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Kajiku Bingata (Naha City), Bridging the Past & Future through Bingata
post : 2018.11.04 06:00
“I create Bingata dyes, which are often purchased for celebrations or any sort of joyful events. The work that I create will eventually leave my hands, and when they do, they’ll go to the hands of someone who I hope will be very happy with it. I imagine that moment as I work on my pieces, when my creation brings happiness to the people. I work alone in the whole process, from creating the design through the ideas I have in my mind, and all the way to the final touches. Of course, it isn’t easy. Every step requires a lot of time and care. Still, when I see people wearing or using my creations, all that hard work is really worth it.”
Passionately explaining his work is this young Bingata craftsman, Mr. Osamu Kajiku. He is 37 years old now, and he created Kajiku Bingata when he went independent in 2015. He built his business with his hopes of sharing “the richness of the island that I was born and raised in, and for people to understand the beauty of Okinawa’s culture, and to bring a part of that culture into their daily lives.” He creates various items such as Obi sashes for kimono, tapestries, Uchikui (furoshiki clothes to wrap/carry various items) and others.
“The style of modern homes are very different from the past and lifestyles have changed quite a bit, too. Before, it was like a status to have craftsmen create trays and Uchikui with the family crest, but nowadays, we don’t see that anymore. There are positives in the modern ways, in how many daily items are now more affordable due to mass production and so in many ways, our lives have become more convenient. That said, I remember how it was in my childhood, when it was a part of our lives to have things that were carefully made by hands of craftsmen. I always think how great it would be to live our days with various ‘good’ things, Okinawan things, created by people. To have that naturally and without great effort would be wonderful.”
Osamu explained his passion for tradition, which was very interesting to hear from your ‘modern’ man who was dressed in today’s fashions, and a stylish studio he shares with a friend. His father is originally from Hatoma Island, one of the Yaeyama Islands, and many of his relatives also moved to the main island. He explained that they often gather to enjoy food and drinks, and spend a lively time together in truly Okinawan fashion. He says he was influenced as a child growing up in an environment surrounded with Okinawan culture, like the music of Sanshin as well as various arts and crafts.
“I really liked the older Bingata styles, and I think I spend more time looking at various collection of Bingata records than watching TV. As I look at these designs, I often think about these designs. These Bingata designs created long ago are referred to as ‘classic’ today, but in actuality, they were the very new trends of their times.” The designs from the past ages were inspired by the era, and cultures overseas like China, Japan and other countries and regions. These were drawn up by artists who we might refer to as designers today, and the designs were dyed by the craftsmen. In this way, many, many pieces were introduced to the world, and some of them withstood the test of the changing times, and still remain today. These are the designs that we call ‘classics’ today.
“From the modern times of today, I get inspired just as the craftsmen from the bygone era did. Okinawa is one of such inspirations, a place influenced by American pop culture. That’s why I want to be responsible and understand what our forefathers left for us, and at the same time, continue my own pursuit in my own Bingata that is born from the present, the present in which I live and breathe.”
Osamu explains that he often applies designs of plants, flowers and animals found in Okinawa. He also says he gets his inspirations from what catches his eyes as he strolling. The traditional designs that he has stocked away in the drawers of his mind react to the things he sees directly and the feelings they bring. This is when he thinks, “Yes, that’s what I will design.” He doesn’t simply use the designs from the past as they are, but his style is to arrange the balance, size, and spacing of the motifs in his own artistic ways.
For example, if he sees a swallow flying, the image from his stock of designs will output the traditional designs of swallow and peony. He says that his master taught him to “Observe things carefully when you are strolling outside.” And he lives by his teachings. He burns into his memory the flowers and the way they are facing, the leaves and their shapes and curves, as well as their imperfections from insects and such. Because his designs are based on his personal experiences, his creations are vigorous and full of life.
He says he first became interested in Bingata when he was a university student. At that time, he was too busy with his part-time job and enjoying youth and studying wasn’t so high on his list of priorities. He always liked to draw as a child, and as he continued to draw various illustrations and designs, he began to really get into graphic art which was becoming very popular at that time. He had somewhat of a vague goal to land a job in arts or designs in Tokyo, after graduating from college.
“On Kokusai Street, there was an clothing shop called Max, and the design on their sign left an impression on me. Later, I found out that it was a Bingata pattern designed by Rie Kagawa, a Bingata artist. That’s how unfamiliar I was with Bingata. One year, I happened to come across a Bingata piece at Okiten, a local art exhibition. I was almost shocked at the color and design. It really was powerful.”
While still moved by the impact of the Bingata piece, Osamu applied for an introductory Bingata dye workshop at Naha City Traditional Arts and Crafts Center. Osamu says, “I knew I could do a better job, but it was frustrating because I couldn’t. At that time, I didn’t have a clear vision on what I wanted to do after graduating, but at that moment, I knew I wanted to pursue a path in the world of Bingata.”
After that, he applied for a spot in a training program aimed at developing successors of the traditional craft, sponsored by the Okinawa Prefectural Government and the Ryukyu Bingata Business Cooperative, which places great importance and passion in the promotion of traditional arts and crafts of Okinawa. It was rare for males to apply for the training program at that time, but he was accepted, and after graduating university, he became an apprentice to Mr. Sadao Chinen of Chinen Bingata Research.
Like the other traditional arts and crafts of Okinawa, Bingata was once lost to the flames and destruction of World War II. The craftsmen, their studios and techniques all came to a halt in the Battle of Okinawa. Soon after the war, craftsmen began to come together to bring back the Bingata which was close to being lost forever. These craftsmen were Mr. Eiki Shiroma and two other families or lineage of Bingata craftsmen, who played a central role in bringing Bingata back. Among the craftsmen was the Chinen family which included Mr. Sadao Chinen. He was well known and respected in the world of Bingata and it isn’t very common to have apprenticeship opportunity with such a great in the field.
“I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn from him,” Osamu says. He studied under Mr. Chinen and worked with veteran craftsmen in their 60s and 70s for eleven years. The work there was tougher than he had expected. Even then, the studio had a very comfortable atmosphere, and although the work was challenging, it felt like working with family and relatives. “That’s why I was able to continue,” Osamu reminisces. There are numerous steps in creating Bingata dyes, from laying the initial designs, dyeing, steaming, washing, and more. His master was very passionate about nurturing successors to carry on the Bingata traditions and taught him well, proceeding carefully through each step every three years or so.
When he became an apprentice, Osamu told his master that he was hoping to go independent and eventually have his own studio in about ten years. To this, his master said, “If you’re working towards setting up your own studio, show your work in the Okiten Exhibition.” Osamu says that these words from his master, who exhibited his work at Okiten every year until he passed away, gently nudged him to work towards that goal. “And the year after my master passed away, my work won the Uruma City Mayor’s Award,” he said. The title of that work was “Tokai”, with designs of the sea and a treasure boat. The design was inspired by the Junk ships that carried the convoys who delivered tributary gifts to the Chinese Emperor during the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The ship, which was departing for the great seas, was a reflection of himself embarking from the port of his master and his fellow craftsmen who nurtured and cared for him during his apprenticeship. The treasures on the ship was a metaphor for the knowledge he was gifted by his master and senior craftsmen, and for the priceless time he spent with them.
“As I was given an opportunity to be a full-fledged craftsman in the Bingata world, I pursued my own way of arranging the rhythm of the classic designs, all the while with appreciation and gratefulness for my challenges.” What he means by rhythm, he says, is the flow born from the formation and layout. He comes up with the fitting rhythms for the shape and size of whatever he’s creating, be it a tapestry, or an obi sash for a kimono. He finds that feel-good rhythm within himself to express the movements and vitality of his designs laid on a level surface.
He says, “Even with the classic designs I like, there are times when I can’t find that right rhythm. When that happens, I adjust it to fit my own rhythm, so that I can express a world that excites, but at the same time, maintaining the sophistication and living up to the expectations of my predecessors. Elegance and refined dignity is important, even in the modern times. Bingata was worn by the kings, the royal families, and the nobles, after all.”
Since 2016, Osamu has been an instructor at the Arts and Crafts Promotion Center run by the Okinawa Prefectural Government, teaching Bingata techniques in the arts and crafts training programs.
Osamu explains, “The people taking the class are not my apprentices, so what they want to do takes precedence. Even if they create things beyond my measurements, as long as they maintain the certified standards of the Bingata Cooperative, I let them challenge new things freely. But if some things test the standards, I guide them, and of course, I teach them the important aspects. Work involving Bingata was likely started by predecessors during a time without any sort of infrastructure to support the creation and development of this art, and they probably dedicated their lives into this art. It may seem like an easy path to choose for people who enjoy arts and graphics, but Bingata is very deep. It has gone through tragic and difficult times, through the prosperity and crumbling of the Ryukyu Kingdom and then later, the Battle of Okinawa. It’s the heart behind the art that I hope to be able to deliver to the generations unaware of our history.”
“So many people have supported me throughout the years, and I want to continue working hard, so as to give something back,” Osamu explains. He plans on starting a new studio soon, where he would be able to dye bigger works, up to 13 meters in length. Such textiles are used to sew kimono. Presently, he teaches from Monday to Thursday and is also busy with finishing the orders he receives, but he hopes to make more time in the future, simply to create.
“I often imagine what craftsmen from the past would think if they saw me working. The craftsmen in the old days worked under candlelight, under more difficult situations and environments, like without the convenience of electricity. I often ask them in my mind, Can I still call this Bingata? In the world of Bingata, there will always be somebody more talented than the other. Just like in the past, there are many great masters that are vigorously stimulating this art world. Slowly, I feel like I’m moving forward, but the more I do it, the more amazing I find my seniors and predecessors. Honestly, I think to myself about how I was born in such a blessed time, but I also question whether I’m good enough. But until I’m called to the other world, I have to continue onward.”
I wondered where Osamu will be in this world of Bingata in ten, 20 years from now, and about the works produced by his students. I was certain that his master, Mr. Sadao Chinen, and all of the other predecessors of Bingata in resting peacefully in Guso (meaning “the heavens” in the Okinawan language) are looking forward to seeing every one of their successors bloom in their own ways.
Address: Maejima, Naha City, Okinawa
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda