In the Ryukyu Kingdom, there was an interesting government office.

The name of this place was the Lacquerware Supervision Office.

Ryukyu was known for its high-quality mother-of-pearl harvested from great green turban snail shells. The Kingdom would often send lacquerware made using these shells to Japan and China. The Lacquerware Supervision Office is where the production of these goods would be managed. The document on display explains who the lacquerware goods were meant for, as well as small details such as the materials to be used in its creation. In modern terms, this document would be considered a blueprint, or a draft plan. The document would go from the head craftsmen to the chief magistrate, each person signing off on the design, proving that bureaucracy hasn’t changed much since those days.

The “Chuō-Jyoku” table on display next to the document is a very common type of lacquerware found in East Asia. At the time, the Japanese were fond of “Kara-mono,” or imported goods from China, which also included products from Ryukyu. The Chuō-Jyoku tables were often used to hold flower arrangements or incense holders, and a hanging scroll was usually hung up behind it. The people at the time liked to coordinate things to match the seasons, and must have enjoyed the aesthetic senses it took to ensure everything matched. What kind of flowers did they display? What kind of smell did the incense give off?

These lacquerware pieces, which were sent all over the nation, are now on display throughout the world. If the piece that was drafted on this document was completed to perfection, it would be certified as Ryukyuan Lacquerware. If you happen to come across a piece in your travels, please be sure to inform the museum.

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