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Ryukyu Bingata

1. What is the “Ryukyu Bingata”?

The “Ryukyu Bingata (琉球の紅型)” is the dyed textiles(染物)often worn by noble classes in the late period of Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa. They were worn both in the females and the males (before adolescence). It is now recognized as one of the representatives of Japanese traditional dyed textiles(染物)or kimono, such as Kyo-Yuzen(京友禅), Kaga-Yuzen (加賀友禅), Edo-Komon (江戸小紋).
One of the characteristics that distinguishes “Ryukyu Bingata (琉球の紅型)” is the usage of a primary color (原色), such as bright yellow, rose red. Those are not observed in the kimono of main land of Japanese archipelago. The scholars have suggested that the reason of the high occurrence of yellow might relate to the close political relationships among Ryukyu Kingdom(琉球) and Chinese Empire(中国王朝) where the yellow was believed to be a color of superior power.
Dyeing of “Ryukyu Bingata (琉球の紅型)” is done by stencils(型付). Although stencils dyeing can be seen throughout the Japan those days, several designs originate to the topical regions are very unique, such as a hibiscus, okinawan lion, and banana.

2. History

The origin of “Ryukyu Bingata (琉球の紅型) “ is believed to be the prior to Ryukyu Kingdom, but it is still under the discussion. The time which “Ryukyu Bingata (琉球の紅型)” flourished in the kingdom was around the late period of Ryukyu kingdom around 18-19th when the invasion by Satsuma(薩摩), one of the strong referral federal domains of Edo Bakufu, happened. By that time the new manufacturing techniques were introduced to the Ryukyu Kingdom(琉球), and then this flourishment of “Ryukyu Bingata (琉球の紅型)” lasted until the abolition of Ryukyu kingdom alongside the Meiji Restoration.
The “Ryukyu Bingata (琉球の紅型)” were worn not only at the time of a court dance(宮廷舞踊)for the welcoming party of Chinese envoys (冊封使), but also it has been worn for purpose of divine protection(神のご加護)from Okinawan monstrous creatures such as Kijimuna(キジムナー).

3. The manufacture of “Ryukyu Bingata”

1). texture (下地づくり)
The stencils(型付) are placed on the cloth fabric, and then the whole cloth fabric is dyed by the glue. The glue is the mixture of glutinous rice, rice bran, and preservatives (lime). The places where stencils are covered would not be covered by this glue(糊付け). The purpose of gluing is to have dyeing line exactly same as stencils.
After placing the glue and peeling the stencils, the cloth fabric are stretched by several bamboo stick stretcher(伸子). Then the mung bean milk(豆汁)are dyed for avoiding the dye to spread for the next step.

2). Arrangement of colors(配色)
The next step after preparing cloth fabric will be dyeing arrangement of colors. Two brush are used. One is for a paintbrush used for coloring, and other is for a stenciling(刷り込む). Dyeing must be begun from brighter colors such as red and yellow to the darkish colors such as gray and blue.

3). Finishing(仕上げ)
After dyeing the portion of cloth fabric covered by brushes, the glue will be washed. After it dried, it will be “Ryukyu Bingata (琉球の紅型)” called shiroji-gata which means most of the cloth fabric has not dyed and white(白地型). When it needed to be yellow dyeing for empty space of the cloth fabric, it requires next step. Contrary to the dyeing stenciled portion, the dyeing the empty will be done by gluing that stenciled portion, so that stenciled portion dyed already will be protected and empty space of cloth fabric will be dyed again(下地塗り).

4. At the time of Ryukyu Kingdom

Compare to the present manufacturing of “Ryukyu Bingata”, the hereditary way of exclusive production (世襲) was more common at that time. It consisted one of the governmental branches, and craftsmen’s salary also came from Ryukyu Kingdom. Sometimes new designs of stencils were introduced court painter (宮廷画家)and Ukiyo-e hired by Ryukyu kingdom. As a gift to the Chinese Empire(中国王朝) and Edo Bakufu, Japan, the production of those extorted textiles were dyed under many restrictions.


外間正幸、岩宮武二(1966)『日本の工芸 別巻 琉球』淡交新社。
富山弘基 大野力(1971)『沖縄の伝統染織』徳間書店。

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