Ryukyu Glass

Ryukyu Glass

Some say the sea in Okinawa is rainbow colored. In fact, the sea around the southern islands has many colors: deep blue, sky blue, emerald green, orange and yellow at sunrise and sunset etc. Ryukyu Glass may have inherited its qualities from the colorful and calm sea of Okinawa.

Glassware was originally brought to Okinawa from Southeast Asia and the Strait of Malacca several centuries ago. However, its production did not begin until the 19th century. Glassware was easily broken during the long ship voyages from overseas, which led the people of Okinawa to invite glass craftsmen from Nagasaki or Osaka to their land so they could learn how to make medicine bottles and lamps for themselves. They also used all kinds of recycled glass, like broken glass pieces from foreign ships, used sake and soy sauce bottles. They also made use of inferior products like air bubbled or unevenly thickened glass. These factors all contributed to the unique design of Ryukyu glass.

In 1972, the Okinawa Ocean Expo was held, igniting tourism in Okinawa. The more tourists visited the islands, the more souvenirs were sold.  In response to these happenings, local glassmakers started expanding their industry; they introduced new glass materials in addition to the traditional recycled glass, and developed new techniques for coloring. In 1998, Ryukyu Glass was registered as one of the Traditional Crafts of Japan. There are many glassmakers in Okinawa producing many kinds of glassware, from artistic pieces to gift items.

Ryukyu glass reflects the values of Okinawa: Don’t waste, recycle. Be flexible and adaptable. And most importantly, every imperfection is useful.

 

Photo by Shin Hoshino

 

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