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A bingata robe on display at the Tokyo National Museum
Hanagasa dancers in bingata robes
Bolts of cloth being hand-dyed at a workshop in Shuri
  • Other Names: 形付 (katachiki, O: katatikii)
  • Japanese: 紅型 (bingata)

Bingata is an Okinawan resist-dye textile design technique, involving bold, colorful patterns, often involving flowers, and often on a red or yellow ground. Traditionally, bingata garments were strictly limited to the Ryukyuan royalty and aristocracy.Yanagi Sôetsu began promoting bingata as folk craft (mingei) in 1938, however, praising it alongside other Okinawan and Korean arts as a quaint, exotic, art produced by anonymous folk weavers and evocative of a simpler time; as a result, bingata's aristocratic associations have been all but lost today in the popular consciousness.[1]

Bingata techniques and styles as known and celebrated today are said to have reached their mature phase by the end of the 17th century; though various dyeing techniques and styles existed in Ryûkyû prior to that time, it was only in the early modern period that the particular techniques and styles today associated with "bingata" developed. The term bingata, meanwhile, only became widely used in the late 19th or early 20th century; prior to that, the term katatikii (J: katachiki), roughly meaning "with designs added," was the term most commonly used in Ryûkyû.[2]

Roughly 41 bingata garments associated with the royal family survive today,[3] including several which have been designated National Treasures. They are defined as bingata by the dyeing technique, and include garments made from a variety of materials.


The Ryukyuan aristocracy did not wear bingata during major court ceremonies, but only for comparatively everyday situations, and regular court events.[4] They were worn mostly by adult women, and by young people both male & female; adult men generally only wore bingata when wearing it as a costume for dance or theater.[5]

As in traditional Chinese/Confucian belief, the color yellow was associated (out of the five cardinal directions) with the Center, and with the Emperor - or, in the case of Ryûkyû, with the king. Yellow garments, dyed using an arsenic sulfide known today as orpiment, or other plant or mineral dyes, were thus worn only by members of the royal family.[6]

Sumptuary regulations restricted the wearing of bingata were loosened at some point in the early modern period, and commoners were permitted to own and wear such garments. However, they remained extremely expensive; only the wealthiest of commoners managed to obtain bingata robes, and they generally wore them only on special occasions.[4]

Creation and Style

The process is done by using persimmon juice as a resist, blocking out areas one does not wish to dye. Dye is then applied through stencils, by hand, one section at a time, to produce the designs.[7] The stencils are made from soft, thick hôsho paper which has been strengthened with persimmon juice. More than 2,000 such stencils survive from prior to World War II, and each is inscribed with the year, the names of the studio (紺屋, kôya) and client, and other information. The stencils were cut out on a dried tofu base known as a rukuju using a small chisel known as a shiigu. The cutting and production otherwise of the stencils, dyeing the fabric, and other aspects of bingata production were all performed within the same studio.[8]

It is believed that bingata technique and styles first emerged due in large part to the influence of Japanese dyed fabrics which were brought into the Ryukyuan royal court as gifts from the Tokugawa shogunate. By the 19th century, if not earlier, bingata garments began to show the influence, too, of the latest Japanese commoner fashions; for example, motifs of flowered roundels appear both in Okinawa and in Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo around the same time.[9]

Garments with wide sleeves are known in Okinawan as ufujin (lit. "big/wide garment") or ufusudijin (lit. "big/wide sleeved garment").[10]


  • Bingata! Only in Okinawa, Washington DC: George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum, 2016.
  • Gallery labels, Naha City Museum of History, August 2013.
  1. Nitta Setsuko, "Oppression of and Admiration for Okinawan Textiles: Commercial Items and Art Objects," Okinawan Art in its Regional Context symposium, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 10 Oct 2019.
  2. Bingata! Only in Okinawa, 158.
  3. Along with fifteen orimono (woven garments) and one embroidered garment.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bingata! Only in Okinawa, 50-51.
  5. Bingata! Only in Okinawa, 91, 112.
  6. Bingata! Only in Okinawa, 63, 100.
  7. Gallery labels, Tokyo National Museum.
  8. Gallery labels, "Churashima Textiles" exhibition, Shoto Museum, Tokyo, Sept 2019.
  9. Bingata! Only in Okinawa, 73.
  10. Bingata! Only in Okinawa, 72.