Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ryukyu Glass One of the Fine Arts of the Ryukyuan Culture

The Okinawa Prefectural Government recognized Ryukyu glass as a traditional craftwork of Okinawa in 1998; however, the distinctive glass traces its roots to well before World War II. It is said that artisans came nearly 100 years ago from Kyushu and the Osaka areas to Okinawa with the knowledge of glass making. In the beginning, they would create the necessities of daily life such as lamp chimneys, medicine bottles and jars.

During World War II though, heavy bombing destroyed much of the island and in turn the infrastructure of Okinawa's glass industry. This required the Okinawan people to become more resourceful in finding new ways of acquiring resources and materials for glass making. They soon discovered that sailors living on board ships anchored off Okinawa would throw their Coke bottles overboard into the ocean and the surf would wash them up on the shore where the Okinawan people would collect them for the glass they needed. In fact, the Americans living in Okinawa provided many of the raw materials used to rebuild Okinawa after World War II. After the war, many Okinawans had very little and realized that they would need to come up with new ways of acquiring income for daily living.
Fly Catching Jar

At first, the glass bottles they found were cut and used for common uses such as drinking cups. Soon they realized that things could be made from the glass that could be sold to the very people who were providing the resources. The materials from the U.S. military occupation of Okinawa soon became the initial source for what has now became a very distinctive style of glassware.

The glassware now epitomizes Okinawan ingenuity and resourcefulness at using the materials at hand in new and interesting ways. Looking at the colors of Ryukyu glass is like looking into Okinawa’s crystal blue oceans and seeing the multi-colored coral forms and brightly colored fish beneath the water. A collection of glass is truly an amazing sight.

The process of making Ryukyu glass starts with finely crushing the bottles and then putting the pulverized glass into a melting kiln. The artisan then scoops up a gob of molten glass on the end of his pipe and blows it. While blowing, he rolls the molten glass creating its unique shape.

The glass may be returned to a roasting kiln during the process to keep the glass molten before adding the finishing touches to the piece. The finished glassware will crack if cooled too fast, so it is allowed to cool slowly in a low-heat kiln.

After Okinawa’s reversion back to Japan in 1972, promotional tours to Okinawa began from mainland Japan and Ryukyu glass became a favorite souvenir among Japanese tourists. The artisans began using new raw materials to add variations in the colors of their pieces.

The artisans learned to enhance color development by adding cobalt to the blue, manganese oxide to the purples, and platina to the reds. As a result, Ryukyu glass now features clear and vivid reds, blues, greens, browns and so forth.

When we think of glass as an object, we normally associated it with hardness and sharpness. However, some of the hand blown pieces of glass from Okinawa have a more organic and almost gelatinous quality to them. Bubbles are added to the glass in a highly skilled process that adds an artistic quality to the pieces. The bubbles are added to the glass for beauty and artistic individuality and are not considered imperfections. In some pieces, the bubbles appear to be precisely placed into the glass creating new and unique patterns. Some even say that the bubbles in Ryukyu Glass seem like bubbles in the beautiful seas surrounding Okinawa.

Looking at the colours of Ryukyu you could be mistaken for thinking you were looking into Okinawas crystal blue oceans and seeing the multi-coloured coral forms and brightly coloured fish beneath the water. A collection of glass is truly an amazing sight.

Glass as a material is normally associated with hardness and sharpness. However some of the hand blown pieces of glass have an organic, almost gelatinous quality. The bubbles in the glass are now added in a highly skilled process. These add to the beauty of the glass and are not in any way to be considered imperfections. In some pieces the bubbles appear to be precisely placed to enhance the piece in a unique way.

As you would expect there are masters of the art of Ryukyu glass making in Okinawa now and the good news is that there are many young Okinawans eager to learn the skills necessary to take this craft forward into the coming generations.

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