Before 1879 Okinawa Prefecture was an autonomous region called the Ryukyu Kingdom. It's unique culture began to take shape in the 15th century upon its unification. Before unification, Okinawa was separated into three power bases which paid tribute to China. It remained a tributary Kingdom well after its unification, and also started to engage in trade and cultural exchange with Korea, Japan, and numerous countries in Southeast Asia. The Ryukyus received exceptional treatment from China. Additionally many aspects of Chinese civilization, including lacquerware, reached the shores of the Ryukyu Islands.

 In the 16th century, exceptionally fine lacquerware pieces were produced in a special facility, the Kaizuri-bugyosho, under royal administration. This ornate lacquerware smoothed diplomatic relations with the Ryukyu Kingdom's neighbors. Pieces such as elaborate black lacquerware with mother-of-pearl inlay were presented to the shogunates and daimyo (local rulers)on the mainland, and used as tribute payments to the Chinese Emperor.
 The Ryukyuan lacquerware of the time included chinkin, (detailed carvings with gold inlay), as well as the freer designs of shu-urushi raden, (cinnabar red lacquer with mother-of-pearl inlay). Due to local resistance toward various influences from mainland Japan, raden lacquer in particular continued to be produced in its uniquely Ryukyuan style even after the attack by Shimazu of the Satsuma clan in Kyushu in 1609.
 By the beginning of the 19th century, production spread to private workshops. A lot of shu-urushi (cinnabar red) lacquerware as well as simple designs based on the hakue (gold leaf aplication) and tsuikin (design overlay) techniques were made. Hakue and thuikin were especially well suited for mass production in modern times.