is an Okinawan
is one of Japan's southern prefectures. It consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over long, which extends southwest from Kyūshū to Taiwan. Okinawa's capital, Naha, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island...
traditional resist dyed
Resist dyeing is a term for a number of traditional methods of dyeing textiles with patterns. Methods are used to "resist" or prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating a pattern and ground. The most common forms use wax, some type of paste, or a mechanical resist that...
cloth, made using stencil
A stencil is a thin sheet of material, such as paper, plastic, or metal, with letters or a design cut from it, used to produce the letters or design on an underlying surface by applying pigment through the cut-out holes in the material. The key advantage of a stencil is that it can be reused to...
s and other methods. It is generally bright-colored and features various patterns, usually depicting natural subjects such as fish, water, and flowers. Bingata is worn during traditional Ryūkyū arts performances and historical reenactments.
Bingata dates from the Ryūkyū Kingdom
The Ryūkyū Kingdom was an independent kingdom which ruled most of the Ryukyu Islands from the 15th century to the 19th century. The Kings of Ryūkyū unified Okinawa Island and extended the kingdom to the Amami Islands in modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture, and the Sakishima Islands near Taiwan...
period (c. 14th century), when the island of Okinawa experienced an influx of foreign goods and manufacturing techniques. It is believed to have developed as a synthesis of Indian, Chinese, and Javanese dying processes.
Bingata is a type of stencil dyed fabric originating from the island of Okinawa. The techniques used are thought to have originated in Southeast Asia (possibly Java, or perhaps China or India) and arrived in Okinawa through trade during the 14th century (Nakai). The Ryukyu Kingdom "dominated trade between Korea, Japan, China, and the countries of Southeast Asia in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries" (Nakai). The Okinawans borrowed the technique and created their own nature-inspired designs found throughout the island (Nakai). The abundant flora and fauna have provided Okinawans with an endless supply of images to reproduce into the artwork called bingata.
In 1609, Japan invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom, and trade with foreign countries was prohibited. Japan demanded tribute from Okinawa in the form of handicrafts, and the people were forced to produce various fabrics, including banana fiber cloth called jofu
(Kawakita). In order to improve their technique, the Okinawans invited foreign craftsmen to the island and had Okinawans travel abroad to "master various craft techniques" (Nakai). The craftsmen were also "forced to pass the exacting standards set by the royal authorities" (Nakai), and therefore their goods reached a high level of craftsmanship and were highly sought after. In a report from a Chinese envoy dated 1802, the writer speaks about the beautiful bingata from Okinawa and how the painted flowers are so vibrant that they must use a "production secret that they do not reveal to others" (Kamakura).
Pigment used in paintings were imported from Fukien
' , formerly romanised as Fukien or Huguing or Foukien, is a province on the southeast coast of mainland China. Fujian is bordered by Zhejiang to the north, Jiangxi to the west, and Guangdong to the south. Taiwan lies to the east, across the Taiwan Strait...
and used in textile dyeing (Kamakura). To achieve the color white, ground chalk or powdered shells were used (Kamakura). Other colors were achieved using cochineal, vermilion, arsenic, and sulphur. Some patterns can use up to 18 different color applications (Shuefftan). After the kingdom was under Japanese rule, the Okinawans could no longer trade for these pigments and sought new ways to continue with their painting (Kamakura). Production of the finer and brighter bingata had come to a halt and the workers turned to working with the materials which were readily available (Kamakura). Indigo was all that was left, so production for the general public became popular (Kamakura).
Special permission was given to only three families to produce bingata. Each family had their own designs which they passed onto future generations (Bingata Dying). There were a total of 45 dyers, the best residing in the capital of Shuri (Bingata Dying). To make the stencils, thin sheets of mulberry paper were glued together with persimmon tannin, making them thick and durable (Shuefftan). Then they were smoked and aged, and finally the designs were drawn onto the paper and cut (Shuefftan). Making bingata kimonos was labor intensive, and only royalty or the wealthy could afford them. The designs were held under strict control, and the distinction between classes was easily recognized by the kimono worn. Patterns for the royal household were very bold and colorful (Lerner, M., Valenstein, S., Murch, A., Hearn, M., Ford, B., Mailey, J.), while the general public wore simple and dark patterns of indigo or black (Kamakura). Only the royal family wore the yellow, while nobility wore pale blue. On special occasions, the commoners were given permission to wear certain special colors (Bingata). The women in the royal family were very particular about their kimonos and forbade anyone to copy the same kimono pattern style (Charles). The patterns painted on the kimono were usually birds, flowers, rivers, and clouds on silk, linen, and bashofu
(a cloth woven from musa basjoo
Musa basjoo, known variously as Japanese Banana, Japanese Fiber Banana or Hardy Banana, is a species belonging to the genus Musa. It was previously thought to have originated from the Ryukyu islands of Japan, from where it was first described in cultivation...
During the Battle of Okinawa
The Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg, was fought on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa and was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War of World War II. The 82-day-long battle lasted from early April until mid-June 1945...
, much was lost, and production stopped due to the destruction of the shops (Bingata Dying). After the war, a former bingata artist, Eiki Shiroma, went to mainland Japan in search of original bingata stencils which had been taken by collectors and Japanese soldiers (Bingata Dying). He found some and brought the art back to life (Bingata Dying). The U.S. occupation of Japan saw a new type of customer, and the bingata business flourished while the troops bought bingata postcards as souvenirs (Charles). Eiki Shiroma's son, Eijun Shiroma, is continuing the family tradition and is the "fifteenth generation of his family to be practicing the techniques handed down since the time bingata was produced under the patronage of the Ryukyuan kingdom" (Exhibitions 2002 - Okinawa Now). Eijun's works can still be seen today at his Shimroma Studio.
The oldest bingata piece known was found on the island of Kumejima and is from the late 15th century (Charles). The dyes for bingata are made from plants and include "Ryukyu Ai (indigo), Fukugi (a high tree of Hypericum erectum family), Suo (Caesalpinia sappan) and Yamamomo (Myrica rubra), and as pigment, Shoenji (cochneal), Shu (cinnabar), Sekio (orpiment), Sumi (Indian ink) and Gofun (aleurone)" (Ryukyu Bingata). In recent years, variations of the pigments have been created, and hibiscus, deigo flowers (Wada) and sugar cane leaves (Bingata, Ryukyu Indigo and Uji Dyes) have been used in the designs (Wada).
"It takes three people three days to paint material for a kimono. It then takes almost a month to finish just one kimono -- after the painting and dyeing, it is sewn together, then delivered to customers" (Hitchcock). Although bingata kimonos are hard to come by, you can find hand-made bingata t-shirts for around $40 and noren curtains for around $200. If you are willing to pay the price a cotton bingata kimono can cost you about $500 and a silk kimono for $1,000 (Hitchcock).
There are ten labor intensive steps to producing Okinawan Bingata (Shuefftan).
Step 1: Stencil Cutting
Mulberry papers are coated with persimmon tannin and sealed together to form a firm sheet. A design is drawn onto the paper directly or traced from another source. The details are cut with a small blade and afterwards it is coated again to keep it from bending.
Step 2: Stencil Resist Painting
A special rice-paste made from boiled rice, rice bran and water is scraped across the top of the stencil on the cloth.
Step 3: Freehand Resist Painting
If a large area is needed to be painted, a freehand technique is used to apply the rice-paste resist onto the fabric. The paste is put into a bag and squeezed onto the fabric.
Step 4: Painting
Prepared paints are painted onto the fabric starting from lighter to darker colors. One design can use from 9 to 18 different colors.
Step 5: Re-Painting
To achieve a more vibrant color the paints are added once more and this time rubbed into the cloth with a stiff brush made out of human hair!
Step 6: Details
Details around the edges of each object are added to emphasise the image. Next the fabric is steamed so the colors will set into the fabric and then it is washed.
Step 7: Background Resis
To paint the background a separate color, the rice-paste resist is now placed on all the previously painted areas.
Step 8: Background Painting
The entire background of the fabric is painted with a wide brush or dipped in a dye bath.
Step 9: Color Setting
The fabric is set in a steamer for an hour to let the colors set.
Step 10: Washing
The fabric is washed and dried.
An example of bingata can be found in the The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts (Mimura).
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- Exhibitions 2002 - Okinawa Now. (2008). Longhouse. Retrieved Aug 3, 2008, from www.longhouse.org/exhibitmain.ihtml?id=30&exlink=2
- Gross, J. (1985, Oct. 18). The New York Times. Retrieved Aug 3, 2008, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times database.
- Hitchcock, J. (2007). The Colorful World of Bingata. Retrieved Aug 1, 2008, from http://www.jahitchcock.com/bingata.html.
- Josef Kreiner. "Ryūkyū." In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T074794 (accessed August 1, 2008).
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- Kyōto Kokuritsu Kindai Bijutsukan, & Kawakita, M. (1978). Craft treasures of Okinawa. Tokyo: Kodansha International.
- Lerner, M., Valenstein, S., Murch, A., Hearn, M., Ford, B., Mailey, J. (1983/1984). Far Eastern Art, pp. 119-127. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved Aug 3, 2008, from JSTOR database.
- Mimura, K. (1994). Soetsu Yanagi and the Legacy of the Unknown Craftsman. The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Vol 20, pp. 209-223. Retrieved Aug 2, 2008, from JSTOR database.
- Nakai, T. (1989). Dyeing originated in Okinawa. Mitsumura Suiko Shoin Co., Ltd.
- Okinawa's Dyed and Woven Textiles - Bingata. (2003). Wonder Okinawa. Retrieved Aug 3, 2008, from http://www.wonder-okinawa.jp/010/eng/002/index.html
- Ryukyu Bingata. (1997). Kimono. Retrieved Aug 2, 2008, from http://www.kimono.or.jp/dic/eng/11Dye-Okinawa.html
- Shuefftan, K. (n.d.). Ryukyu Bingata Dyeing. Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries. Retrieved Aug. 1, 2008, from, http://www.kougei.or.jp/english/crafts/0211/f0211.html
- Wada, I. (2003). Kimono Flea Market Ichiroya. Newsletter, No19. Retrieved Aug 2, 2008, from http://www.ichiroya.com/newsletter.htm