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A workshop experience of a traditional Okinawan craft technique called Tsuikin - Ryukyu lacquerware.
post : 2019.02.26 17:00
Arts and crafts such as Bingata (dyed cloth), Shuri-ori (textile) and Tsuboya yaki (pottery) are unique to Okinawa and are still to this day, alive and popular.
Ryukyu lacquerware is another craft. With a history of over 300 years, Ryukyu lacquerware was first developed in the 1300’s - a period when the Ryukyu Kingdom actively traded with China. During this time, Chinese lacquerware techniques such as Ra-den, Chinkin and Hakue were introduced to Okinawa. Although these techniques have also influenced lacquerware in other areas of Japan, Tsuikin's design and 3-dimensional patterns are unique to Okinawa.
The “Naha City Traditional Arts & Crafts Center” is located on the 2nd floor of the “Tenbusu Naha” building on Kokusai Street. You can experience 5 different workshops of traditional Okinawan arts & crafts. These include: Ryukyu glass blowing, Ryukyu Bingata, Shuri-ori, Tsuboyaki and the Ryukyu lacquerware, Tsuikin. Let's take a look at one, the Ryukyu lacquerware, Tsuikin.
The two colors of Tsuikin mochi , in deep green and yellow.
Tsuikin is the process of stretching out a thin piece of Tsuikin mochi (a mixture of lacquer and colored ink) and cutting the pieces into patterns to paste onto a container.
Mr. Yoshio Koshima, an instructor from Yonaguni Island, explains the following, “In 1715, it is believed that Shuri’s craft engineer Joushou Higa came up with the idea of Tsuikin after being influenced by the Chinese technique called Tsuishu, a technique where over 10 layers of lacquers are painted over each other to form the shape of Chinese lacquerware. The features of Tsuikin are unique to Okinawa, its thickness giving it a 3-dimensional look and having multiple pieces available to be pasted on. It is even patented for being able to paste the lacquer onto glass.” He also added “Although Tsuikin is unique to Okinawa, those who fled and evacuated to Miyazaki before the war still continue to practice this art.” Also, it is said that Tsuikin is only used on the main island of Okinawa.
For this workshop, we will be decorating a lacquer coated coaster using Tsuikin mochi. The mochi, which has been prepared beforehand, will be shaped and cut into pieces of goya (bitter melon), colored, then placed onto the coaster.
The process of Tsuikin is roughly divided into 2 parts. In the 1st part, the Tsuikin mochi is thinly stretched out using a roller, while the 2nd part consists of cutting the mochi into specific sized pieces to be placed onto the lacquerware. The instructor will have already prepared the 1st part of the process so all you will have to do is the 2nd part of the process. It can be completed in about an hour and you will be able to take home your craftwork that day. The Tsuikin mochi will harden within a month if kept at room temperature.
Explained is our hands-on experience with Mr. Koshima, our instructor for the day.
Our instructor has prepared 2, colored Tsuikin mochi's for us to use, one to create the goya itself and the other, the leafy part of the goya. We will be using a shi-gu (scalpel) to trace over the white draft line that has been outlined using fuchi (white ink). As Aki Moriyama-san, a participant in the workshop explains “It’s soft, like freshly made mochi.”
Next we angled the shi-gu slightly and trace over the white lines. Then we used a bo-ganii (a gold color tool) to trace over the lines while being careful to not apply too much pressure and accidentally cutting through it.
We used the bo-ganii to add in the warty-like exterior of the goya on the Tsuikin mochi.
Goya’s are characterized by their bumpy and warty-like exterior. We were able to re-create the surface of the goya by holding the bo-ganii flat and rolling it over the mochi. The writer and Moriyama-san were impressed in how real the bumps and warts looked as they continued to roll the bo-ganii over the mochi.
The writer was also able to experience using the bo-ganii- and to her surprise, realized that it is quite difficult! She recognized how difficult it is to move the bo-ganii ever so slightly with her fingertips. She asked the instructor what exactly this rolling action is called and the instructor replied, “their is no name for it.” The writer felt that perhaps this action is probably not even considered a proper “technique” for experienced craftsmen like Mr. Koshima. In any case, she stated that this would probably be the first and last time she would experience this “technique.”
Next, we added in colors using ink. “Goya turns yellow once cooked so adding that color will make it look more real,” our instructor explained. After his explanation, we added in the colors on the Tsukin mochi.
After we added in the colors we cut off the unfilled areas.
Our instructor, Mr. Koshima, with over 55 years of experience in lacquerware, told us, “about 40 years ago, 80 – 90% of Ryukyu lacquerware used Tsuikin. The process of using a roller (to thin out the Tsuikin) did not exist back then so I had to use my barehands to stretch out the mochis, which led to calluses on my palms. Currently there are only a few lacquerware craftsmen left and I feel the need to educate and teach this craft to future generations.”
During our visit we had a great time talking with Mr. Koshima, who is very friendly. Please feel free to ask him anything to deepen your understanding about the crafts and history of Okinawa.
“It is a lot of fun,” says a smiling Moriyama-san. After our workshop ended, she added, “Although all of the process were fun, I especially liked peeling off the Tsuikin mochi which created the specific shaped pieces. Being able to see the goya shape placed onto the coaster was quite impressive.”
We place the separated pieces of the goya and its leaf on top of the beautifully coated black coaster.
Once we finished placing the pieces onto the coaster, we applied tracing paper on top and pressed down firmly to make it stick. “We used to call it “Parapinshi,” but we just call it tracing paper nowadays” said Mr Koshima. Words that made us feel the vast amount of experience Mr. Koshima has.
After firmly applying the tracing paper, we peeled it off in one go, then after a final cleanup of the coaster, our goya Tsuikin coaster is complete! Moriyama-san, thank you.
“I really had a good time. It was a lot more fun and not as difficult as I expected. The excitement of wanting to know the next step was fun and I’m sure even those who aren’t good with their hands can have a good experience as well. Now that I know this process, I’m sure I will have a deeper understanding when I see other peoples works” commented Moriyama-san.
We were able to have a nice chat with Mr. Koshima, while enjoying the peaceful time pass by as we created a beautiful piece of craftwork that we feel should be displayed. Having the opportunity to experience a traditional craftwork unique to Okinawa and best of all, you can create and bring home a craft to remember! I highly recommend experiencing the Ryukyuan lacquerware Tsuikin.
Naha City Traditional Arts & Craft Center・ Ryukyu lacquerware workshop experience *Must make reservations 3 days beforehand
Address: Okinawa, Naha, Makishi 3-2-10 Tenbusu Naha 2F
Hours: 10:00～16:00 (12:00～13:00 closed)
Workshop experience starting hours:
2nd workshop 13:00～
3rd workshop 15:00～
Closed: Dec 30th～Jan 2nd
Okinawa CLIP Photo Writer: Mika Asaka