory was destroyed in World War II. Postwar: Restoration of Glass Production
Cups made by cutting off the bottom of
James and I decided the glasses looked moldy when not under a black light
soda bottles were used right after the war, before glass factories were built. In 1950 the proprietor's son at the Maeda Glass Factory (Mr. Masao Maeda), which was in Nishihara Town before the war, established a glass factory. However, due to a lack of supplies after the war, the glass products didn't sell, for even if glass containers were made, there was nothing to put in them, which led to a management crisis. In 1952 Mr. Eisho Shimabukuro, who worked at the Maeda Glass Factory before the war, took over the factory with his former colleague, Seiei Okuhara, and established the Okuhara Glass Factory. U. S. Military Administration Times: Appearance of Colored Glass
By the time plastic appeared, glass making seemed to decline by the end of the 1950's, but things changed after military personnel and their families started to visit the factory to bring photos and actual glass products in for ordering glass products. This overlapped with the Vietnam War (1960-1975) economy, and orders for souvenirs poured in. The products were not only sold in exchanges within the military bases, but also in Los Angeles and San Francisco by means of English catalogs. The raw materials used then were
The tiger striped mug...so cool!
empty soda and beer bottles discarded from U.S. military bases and colored glass, which made use of the color of the discarded bottles. Glass craftsmen who became independent from the Okuhara Glass Factory established the Machinato Glass Factory, the Ryukyu Glass Factory and the Kokusai Glass Craft, Inc. Reversion to Japan: Use of Glass Raw Materials
After the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, tourists from the mainland started to visit Okinawa and the demand for tourist souvenirs increased. Importing glass raw materials became easy, and factories that used glass raw materials instead of discarded bottles increased. 1980's: Establishment of the Ryukyu Glass Craft Cooperative
In 1983 six factories, namely the Okuhara Glass Factory, Ryukyu Glass Factory, Kokusai Glass Craft, Inc., Oyafuso Folk Craft Glass, Okinawa Kotobuki Glass Craft Inc. and the Giyaman Kan, out of the eight factories in Okinawa established the Ryukyu Glass Craft Association. In 1985 the organization changed its name to the Ryukyu Glass Craft Cooperative and the organization-operated Ryukyu Glass Village was opened. 1990's
Although Ryukyu glass had a strong background as tourist souvenirs, individual studios started to increase and production of individual pieces began. At present, there are 18 glass studios in Okinawa.
We then went outside to see the craftsman at work. We were intently watching the people making various glasses and vases when one of the craftsman, who I called "Peace Maker" (because of the writing on his baseball cap), invited us into the back section of the factory get an up-close view. It was soooo cool and nobody else seemed to have the same privilege we were afforded. I was snapping photos like crazy while they were showing us various techniques they used to make the glasses.
Visiting this glass factory was definitely worth the trip. James and I had fun viewing an Okinawan craft and purchasing some uniquely Okinawan products.
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