We take our eyes off the Olympics to focus on bingata, (紅型) an 800-year old dyeing technique from Okinawa. Stick with us to hear from two bingata artisans who run their own bingata shop!
What is Bingata?
Bingata, or Ryūkyū Bingata, is the art of adding pigment to fabric. It was developed around the 13th century, and by the 15th century it gained the official patronage of the Ryūkyū court. Bingata kimono were worn only by samurai or the royal family who ruled Okinawa. At that time, Okinawa was a kingdom in its own right, independent of mainland Japan. It had a close relationship with China and conducted successful trade with Japan and other Southeast Asian countries. As a result, Okinawan culture and the art of bingata is a blend of multiple cultures.
How is Bingata Made?
First, a design is created on paper. This is the base for the stencil, which is made of washi. The stencil is laid on fabric, and the exposed areas are covered in a paste. Next, the stencil is removed, and the uncovered areas are colored using bright pigments. Kumadori is the special technique used to create graduations typical of bingata (you may be more familiar with the term kumadori as the type of makeup kabuki actors wear for a particular type of play, which incidentally was performed by Ichikawa Ebizō at the opening ceremony of the Olympics). Once the coloring is finished, the pigment is fixed either by steaming or sun-drying. The paste is washed away, the cloth is stretched and dried, and the product is finished.
Artist Focus: Ryuiji and Yumiko Baba
Ryuiji and Yumiko Baba have been running their own bingata shop called Kijimuna Bingata since 2004. Their shop is full of island charm from the inside out, with a tranquil interior displaying beautiful handmade merchandise from bags to bibs to canvas artworks.
The beautiful white exterior is crowned with an Okinawan style red roof and shisa シーサー, the Okinawan guardian lion.
Kijimuna Bingata, the name of their shop, comes from the name of Okinawa’s forest spirit, “kijimuna “ キジムナー believed to live in the Banyan trees. Ryuiji and Yumiko hope that their bingata works will always be linked to Okinawa’s nature.
The Art of Bingata
When we asked how long it took them to master the art of bingata, Ryuiji told us that they were able to open their shop after three years of study. 17 years later, they still take time every day to study and hone their skills.
Their designs are inspired by Okinawa’s nature: the Sea of Okinawa, the Banyan tree with Kijimuna, and the Forest of Okinawa.
The time it takes to finish a product depends on the size of the design. Small ones can be created in a single day, but if the designs are large or difficult, they can take a few months.
In addition to displaying and selling their artworks, Ryuiji and Yumiko also teach workshops. Students choose a pre-made design and use their own creativity to apply the colors.
In holding these workshops, Ryuiji says, “I want you to put the beautiful scenery and memories you actually saw in Okinawa on the color and make it a permanent memorial.”
A couple hours in the workshop with Ryuij and Yumiko would be the perfect way to round off a tour of Okinawa. As a bonus, you will get to meet their pet parakeet Happy.
“Happy is the smallest and most famous and most cute staff of our shop. She is very popular, so there are many Happy designed goods in our shop. She always speaks positive words and makes us feel happy.”
Due to COVID restrictions, the Babas have seen a significant decrease in the number of in-person customers, but their online shop is going strong. Check out their website and their wonderful hand-made goods here to be refreshed and inspired by the beauty of Okinawa!
Special thanks to Ryujiji-san and Yumiko-san!