Okinawa Craft Industry Promotion CenterOkinawa Craft Industry Promotion Center

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"

Place of manufacture

Naha City, Urasoe City, Itoman City, Okinawa City, Nakagusuku City, Tomigusuku City, Haebaru Town

Although production capacities of Ryukyu lacquerware were once devastated by war, it is now produced in the cities of Naha, Urasoe, Tomigusuku, Itoman and Okinawa, as well as in Nakagusuku Village and Haebaru Town, and dedicated craftspeople continue to preserve traditional techniques and methods of production until today.

The industry generated postwar demand by purveying lacquerware as souvenirs and items of luxury to members of the American military stationed in Okinawa, overcoming a number of obstacles to its recovery before top lacquerware producers convened to serve as core members of the inaugural Ryukyu Lacquerware Trade Association in 1938. The association was later renamed the Ryukyu Lacquerware Business Cooperative Association in June 1977, with the aim of contributing to the promotion of regions specializing in lacquerware production as well as development of the local economy. In 1980, promotion efforts included the construction of a facility for storing primary materials for lacquerware, along with the establishment of a training program for imparting techniques in gold inlaid lacquerware. Today, the cooperative produces a wide range of daily lifestyle goods such as chopsticks and bowls.

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