Okinawa Tourism Information:Visiting[ChinenBingata](NahaCity):OneoftheThreePrestigiousBingataSansokeFamiliesDatingBacktothePeriodoftheRyukyuKingdom(Part1of2)

Visiting [Chinen Bingata] (Naha City):
One of the Three Prestigious Bingata Sansoke Families Dating Back to the Period of the Ryukyu Kingdom (Part 1 of 2)

post : 2021.02.27 07:00

As I made my way to the studio on foot from the Yui Rail Akamine Station, the next station from Naha Airport, I came across a beautiful strip of fabric swaying in the breeze that flowed through the residential area. This was my destination, Chinen Bingata, a studio that makes textiles using the Ryukyu Bingata dyeing technique.


On May 10, 1996, Bingata was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset of Japan under the technical arts category of “dyes”. The art of Bingata dyes has continued since around the 15th century and is one of Okinawa’s important arts. There are varying theories, but some say that the word Bingata comes from the combination of “Bin” meaning colors, and “Kata” meaning patterns.

Its official name is Ryukyu Bingata (with ‘Bingata’ written in Katakana letters), but the Kanji characters for Bingata (紅型) was first used by Yoshitaro Kamakura (1898-1983) who was recognized as a holder of Important Cultural Property (Living National Treasure) and a leading figure in the research of Bingata. The Kanji characters for Bingata spread from around the beginning of the Japanese Showa era (which began in 1926 and ended in 1989).

The Bingata is known for its unique designs and has three major characteristics. These are the Tezome pigment dyeing technique, where pigments of each color are carefully imprinted by hand, the Kumadori, which is a technique that is unique to Bingata, and finally, the use of handmade tools created just for Bingata dyeing.

(Photo courtesy of Chinen Bingata)

Bingata was established as the dyeing technique for the royals around the 18th century, with its techniques influenced by those from various countries such as the Chinese Huabu flower cloth, Indian Chintz designs, Javanese Batik dyeing, and Japanese Yuzen dyeing. The gorgeous patterns of the Bingata are said to have been dedicated to the royal Ryukyuan government.

During the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the three families, Takushi, Shiroma, and Chinen, all lived in Shuri and created Bingata under the painter and Picture Magistrate of the royal government. The families were responsible for creating Bingata dyes for the royals and were referred to as the Bingata Sansoke, or “the three great Bingata families”.

The Chinen family was given the rank of Chikudun when at that time, the ranks started from the royal family, then Aji, Uekata, Pechin, followed by Chikudun. The Bingata created by the Chinen family were for the clothing worn by the Shizoku and higher classes.

From the first generation Chinen Chikudun Pechin of Shimujiibu Village, two families have inherited and passed on the family’s traditional art of Bingata, with the Shimujiibu Village Chinen family headed by the first son, and the Uijiibu Village Chinen family headed by the second son.

Today, the Shimujiibu Village’s “Chinen Bingata Kenkyusho” and the Uijiibu Village’s “Chinen Bingata Kobo” have united to form “Chinen Bingata,” and are working together to preserve the traditions and to create the Bingata.

The Chinen Bingata introduced here was founded in 1972 by Sadao Chinen, the eighth generation of the Shimujiibu Chinen family.

(Photo courtesy of Chinen Bingata)

“In the past, Bingata was worn exclusively by the royal family and very few others, and they only wore them for special occasions such as during the welcoming of the Sapposhi envoys from China and other official events, rituals, and ceremonies.”

I had the chance to hear more from the president of Chinen Bingata, Toma Chinen, the tenth-generation head of the Shimujiibu Chinen family.

Toma Chinen, president of Chinen Bingata, and the tenth-generation head of the Shimujiibu Chinen family.

From the age of 15 to 16, Toma-san helped out the family business and created Bingata designs, and in his late teens, he went to Kyoto, Osaka, and Milan, Italy, to acquire experience in graphic design. As he saw the world, he was able to realize in a new light that “there truly was a great technical art in such a small kingdom like Okinawa”. At the age of 22, he returned to Okinawa with a great outlook, thinking, “there’s nothing but joy in creating something as beautiful as Bingata.” With that, he officially took over the family studio in 2017, as the tenth-generation head of the Shimujiibu Chinen family.

He works with the hopes of “creating one-of-a-kind items for our customers. May joy and happiness come to the customer who comes across this kimono.” Every day, he’s hard at work creating, teaching the younger craftsmen, and spreading and advancing the art of Bingata.

One Tan, or a roll of cloth to make a kimono, is about 13m. The studio is large and spacious enough to work on several Tanmono rolls and Obi sashes at one time. There are presently 10 craftsmen including Toma-san working in the studio, and in a month, they create approximately 30 Obi sashes and five Tan rolls of kimono cloth. There are highly experienced craftsmen in their 60s and also younger craftsmen in their 20s and 30s. They’re all very focused on their work that they proceed with expert hands.

Toma-san says, “There are many young people who want to work with Bingata. Every year, we have people looking to work with us, so we’re not too concerned about not having enough people to pass on the skills, at least for now.” The future of Okinawa’s world of Bingata appears to be bright, with many people coming to knock on their door every year with dreams of becoming a Bingata craftsman.


To complete one Bingata work takes about 10 steps, and when dyeing both sides of the cloth, there are 18 steps. The whole process is done from start to finish at this one studio.

Since the quality of the finish is greater when the same person concentrates on doing one step, the craftsmen have designated steps, like the Kumadori and Noribuse steps. Each craftsman takes turns being in charge of three to four steps. Additionally, each person has their distinctive styles, like in the amount of pressure they use in their brush strokes, so they also designate people by colors, like “so-and-so is in charge of this color” and so forth.


In Ryukyu Bingata, there are various methods of artistic expression such as the Oborogata, Tiichiki, Tsutsugaki, Ryomen-zome, and others.

The techniques are separated into two methods of Katazome, where stencils are used in the dyeing, and Tsutsugaki, or dyeing by freehand.

The areas that are free of any patterns or designs are called “Ji”, and in Katazome, there are two general types of stencils. On the pattern paper, when the Ji is carved out to only leave the patterns, it is called “Shiroji-gata” and when the Ji is left and the outlines of the patterns are carved out, it is called “Someji-kata”.

Pattern papers for Bingata. Shiroji-gata (left) has the Ji or the background carved off, while the Someji-kata leaves the Ji, and the outlines of the patterns are cut out.

* The official technique of the Tsutsugaki method is as follows: “Pattern papers are not used, but instead, they are drawn on the cloth with cone-shaped piping bags containing dye-resist glue, with the glue being squeezed out from the tip. Then color is added to the designs on the patterns.” (Source (in Japanese): Types of Ryukyu Bingata, by Ryukyu Bingata business cooperative.)


In this article, I’d like to introduce the main procedures involved in the Katazome method of Bingata using the Shiroji-gata pattern paper, which is produced the most.

[Step 1. Katahori (engraving of the patterns) or Katafui in Uchinaguchi (Okinawan language)]
The first thing required in Bingata dyes is the pattern paper. Shibugami is used for the pattern paper and to make this, Kakishibu or the bitter juice of persimmon fruit is painted on layers of Japanese Washi paper and dried. In recent years, synthetic paper is often used instead of Shibugami paper.

“Without the pattern paper, we can’t begin to create Bingata dyes. Katafui is a tool that is absolutely necessary for Bingata, so in terms of tool-making, it is the foundation of the whole process. Pattern papers are essential and are a tool that is the most important to create and keep,” says Toma-san.

Katafui is the process of engraving the patterns on the paper using a Shiigu (a small knife). The design is placed on top of the pattern paper and using a technique called Tsukibori, and the designs are engraved onto the paper. Tsukibori is done by poking and drawing out the design with the Shiigu with the sharp edge facing outward and engraving the design on the paper. The Tsukibori technique brings fluctuations to the engravings, giving warmth to the lines in the designs.


There are numerous tools used in Bingata dyeing, many of which have a long history that dates back to over 300 years ago. The majority of these tools are still made by hand even in the present day.

The padding that is placed underneath during the Katafui process is also another one of those handmade tools that were introduced long ago. This padding is called Rukuju and is made by drying Shima Tofu over two to three months. This tool is unique to Bingata and has continued to be an important part of the Katafui process since the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The Rukuju produces a small amount of oil which prevents damage to the Shiigu blade, and also prevents rusting.

Rukuju, a tool unique to Bingata production. It is made by drying Shima Tofu.

“The word Rukuju originates from the tradition of eating slices of dried Shima Tofu in celebrating a person’s 60th (‘rukuju’ in Okinawan) birthday and wishing them a long life. This Shima Tofu came to be known as Rukuju,” explains Toma-san.

The Rukuju tofu was prepared and eaten by the local people until immediately after the war, and the Bingata tool of Rukuju is still treasured as an important part of Bingata's creation. It’s wonderful how we’re able to peek into the lives of the Okinawans and their crafts, history, and culture, simply through Shima Tofu.

[Step 2. Kataoki (placing of the patterns) or Katachiki in Uchinaguchi (Okinawan language)]
This step is also referred to as Katatsuke or Norioki.


In the Katachiki process, the finished pattern paper is placed on the fabric, and dye-resistant glue is swiftly spread on top. This way, the parts that have been Katafui (the Ji area with no designs in the Shiroji-gata method) have a layer of dye-resistant glue.

The dye-resistant glue is made with sticky Mochi rice and bran, and when placed on the areas where dyes are not needed, it can be washed out later. To prevent glue-burn (discoloring) on the fabric, a navy blue pigment is mixed in, so the glued area has a dark blue hue.

“Speed and care are crucial in the Katachiki step so that the glue won’t dry in the process. When I first started, I was only able to do one a day, but now, I can do 12 to 15 a day. The Katachiki step certainly is a race against time,” shares Toma-san.


From one a day to 12. Such a great improvement speaks volumes of how much effort was made and the skills acquired by the tenth-generation master.


*To be continued in [Part 2] →  


Chinen Bingata Kenkyujo (lab)
Address: 1-27-17 Uehara, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Telephone: 098-857-3099 (Weekdays from 9:00 to 17:00)
Closed: Weekends & Holidays

Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Mika Asaka