If you’re visiting Shuri Castle in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, I highly recommend you detour just five minute’s to the west to the fantastic hands-on arts center of Shuri Ryusen.
Shuri Ryusen focuses on the traditional Okinawan art of bingata. I wrote a little bit about bingata itself in a Crash Course the other year, but here’s a quick recap. This colorful fabric from the Ryukyu Islands is first mentioned in the 15th century and was originally the privilege of Okinawan royalty and the island’s warrior class. When envoys from the Chinese court or the shogun in Edo (present day Tokyo) would come to call at Okinawa’s Shuri Castle, they were often entertained by performers wearing bingata cloth. Even today, the dancers at Shuri Castle still sport these colorful outfits.
At Shuri Ryusen, visitors have two options of hands-on experiences. The first is the traditional bingata pattern, which must be carefully applied to cloth with tracing tools. While I longed to have the time to try this, on that particular day, I had my 5-year-old in tow.
“Know your limitations” is my parental travel motto.
Instead, as a family, we opted for the coral printing. Using large and small coral pieces (my husband and I argued about whether these were real coral or replicas – no consensus was reached), visitors wrap their chosen piece of cloth around the coral and apply various pigments. There are charts to show how to combine the pigments to make compound colors and shaded colors and the different sizes of coral offer different patterns.
We opted to make a wall hanging, though there is also the option to do a T-shirt or tote bag. It took us around 45 minutes to thoroughly complete the project to our satisfaction. There is room for about 16 people to work on projects at the same time and there were at least 25-30 coral stencils to choose from.
Upstairs from the printing studio, you can actually watch several craftsmen and women at work on bingata kimono as well as see samples of already completed pieces.
Reservations are advisable but we showed up without one on a Monday around lunchtime and no one else was there. There is English-speaking staff on hand and all of the instructions are printed in English as well.
Check out the Shuri Ryusen website for more details.