Bengara is inorganic red pigment whose main ingredient is iron oxide, Fe2O3, and it is the oldest coloring agent known to mankind.
Bengara is written弁柄, in some cases紅殻, in Kanji and is also known as Indian Red and Venetian Red.
Bengara was thought to be introduced from China, via the Korean peninsula, into Okinawa. The name Bengara was believed to have been derived from Bengal, the Indian province that most of the iron oxide came from.
Bengara’s ingredient, iron oxide Fe2O3, was produced naturally more than any other iron oxide based coloring agents. However because its mineral composition is very similar to that of red rust from iron, nowadays artificially composed dyes have become more common than naturally produced ones. Nariwa-cho, Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture, is the only remaining place in Japan that still produces Bengara naturally.
In ancient time, Bengara was rare and much treasured as a noble color. Shuri Castle in Okinawa is known to have Bengara red color. Because Bengara was superior for coloring and sealing as well as resistant to heat and water, it was applied to wooden buildings to prevent aging damage.
The color of Bengara might lack certain brightness more common in other red based pigments, but its flamboyance today still keeps holding people’s affection.
Miyako-jofu is a very elaborate, smooth and strong hemp fabric featuring a splashed design, and is one of Okinawa's traditional crafts.
400 years ago, the king of Ryukyu honored a man from the island of Miyako-jima who had averted a disaster at sea. The king rewarded him with the rank of monk at his court. The man's wife was so pleased that she wove a heartfelt cloth to present to the king as a token of her thanks.
This story is said to be the beginning of the production of Miyako-jofu fabric. Miyako-jofu is a fabric that uses a form of flax known as 'choma' in its weave. It is produced in Hirara, Shimoji-cho and elsewhere, and was designated a traditional craft by the government in 1975.
Yomitanzan Hana-Ori is a unique flower-patterned textile, woven in the village of Yomitan in Okinawa.
Around the 14th and 15th centuries, Yomitan actively traded with China at Nagahama bay. Textiles were also introduced at this time, and later Hana-Ori began to be woven in Yomitan.
It is said that, apart from the people of Yomitan, ordinary citizens were not allowed to wear Hana-Ori, since it was a textile reserved for royalty.
The lovely and detailed flower patterns of Hana-Ori are accentuated by the colored thread. There are more than 30 patterns of the Kasuri type that reflect the tastes of Okinawa. Handkerchiefs woven in Tebana styles were considered special. They used to be called the handkerchiefs of prayer, or of love. These handkerchiefs were made to be presented as a gift to someone special. They were woven as a prayer for the safety of the family, or for a loved one.
Yomitanzan Hana-Ori is a beautiful and a lovely textile that expresses the heart of the weaver.
Ryukyu Kasuri is an ikat cloth woven in the town of Haebaru in Okinawa. It is also the collective term for any ikat made in Okinawa.
Ryukyu Kasuri is said to date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. It developed from South-East Asian ikat but its designs feature unique motifs based on Okinawan nature and fauna.
Silk is the main thread used for Ryukyu Kasuri, and is dyed with both natural and chemical dyes. It is mainly produced as a roll of cloth. Hanging wall cloths for the summer season are also made.
To make ikat, warp and weft threads are dyed and woven by hand in ordered patterns. Before weaving, the threads are mounted on a frame, tied in selected areas, then dyed. The threads are then dried and loosened, and carefully woven on a wooden loom to form the pattern.
The simple prints and the geometrical patterns of Ryukyu Kasuri create an exotic atmosphere.
Yonaguni-ori is a textile that shows both an idyllic and a simple flavor. It originated at the westernmost edge of Japan, on the Okinawan island of Yonaguni.
The history of the Yonaguni-ori dates back approximately 500 years. It is reckoned that the Yonaguni-ori was already being presented as tribute in the early C16th.
Various forms of Yonaguni-ori include the figured ita-hana-ori shidati; the graceful Yonaguni-hana-ori; the flat woven dotati, used today in casual wear; and the corded kagannuboo. All are excellent examples of handicraft: their dyeing and weaving exemplify the culture and soul of Yonaguni.
In 1987, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry designated Yonaguni-ori as a Traditional Handicraft.
Yonaguni-ori is a weaving technique that has come down to us today having absorbed various techniques over time. It is a textile that reflects both tradition and history
Kijoka bashofu is one of the oldest handwoven textiles of Okinawa. It is mainly woven in Kijoka, and is a representative textile of Okinawa.
It is believed that bashofu was already being made in the C13th, although it was not until the modern era that it became more widely used.
Wives and daughters wove the cloth for their families, and created the thread from the plantain trees (basho) cultivated in their yards and fields. Even though cotton had become common in the C19th, basho was still popular among the local people.
Kijoka bashofu still carries on this tradition. In 1974, it was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Asset (group category).
The bashofu cloth is unique in its lightness and smoothness. The airy light fabric is perfect for the hot subtropical climate of Okinawa. Today, it is a widely-favored textile.
Nagaki are enclosures made of rocks that enable fish to be caught using the sea's tides. At high tide, when the nagaki is under water, fish move inside; when the tide goes out and the sea level drops below the walls, the fish are trapped and easily caught.
This fishing method is practiced not only in Okinawa and Kyushu, but in Polynesia and in parts of Southeast Asia. In Okinawa, the nagaki is famous for its use especially along the Sawada coast of Irabu Island and the south coast of Kohama Island.
The nagaki in Kohama are up to 12m wide by 1200m long, making them the biggest in the world. It is said that in old times, nagaki were first built for a lady born in Kohama who served in the court of the Ryukyu King.
Ovet the centuries, most nagaki have collapsed, but some are still used. Nagaki is a way of fishing that lets you feel a sense of fun.
Sakishimasuo-no-ki is a kind of tree with buttress roots. The biggest tree of this kind in Japan can be found in Haimi, near the town of Taketomi in Okinawa Prefecture.
Trees of this type (Sterculiaceae mangrove) are native to places such as Amami, Ishigaki and the Iriomote Islands.
Because the ground is usually soft, the buttress roots grow out to support the growing tree because the roots only go 20cm deep into the ground. In former times, people used to cut the roots and use them as helms for boats.
Sakishimasuo-no-ki means 'the suo tree of the Saki Islands'; the Saki Islands is the general name for the islands south of the main island of Okinawa, and 'suo' is a tall leguminous deciduous tree.
The sakishimasuo-no-ki in Taketomi is 18m high and 2.9m round the trunk. There are 15 buttress roots of varying sizes making it a very impressive tree with a dominating presence.