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.
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 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.