Ryukyu Glass: History and How It Is Made
(Video: Japanese available only)
Due to the lack of resources after World War II, Okinawans utilized the empty Cola and beer bottles thrown out by the American military who occupied the island. The bottles were melted and remade into what is now famously known as Ryukyu Glass today. Recycling and reutilizing already available resources is a part of the Okinawan way of thinking, an obvious mindset when living on an island with a limited amount of land and raw materials. This method still holds up today as it is beneficial for our earth as a whole.
The techniques used to create these glasses are glass-blowing and embossing. The recycled materials are blown into a glass shape using air, and embossing is the act of adding design to the finished material. The glass is mixed in a kiln using temperatures over 2,000 °C (3,632 °F) and then pressed and molded into various shapes usually requiring at least two people. Recycled glass is typically used in the creation of Ryukyu Glass but, due to high demand, raw materials are being used in recent years. When Ryukyu Glass was born, the colors of the glass were whatever the color of the original material used was, usually clear but sometimes green and brown. As technique and skill improved, sky and royal blue was infused into the glass and became increasingly popular among tourists.
Many local Okinawans today take up the art of making Ryukyu Glass to make a living and continue the tradition of handcrafting glasses. Each local takes on a special design particular to their personal taste and their store. The surrounding environment, traditional or modern culture, animals and many other factors influence the creation of the glasses. Light and shade are also important factors and taken into consideration when embossing. Now Ryukyu Glass is formed into all different styles and colors. No Ryukyu Glass is exactly the same and each has it's own slight differences, whether it be in color, bubbles, shape or design.
One of the traditional and most representative images of Okinawan culture is drinking Okinawan alcohol, awamori, out of a Ryukyu Glass. Awamori is clear allowing the drinker to fully see the beauty and design of the glass they are drinking out of. Both the glass and alcohol are made by people of the island giving it the real feel of traditional Okinawa. Some even say the awamori tastes better if only drinking out of a Ryukyu Glass! However, these glasses are not only used for drinks, as many locals use them for holding objects, such as food, chopsticks, lights or plants. Make use of the beauty around you and get creative.
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