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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Bingata is a quintessential element within traditional Okinawan female dances. It is a singular Okinawan textile-coloring technique; although described as bin (red), its ai (indigo) dyed print is also called bingata. Color is applied over the paper stencil placed on the fabric and the shaded pigment is gradually blurred – such are the characteristics of this artistry and it is said to have been derived from the Kaga Yūzen dyeing. The color scheme based on the primary colors radiates beautifully under the bright southern sun. It is said that this dying technique was inspired by the Chinese inkafu, while the motifs bring to mind the Japanese illustrations of birds, flowers, goshodoki komon patterns, or the Chinese Mt. Horai, the imaginary sacred mountain. In that regard, it is highly interesting that the design suggests the influence of both Japanese and Chinese cultures. As a dyed fabric, it embodies the elegant and ornate atmosphere, unique to Okinawa.

Bingata garments are believed to have been used as early as the 18th Century for the Kansen dances1. Three families – the Takushi, Gusukuma, and Chinen – served the Shuri royal government as purveyors.   

Another bingata technique dyed without stencils is called tsutsubiki. This rather generous approach displays real strength and was predominantly used for stage curtains and wrapping cloth.

Early studies of bingata began with Iha Fuyu and Higashionna Kanjun, which greatly influenced the later folk craft movement of Yanagi Soetsu and Serizawa Keisuke in the Showa era. What’s more, Kamakura Yoshitaro who moved to Okinawa as a schoolteacher in 1922, collected the stencils that had nearly been disposed of. His efforts contributed to the post-war revival of bingata

Editor’s Note:

  1. the court dances originally performed for the envoys from China