Termed “kuganizēku” or “kanzeku” in the Okinawa language, the art of working with metals has existed for hundreds of years since the age of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Metals used in this delicate craft are silver, brass and tin, and close relations with the royal government led many metalworking craftsmen to establish workshops near Shurei Gate, which was the entrance to the grounds of Shuri Castle. During the reign of King Shoshin, different types of metals used in a type of hairpin known as jīfā was used to indicate one’s social status. Jīfā used by men and women were different in appearance – motifs such as dragons and narcissus denoted a range of social ranks for men, and jīfā used by women carried a spoon-like head and hexagonal stem to represent the female form. The jīfā was considered an extension of one’s self, particularly for women, and almost left the body of its owner. It was once believed that jīfā were able to contain fires if they were thrown into the flames in the event of a fire. Other symbolic kuganizēku items include the “fusa-yubiwa” or tassel ring, which was used as a wedding ring during the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It consists of three rings joined with a finely strung chain and seven ornamental charms, which carry meanings of longevity and hope for family prosperity symbolized by auspicious Chinese motifs, as well as patterns denoting the natural features, cultural beliefs and ceremonial rituals of Okinawa.
|Silver, brass, tin
|Place of manufacture
|Personal accessories worn on the body ( accessories such as rings, earrings, etc.)
|Source: "Tiwaza to Nukumori"; official website for Kuganizēku Matayoshi
The art of metalworking, which flourished in Shuri under royal patronage of the Ryukyu Kingdom, had all but disappeared after suffering a catastrophic loss of craftsmen from historical changes that include abolition of the feudal system and ravage from WWII. Despite this, traditional methods for creating metal ornaments that have remained unchanged since the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom have since been successfully revived. Jīfā (hairpins), “musubi-yubiwa” (knot rings made by tying two thin silver ropes together) and “fusa-yubiwa” (tassel rings) are ornaments containing special meanings and wishes carried from generations before, and they continue to attract admirers to the craft from Okinawa and beyond.
In recent years, the art of kuganizēku has grown to include a wide range of accessories such as rings, pendants and other decorative items.