Okinawa is more than white sandy beaches and endless snorkelling. Okinawa is rich with culture and activities unique from the rest of Japan. One Okinawa speciality is Ryukyu glass and Ryukyu glass making. (Ryukyu is the original name of Okinawa before it was taken by Japan.) In this post, I’ll show you how to make your own Ryukyu glass in Okinawa so you can bring home your own handmade souvenir.
What is Ryukyu glass?
Ryukyu glass is an Okinawa style of glass and glasswares. It is often, but not always, clear glass and characterized by textures, bubbles, colour gradients, or patterns. Products are all very twinkly and somewhat resemble ripples in the ocean. The main glass item is regular drinking glasses, but there are also dishes, vases, decorations, and other little things. They should only be used for cold drinks.
How to make Ryukyu glass
Step 1: Find a glass-making centre
There are a few Ryukyu glass making centres around Okinawa, some in the south and some in the north. The place I went to was Ryukyu Glass Creation, or Ryukyu Glass Mura in Japanese. It is in Itoman city, which is near the southern tip of Okinawa south of Naha. When choosing a place, make sure you check the scheduled glass making time. The craft often takes place at specified times throughout the day, and you may need reservations. Make sure you arrive early so you have time to register and choose the colour you want.
Step 2: Choose a glass colour and design
Once you are at the glass making factory, you may have a few options of glasses to choose from. At Ryukyu Glass Creation, there was blue, red, clear with coloured dots, white/pink, and turquoise with coloured dots. Each colour was a different price. You will have to fill out a registration form so you can pick up your glass later–it takes two days to cool properly before you can pick it up. You will also get a number, which is the order you will make the glass and the number of your finished glass.
Step 3: Listen to the instructions
When it is the scheduled glass making time, a staff will give you an apron, gloves, arm covers, and paper blowing cover. Put everything on and listen to the instructions for how to make the glass.
Step 4: Blow the glass
Now is the fun part. First, someone will bring a red hot piece of melted glass from the 1300 degree furnace. It will be soft and drippy, and you’ll need to be fast. They will drop it down into a mold, close the mold, and ask you to blow. Put the paper on the top of the blowing tube and blow into it to make the glass puff up into the mold. I made the mistake of taking to long to put my gloves on, and by the time I was blowing the glass it was already starting to cool. Make sure you already have your gloves on before they bring the hot glass to you.
Step 5: Roll the glass
After you blow the glass into the mold, they will take it back into the furnace and get it ready for the next step. Then you will sit in the rolling station, and they will give you a finished glass to practice on. With your left hand you roll the glass back and forth, and with your right hand, you open the mouth of the glass with a metal tool. After a few practice rolls, they will bring your red hot Ryukyu glass and you will roll it back and forth while opening the mouth with the metal tool. Even with gloves on, it is very hot being close to the glass. Again, you only have about a minute while the glass is hot enough to change it’s shape. Then they will take it away to stamp your number in the bottom and begin the two-day cooling process.
Step 6: Wait
Ryukyu glass making is finished for today. Give back the apron, gloves, and arm cover, and spend a few minutes watching the professional glass-makers make Ryukyu glass. Then you can walk through the shop and marvel at the beautiful designs. Ryukyu Glass Creation gives you a coupon for 15% off a Y1000 purchase if you do the glass making activity.
Step 7: Come back in two days
Two days might seem like a long time to wait to pick up your glass, but it needs that long to cool slowly. If it cools too quickly it will crack. After two days, come back with your receipt of registration and payment and pick up your finished Ryukyu glass. It will have your number stamped into the bottom. Open it and smile at your finished Ryukyu glass creation! Make sure you do come back though because they will only hold your finished glass for one month.
Ryukyu glass making is a fun way to bring back a unique souvenir from Okinawa. Sure, you can buy Ryukyu glass in a million gift shops around the island, but it’s a lot of fun to make it yourself. I currently have a combination of store-bought and now handmade Ryukyu glass in my home. I recommend trying out a Ryukyu glass making experience if you want a tangible memory from your trip to Okinawa.
Leave a comment if this looks like something you would like to do in Okinawa!
Here’s another activity where I painted a little ceramic toilet!