Okinawa Tourism Information:Visiting[ChinenBingata](NahaCity):OneoftheThreePrestigiousBingataSansokeFamiliesDatingBacktothePeriodoftheRyukyuKingdom(Part2of2)

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

post : 2021.02.28 20:00

*This article is the second half of a two-part series.
Click here to read Part 1 →  


[Step 3. Irosashi (coloring of the patterns) or Irujashi in Uchinaguchi (Okinawan language)]
In the Irujashi step, lighter colors are first applied and then blurred with darker colors.

Even when using the same pattern paper, changing the color schemes can bring completely different impressions.

The important task of deciding on the colors that can change the overall impression is directed by Toma-san.

Each color blended with Gojiru soy-bean juice and pigments is carefully applied using two different brushes.

Before the Irujashi step, a preparation process called Gohiki takes place, where Gojiru or so-bean juice is used to apply lines on the fabric. This is known as Ji’ire or in Uchinaguchi, it is called Gukwasun (pronounced gu:/kwah/sʊn).

Gojiru is a handmade liquid made by squeezing the juice out of soybeans soaked in water. The protein in the Gojiru prevents the pigments and dye from bleeding and also helps to retain the colors on the fabric.


Pigments are used for Irujishi, and this is another unique factor in Bingata dyeing.

Since color pigments do not dissolve in water, they are also mixed with Gojiru so that the colors will stay on the fibers of the fabric.

Mineral pigments are coarse and do not stay on the surface of the fabrics, so two separate brushes are used in this process. First, the pigments are applied to the fabric using a Tsuke brush, and the Suri brush rubs the colors deeper into the fibers. The Suri brush is made with black hair collected from Okinawan women.

The pigments are “strong against UV-rays and the colors don’t fade as much.” Once the colors stay, they have more brilliance than regular dyes. It’s the mineral pigments that give the robust colors in the Bingata, and stays bright as the sun, and expresses the tones of Okinawa’s original scenes.


[Step 4. Kumadori (blending of the colors) or Kumadui in Uchinaguchi (Okinawan language)]
Kumadori is a technique that is unique to Bingata dyeing and expresses the shadings by applying darker colors onto the patterns that have already been colored through the Irujishi process. The colors are then blended and blurred.

Colors are reinforced in the Kumadori step and adds dimension and depth to the patterns.


“Without the Kumadori, the distinctive appearance of Bingata cannot be achieved. The shape, and how the colors are blended through the Kumadori distinguishes whether the Bingata is brought to life or not,” says Toma-san, who also added that “this is the step that I want to be very particular about.”

[Step 5. Steaming & Mizumoto (washing)]
The fabric is then put into a steamer and left to steam for an hour at 100℃. In the steaming, the fibers of the fabric open up, allowing the pigment colors to stay and the lively colors are further enhanced.

The steamer is seen at the back right, with a triangular roof. In the steaming process, the studio gets incredibly hot in the summers.


“Like the clothing worn by people in Japan during the Muromachi period, Ryukyuan clothing doesn’t involve Obi sashes like those typically worn with kimono. When the style changed and Obi sashes began to be worn after the war, the steaming process was added. During the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the steaming process hardly took place. In fact, during my grandfather’s time, if the fabric was steamed, sometimes the finished dye wasn’t recognized as Bingata,” explains Toma-san.

It’s believed that Obi sashes create friction and rubbing when worn around the waist, the need for the colors to stay increased even more, and that is likely why the steaming process was added.

“As the times change, the definition of Bingata has changed,” Toma-san says.


After the fabric is steamed, the next step is the Mizumoto, where the applied dye-resistant glue and excess color pigments that didn’t stay on the fabric are carefully washed off. After this process, the fabric is then dried.

[Step 6. Noribuse (preparation for Jizome)or Bin’ushii in Uchinaguchi (Okinawan language)]
The background of the patterns is called Ji, and the dyeing process to dye the areas in a different color is called Jizome.

The Noribuse is a preparation step done before the Jizome, where dye-resistant glue is applied to areas with patterns and to areas where the same color of the Ji shouldn’t be present.

The tip of the piping bag containing the glue is made using an empty bullet case.

Covering the patterns where the colors are applied through the Irujishi step is called Bin’ushii in the Okinawan language.


[Step 7. Jizome (coloring the background)]
Pigments and Gojiru were used for the patterns, but for the Jizome, a dye is used. The dyes are made mostly from plants and the fine particles allow the colors to penetrate the fabric. “In a sense, pigments are placed on the surfaces of the fabric while the dyes seep into the fibers to dye the threads,” explains Toma-san.

Using both the color pigments and dyes, which have different natures and properties, brings brilliance in the colors expressed on the pattern more, making the Bingata dyeing very unique.

[Step 8. Steaming & Mizumoto (washing)]
The fabric is steamed once again and washed thoroughly.


[Step 9. Dried & Complete]
The washed fabric is spread out to dry, then smoothed with steam, and is finally complete.

There are other steps like Shabari, Jibari, Uwanuri, and others, but in this article, I introduced some of the major steps.

(Photo courtesy of Chinen Bingata)

I asked about the characteristics of the Bingata dyes created at their studio, and Toma-san replied, “The characteristics of Bingata created at Chinen Bingata is that we use a lot of the colors that were selected for the king, and also those in classical Bingata dyes, where the colors are bright and solid. Since my grandfather’s time, we have often used Fukura sparrows and bamboo in our patterns which are thought to be auspicious. Fukura sparrows are winter sparrows and they are plump and healthy, and we draw the sparrow patterns wishing for the people who will wear them to never go hungry. And when drawing the bamboo patterns, we wish for their healthy growth, like that of bamboos.”

Approximately 2,000 pattern papers that were passed down the generations in Okinawa since the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom have managed to survive the flames of World War II and remain today. About 1,000 of these miraculously remained unscathed only because the Chinen family’s collection kept by Sekisho Chinen, the fifth-generation head, were given to Yoshitaro Kamakura of Kagawa Prefecture. Hearing the details of this account was so exciting and one could probably write a whole book on it.


I asked, “What are the characteristics of the other two families of the Bingata Sansoke?” Toma-san responded, “The Takushi family, who are said to be the founders, no longer makes Bingata so I’m not sure. As for the Shiroma family, Eiki-san is a prominent figure. After the war, Eiki-san worked tirelessly to restore the art of Bingata that was almost lost, and he contributed greatly to fostering successors. Eiki-san was a stoic man who bridged the times before and after the war and was responsible for sublimating Bingata to what it is today. The Shiroma family’s patterns consist of many water motifs like waves and porcupinefish, and their use of the color grey is beautiful. I love the beautiful balance of grey and purple. It’s very feminine and tender, but at the same time, shows the unique strength of Ryukyu.”

Toma-san added, “In one of the classic patterns remaining from before the war, we can see autumn leaves drawn together with cherry blossoms and snowflake patterns. None of these are found in Okinawa. These are motifs inspired by mainland Japan. Perhaps there was a sense of admiration toward mainland Japan, and also a feeling of wanting to understand others.”

Now, among the many wonderful works of Toma Chinen, I’d like to introduce two of his representative works. Both of them are great works of art that require great skill and immeasurable time and effort.

Hekikai (blue seas): Ryomen (two-sided) Oborogata Style, by Toma Chinen

The first work is titled Hekikai and is an Oborogata style dyed on both sides of the fabric. For this work, Toma-san was recognized with an Award of Excellence in the 71st Okiten in 2018. Okiten is a comprehensive art exhibition held in Okinawa and is the largest local art exhibit featuring artworks across the spectrum.

The Oborogata style is a technique where several pattern papers are used, unlike in regular techniques where only one is used to dye the fabric. The Oborogata style gives complexity and depth to the patterns. Additionally, in the Ryomen dyeing technique, both sides of the fabric are dyed exactly the same way.

Since the Ryomen Oborogata style requires great skill and a lot of effort, they are rarely available on the market.

“This style isn’t just double the work and effort, in fact, it’s about ten times more,” says Toma-san, and I don’t doubt him for a second. The work is truly beautiful, with lively patterns of fish giving a cool and refreshing impression.

Shigure (Drizzling Rain): Sanmai Oborogata with Eba Komon Patterns

The second piece is titled, Shigure (Drizzling Rain), with fine Eba Komon patterns in the Sanmai Oborogata style. This work was recognized with an Award for Excellence in the 72nd Okiten in 2020.

As you can see, this fabric has very fine patterns. This is also an Oborogata style, and amazingly, uses three pattern papers to dye the designs. The yellow lines add a fine touch this process is done later in a step called Atosashi, or in the Okinawan language, Tiichikibin. The elaborate designs and the fine patterns are lovely and are packed with the charms of Okinawa.

A Tsutsu-bukuro piping bag with an empty casing as the tip, a Tsuke-fude brush to apply pigment on the fabric, and a Suri-fude brush made with the black hair from Okinawan women. Most of the tools used for Bingata dyeing are handmade.


There’s so much more that I want to introduce, but I think I will stop for now.

But before I finish, I want to introduce the following quote from the official website for Chinen Bingata.

“Bingata was almost lost in history on numerous occasions; when Ryukyu was invaded by the Satsuma Clan, through the annexation of the Ryukyus, in the Pacific War.

Okinawa’s culture and techniques have overcome tumultuous times in history and have been carried on to the present, evolving to the styles of Kimono and Obi that we see today.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bingata is Okinawa’s history itself.”

I felt that these are the words of a true Uchinanchu Bingata craftsman.

Toma-san and his wife, Rui-san. Rui-san has also been a Bingata craftsman for about 10 years. In life and in their craft, they enjoy a strong partnership.


“Okinawa’s history and culture are found in Bingata. To know Bingata leads to understanding Okinawa’s history and culture. The tools are also a part of Bingata’s history, so I want to hand that down to the next generation with great care.
At the same time, one of my goals is to pass on the art of Bingata to the next generation not just by depending on the concept of tradition, but as craftwork found in the daily lives of people.
To do that, I want to protect and cherish the traditions from the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom while introducing and delivering Bingata to the people, so that it will be familiar and something that people feel close to.”

Toma-san said this with a smile, and the expression on the face of this tenth-generation master of Chinen Bingata was truly invigorating. 

(Photo courtesy of Chinen Bingata)


There were some parts I had to leave out, but there’s still so much to tell about Ryukyu Bingata, an art that is extensive and deep, like the beautiful blue seas of Okinawa.

The beautiful works of Ryukyu Bingata that are a great part of Ryukyuan history will likely remain deeply rooted in Okinawa through the aspirations of the Bingata craftsmen and their love for Okinawa.


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