Okinawa & Pottery

Okinawa is a tropical island with more than 150 islands in the East China Sea, between Taiwan and the main island of Japan. It is known for its tropical climate, large beaches and coral reefs, as well as for World War II sites. On the largest island (also called Okinawa) is the prefectural Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum, which commemorates a massive invasion of the Allies in 1945, and the Churaumi Aquarium, where sharks can be seen along with whales and manta rays. Because of it’s geographical location, Okinawa has had many influences from other countries. This is reflected in the music, colors, patterns, food and drink. 

“Goya Campuru” is favorite dish in Okinawa made with bitter Goya, tofu, pork, onions. This dish has also become popular in  the rest of Japan.

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“Awamori” is the Okinawan “sake” which is very strong.  Awamori was once considered a shōchū . But shōchū is usually distilled from short- spiked rice (japonica), unlike the awamori which uses Thai long-spiked rice (indica). In addition, awamori uses the Okinawa - specific black koji fungus for fermentation , while shōchū uses aspergillus oryzae , a microscopic fungus (called white kōji ). It could be compared to tequila and Okinawan’s love to have this drink and sing and dance. 

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At the enterance of many establishments and some homes in Okinawa you will see Shisa, a traditional Ryukyuan cultural artifact and decoration derived from Chinese guardian lions, often seen in similar pairs, resembling a cross between a lion and a dog, from Okinawan mythology. In magic typology, they are sometimes also classified as gargoyle beasts. Shisa are wards, believed to protect from some evils. People place pairs of shisa on their rooftops or flanking the gates to their houses, with the left shisa traditionally having a closed mouth, the right one an open mouth.  The open mouth shisa traditionally wards off evil spirits, and the closed mouth shisa keeps good spirits in.

Like the komainu ("lion dogs"), the shisa are a variation of the guardian lions from China. From the Edo period, they started to be called "guardian dogs" in general in mainland Japan. Gender is variously assigned to the shisa. Some Okinawans believe the male has his mouth closed to keep bad out of the home, while the female has her mouth open to share goodness. Others believe the female has her mouth closed to "keep in the good", while the male has his mouth open to "scare away the bad

When a Chinese emissary returned from a voyage to the court at Shuri Castle, he brought a gift for the king, a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa. The king found it charming and wore it underneath his clothes. At the Naha Port bay, the village of Madanbashi was often terrorized by a sea dragon who ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the king was visiting the village, and one of these attacks happened; all the people ran and hid. The local noro had been told in a dream to instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift up his figurine towards the dragon; she sent the boy, Chiga, to tell him the message. He faced the monster with the figurine held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded all through the village, a roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon. A massive boulder then fell from heaven and crushed the dragon's tail, so that he couldn't move, and eventually died. This boulder and the dragon's body became covered with plants and surrounded by trees, and can still be seen today as the "Gana-mui Woods" near Naha Ohashi bridge. The townspeople then built a large stone shisa to protect it from the dragon's spirit and other threats

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In Okinawa, pottery is called yachimun. The quality of pottery improved through exchanges with neighboring countries such as China and Korea, and in 1616, potters of Korean pottery were invited from Satsuma for guidance. Joyachi: Glazed pottery, which was first introduced to Okinawa by Korean potters. Over the years, Joyachi made the transition from serving as items for everyday use to objects of fine art.

In 1682, pottery kilns that were in three different places were brought together in Tsuboya, Naha, which then became the birthplace of Tsuboya-yaki, the pottery that represents Okinawa. Before then, pottery was produced in various regions of Okinawa, and there is a ruin of a kiln in Kina, Yomitan of Central Okinawa that was used to make Kinayaki, which is said to be the oldest in Okinawan pottery.

In 1972, as a result of Jiro Kinjo, the Living National Treasure of Okinawa, opening a studio in Yomitan, many potters followed, and Yomitan became a place known for yachimun alongside Tsuboya in Naha.

The technique employed in creating yachimun (pottery in the Okinawan dialect) in the Ryukyus was imported from China around the middle of the 14th century and was later influenced by Japanese and Korean ceramics. Sturdy construction and distinctive hand-created designs are the unique characteristics of Okinawan pottery. Including plates, sake bottles, vases, flowerpots, incense burners, light shades and coffee cups, potters produce quality pieces by employing traditional methods and at the same time promote the developent of new techniques. A number of young and innovative potters are actively participating in the ar

Tsuboya ware is majorly divided into two: “Arayachi (unglazed Tsuboya ware)” and “Jouyachi (glazed Tsuboya ware).”  Arayachi is made from the soil of the south of mainland Okinawa, unglazed, or coated with mud or manganese glaze, and then is fired at about 1,120℃while“Jouyachi is made from the soil of the north of mainland Okinawa, and baked at about 1,200℃. The Jouyachi is strong and colorful because of using glaze.

Okinawan people used to use the Arayachi jar for storing miso (fermented soybean paste), beans, oil, etc.  In addition, storing awamori (Okinawan liquor) to make kuusu (the aged awamori) in the Arayachi jar producse more flavored, mellow awamori.

The Jouyachi has been especially used for eating utensils because its beautiful colors and glaze makes dinner tables gorgeous.   Which soil and which glaze are used for the yachimun brings a different atmosphere to your table!!

Tsuboya Ware has various techniques of its own including “akae (polychrome overglaze painting with red as the central tone),” which used to produced only limited number of for the royal government’s use, “takkuwasaa (decoration with additional clay on the surface),” “kakiotoshi (sgraffito)” and “sen-bori (line-engraving)! 

After main firing at 1,200℃, products are painted before being fired a second time at around 800℃.  “Akae,”which needs to have brilliant red settled on the surface goes through this process.

The elegant, dazzling red mesmerized us all the more for a good deal of time and effort.♪

Currently, 14 potteries produce their products in Tsuboya. Please visit any of potteries to watch how they work and listen to potters, and you will be more and more drawn by the charms of Tsuboya ware, what a great deal of time and care they devote themselves to the yachimun, how much passion and deep affection they put into the yachimun, etc.

Bows & Arrows