Tsuboya (壺屋) is an area in downtown Naha home to Tsuboya Pottery, Okinawa’s most well-known pottery kind. Tsuboya Odori Pottery Street and the Tsuboya Pottery Museum are two of the neighborhood’s many attractions. Okinawan pottery dates back to the Ryukyu Kingdom period before Okinawa was absorbed into Japan. The pottery is composed of local clay and initially created across the kingdom. Until all pottery manufacturing was relocated to Naha in the 17th century as part of the country’s industrialization.
Tsuboya has been the hub of Okinawa’s pottery industry. And is now home to a variety of stores selling the items and many of the businesses that make them.
Tsuboya Odori Pottery Street is a 300-meter-long stone-paved route that runs through the neighborhood and serves as its epicenter.
The street is dotted with many stores selling everything from tableware and cutlery to flowers and even urns.
The many shops sell differing versions of the traditional Okinawan craft. With some emphasizing traditionally fashioned products and others highlighting more contemporary things.
The Naha Municipal Tsuboya Pottery Museum, conveniently located at the street’s west entrance, is an excellent place to
begin learning about the history and diversity of yachimun items. Earthenware has been used in the Ryukyu Islands for 6,000 years. It wasn’t until the 12th century that pottery brought from China debuted. As trading networks grew throughout the ages, so did the variety of foreign ceramics and methods.
Large storage vats and other goods were burnt in kilns on Okinawa Island between the 15th and 16th centuries. Partly to create and store one of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s most significant products, awamori (a distilled spirit). These early yachimun were mostly unglazed and utilitarian vases, jars, and roof tiles. Fashioned from a combination of black dirt and red clay from the south. This sort of yachimun, known as arayachi. The characteristic burnished red hue is still used in various applications in Okinawa. And is most commonly seen in Okinawa’s famous shisa figures, which adorn roofs and building entrances.
Tsuboya became the hub of yachimun via tragedy when Shurijo Castle burned down in 1660. Large roof tiles were required to restore the castle to its former splendor. To facilitate the repair effort, the government decided to centralize the island’s pottery production in Tsuboya in 1682.
Tsuboya has various advantages in being selected as the pottery quarter.
It was vital to be close to Shurijo Castle and a port to provide raw materials and transport completed items. Nonetheless, the location had appropriate clay resources and was mountainous enough to support the noborigama climbing kilns.
Concentrating yachimun art in this tiny settlement on the outskirts of Shuri. Aided in combining indigenous materials and aesthetics with a varied variety of foreign methods. Yachimun was evolving into a polished and distinctively Okinawan art style. With the Ryukyu Kingdom increasingly valuing it as a gift for tributary powers in China and Japan.
As the Ryukyu Islands were integrated into Japan during the Meiji era (1868–1912). The golden age of imperial sponsorship for yachimun came to an end. Tsuboya’s yachimun craftspeople were suddenly forced to compete with foreign ceramics. And they responded by innovating and pushing their workmanship to new heights.
Following the city’s devastation during WWII, the comparatively unharmed Tsuboya district became a beacon of optimism and activity. As artists turned their hands to producing Okinawans’ standard requirements. The wood-fired kilns emitted so much smoke in an increasingly congested area of Naha. That the future of yachimun manufacturing in Tsuboya became impossible.
By the 1970s, artists seeking to conserve wood-fired yachimun had migrated to the northern Yomitan region. The surviving yachimun workshops were converted to gas or electric-fired kilns to make their items without generating a nuisance.