1/28/2009

Meeting with Ryukyu Bingata, made by Eijyun Shiroma

Ryukyu bingata is dying of Okinawa, consisting of hundreds of islands in the southwestern Japan. It is characterized by generous-hearted color, contrasting favorably with sunshine. About four hundred years ago, Okinawa, originally called Ryukyu, was an individual kingdom. Bingatas were consolidated at that time, and then have developed as folkways of the royal palace. Originally, painters at the palace have drawn beauties of nature in Ryukyu on the paper. Subsequently, the king ordered citizens to dye kimono fabrics with various kinds of beautiful designs.

The kimono presented on the photo is my favorite bingata homongi made by Eijyun Shiroma. Once I saw the pattern on the bolt of this bingata in front of the draper’s shop, I was deeply impressed by its beauty. Then, I began examining bingatas. Shortly afterwards, I have known that Shiroma family was one of representative three organizers of ryukyu bingatas and Eiki Shiroma, the father of Eijyun Shiroma, revived it at Okinawa in ruins after the WWII.
The more I saw of this bingata, the wistful I became. I found myself visiting the draper’s shop just for seeing, not for buying, for more than three months. Finally, when my departure to NY was forthcoming, the draper said to me, “If you love this bingata so much, I will sell it at a great sacrifice.” Therefore, I could buy it at a reasonable price.

At the end of WWII, Okinawa suffered catastrophic damage. Eiki Shiroma has lost all of things, including loved families, all the fabrics dyed by him, and all the necessities for bingata making. After the war, he exchanged his rationed food to old fabrics, because it was very difficult to get materials and old fabrics of bingatas. Based on the old fabrics, he imagined combination of colors. In addition, he collected various kinds of papers, even bags of flour, for paper stencils and drew designs. Step by step, he prepared to make his bingatas. Actually, it was a re-start from zero.

Eiki Shiroma wrote precisely how to make bingatas without regret in one of the famous kimono books, “Japanese Cloths” published by Tairyu-sha. In this book, the craftsman, working for Eiki Shiroma, talked with feeling that ryukyu bingatas should not become prosperous, if Eiki were secretive and egoistic in terms of technology. Furthermore, his following talk really touched me:
Ryukyu Bingatas are not proprietary things of our family. They are one of the traditional cultures for all Okinawa people, developed by many ancestors. True culture should not definitively grow on a basis of secrecy. Under a situation after defeat in war (WWII), what I aspire and what I must do is not reproduction of old bingatas, but rebirth of new bingatas. It is actually resurrection for bingata. For the resurrection, we must build firm foundation, where its traditional techniques are correctly and permanently handed down from person to person. To that end, the more bingata artists, the better. Of course, owing to the increase in bingata makers, some of the people might produce inferior goods, but extraordinary bingata artists should appear. I believe that these extraordinary bingata artists should develop ryukyu bingatas better, and in addition, bloom more attractive Okinawa culture.”

Thanks to overwhelming passion of Eiki Shiroma to resurrect bingatas, now I can meet a wonderful bingata kimono like this.

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