Where Beauty Dawns

Ryukyu Lacquerware

Brief Summary and History

Ryukyu lacquerware is made from natural wood such as deigo (Indian coral tree, Erythrina variegata) and banyan, and brushed with natural lacquer, rendering finished products in unparalleled brilliance and lustre. The bold contrast between black and vermillion lacquer are a reflection of the climate and natural features of sub-tropical Okinawa. In addition to “chinkin” (gold inlaid lacquer) and “raden” (mother-of-pearl inlay), both of which were brought to Okinawa from China, Ryukyu lacquerware incorporates a variety of decorative methods that include a unique appliqué method known as “tsuikin” that is not seen in other cultures that practice lacquering.

Although the exact origin of Ryukyu lacquerware remains unknown, a gold-inlaid lacquer round chest believed to have been produced in the 15th century still exists in the island of Kume today. The “Rekidai Hōan” (Precious Documents of Successive Generations), an official compilation of diplomatic documents of the royal government of the Ryukyu Kingdom, contains evidence of the export of lacquerware to Ming China, the Korean peninsula and Japan. After 1609, lacquerware became an object of tributary payment to the Shogunate, and was produced under the supervision of the Kaizuri Magistrate’s Office of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Although the industry bore devastating damage in WWII, Ryukyu lacquerware was revived soon after the war and was designated as a prefectural traditional craft product on June 11th, 1974, and as a nationally designated traditional craft on March 12th, 1986.

Basic data

MaterialNatural lacquer, deigo, Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus), chinaberry, hamasendan (Euodia meliifolia), yew plum pine, banyan, Japanese cypress
Place of manufactureNaha City, Urasoe City, Itoman City, Okinawa City, Nakagusuku City, Tomigusuku City, Haebaru Town
Main ProductsTrays and platters, pots, "meimei-zara" (small serving plates), tiered boxes, bowls etc.
Partnership name and date of establishmentRyukyu Lacquerware Business Cooperative Association, June 17th, 1977
Date designated by nationalMarch 12th, 1986
Date designated by prefectureJune 11th, 1974
Source*Source: "An Outline of Strategies for the Promotion of the Craft Industry"