Glass has become a regular part of everyday Japanese life, but this was not always the case. The craftsmanship of glass only set foot into Japan in the 17th century, alongside western medicine. After its introduction into the islands, glass has taken its own, uniquely Japanese path in the form of "Kiriko" (cut glass), a traditional Japanese form of glass-crafting.
One of those kiriko glass crafts is "Edo Kiriko", a traditional craft of Tokyo that has come to lead the Japanese aesthetic to the world. We will explore the history behind its production and patterns, as well as other glass crafts in the Taisho/Showa eras. You might just find some great inspiration for gifts, or pieces of glassware to incorporate into your everyday life!
History of Japanese Glass Craftsmanship: its Roots in the Edo Era
Nowadays, glass is used commonly as a part of our everyday life. The history of today’s Japanese glassware is rather young, and was actually introduced to Japan in the Edo era (1603 - 1868). Though the exact dates are unknown, it is said that glass was first imported into Japan in the tools of western medicine during this time period.
It is not until much later in the Meiji era, that glass-manufacturing techniques were imported into Japan too, allowing glass tableware to be commonplace the way it is today.
Despite this relatively late entry of Japan into glass craftsmanship, there are a wide variety of traditional glasswares in Japan. Among its most famous is definitely the "Kiriko-zaiku", a type of glassware characterized by vivid colors, broken up by intricate patterns cut into the glass. High-quality Kiriko glasswares made in Tokyo are specifically called "Edo Kiriko", and captivate the hearts of many with their colorings and cut patterns.
Edo Kiriko in Lapis-lazuli blue and Tanned brown. Traditional handcrafts of Tokyo
How did Edo Kiriko come to be, and how did it develop? We asked Hirota Glass co., ltd, a glass-manufacturing company in the Sumida Ward of Tokyo.
What is Edo Kiriko Glassware? Learning at Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan
Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan located at the intersection within an about 6-minute walk from Kinshicho Station
Hirota Glass co., ltd. is glassware shop established in 1899, located in the Kinshicho area of Tokyo.
Their lineup of products is not limited Edo Kiriko glassware; with a variety of glass-making techniques, they create a range of glasswares that carry an air of retro nostalgia with them.
Here, you can buy Edo Kiriko wares, and also experience its making. We will dive into the methods and histories of Edo Kiriko, one of Tokyo's most renown handicrafts.
Edo Kiriko, a Renown Handicraft of Tokyo
How did Edo Kiriko come to be in the first place?
We had an interview with Mr. Tatsuro Hirota, COO of Hirota Glass co., ltd.
Mr. Tatsuro Hirota, COO of Hirota Glass co., ltd.
Mr. Hirota tells us:
"The origins of Edo Kiriko are said to trace back to the works of the Edo period glass merchant, Kagaya Kyube. Like today's Edo Kiriko, he applied cuts to imported glass products. That being said, it was quite recent that this began to be referred to as 'Edo Kiriko'."
It seems that things resembling today's Edo Kiriko have been in production for a long time, but they were only given their current name recently.
Catalogue of Edo glass displayed in the store. It shows the history of glass in Japan, dating back to the Edo Period.
The word “Kiriko” is considered to have been created in the Meiji era, since it appears in an episode of Rosanjin Kitaoji, a Japanese artist who was popular from the Meiji to Showa period.
On the other hand, Tokyo-made Kiriko glassware only came to be called "Edo Kiriko" within the past 100 years. The craftsmanship of Edo Kiriko was always inherited by the efforts of late-Edo townspeople, but it was the Meiji-era contribution of English glass-cutting technicians that gave Edo Kiriko the vibrance and intricacy that it has today.
How Edo Kiriko Glassware is made: A delicate process of glass-cutting
Exclusive Tokyo SkyTree-patterned Edo Kiriko glassware
There is a wide range of Edo Kiriko in a variety of colors stocked in Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan. You can always find over 350 Edo Kiriko on display. The classic red Edo Kiriko is of course in stock, alongside the deep blue variants. The pigments of red and blue are created respectively by copper and cobalt, and apparently it is quite difficult to color a glass surface in red!
It never gets old, taking in the artistry and deep craftsmanship that goes into the shimmering, light-refracting surfaces of Edo Kiriko glasswares. It seems most common to buy them as gifts for special occasions, but they might also make great luxurious companions to your relaxed, everyday dinner table.
Edo Kiriko handcrafted by a Kiriko artist. They can also hold warm drinks
Despite the narrow grooves covering the surfaces of Edo Kiriko, maintenance is quite easy. They can be cleaned with dish soap like any other glass, and just by occasionally cleaning out the grooves with a cotton swab, your Edo Kiriko can be kept beautiful for a long, long time!
Today, we were given the special opportunity to have a look at process of the craftsmen actually making Edo Kiriko.
Rough-grinding process. Concentration and technique is essential to curve beautiful patterns.
This is the initial process called Ara-kezuri(rough-grinding), in which patterns are cut into the glass. To create the patterns, colored glass is placed on top of clear glass, and ground away to reveal the base layer.
This thin layer of colored glass makes Edo Kiriko unique. The slightest cut will reveal the clear glass underneath, so creating a beautiful pattern is an extremely intricate process that requires huge amounts of experience and technique.
Curving elevates finer from inking and indexing, rough-curving, Second-kake to Third-kake. Glass turns into transparent by Stone-kake.
Mr. Kozo Kawai, an Edo Kiriko craftsman and meister of Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan, was doing the cutting today. He is a highly-skilled craftsman with about 30 years of Edo Kiriko-making experience, who says that it takes over 10 years and a huge amount of dedication to master the process and become a competent craftsman. Stable hands and adequate pressure are embedded into the muscle memory over years of practice.
Mr. Kozo Kawai, an Edo Kiriko craftsman
He told us about how difficult it is to acquire the technique. He says:
“In my initial years, it was very hard for me to adjust my pressure and make a straight cut. Whether you can master the technique depends on whether or not you can endure in the initial 2 or 3 years.”.
Satsuma Kiriko, the Once Lost Glassware, Restored
What are the Common Patterns of Edo Kiriko?
Edo Kiriko come in a variety of beautiful colors including blue, red, purple, green and pink, but their intricate patterns are worth just as much praise. The typical kiriko glassware adopts a geometric pattern, but Edo Kiriko takes much of its inspiration from the delicate kimono designs of Edo.
The "Nanako" pattern, for example, mimics the look of chained fish eggs with highly precise cutting. This pattern is considered a classic in Edo Kiriko designs, and truly utilizes the beauty of Japanese Kiriko glassware to the fullest.
At Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan, 10 patterns are on display along with their names. Let's take a closer look!
10 kinds of patterns are exhibited in the store
【Edo Kiriko patterns】
A typical pattern of Edo Kiriko. Its name describes its look, in which finely cut grooves resemble chained fish eggs.
Also an exemplary pattern of Edo Kiriko, made by highly precise cutting. The name comes from the "kiku" (chrysanthemum) flower which the pattern resembles.
This pattern represents the look of hail falling from the sky.
The chained pattern of circles represents familial prosperity and family health.
This uniform pattern of hexagons represents the weaved bamboo basket, and is said to repel evil spirits.
Similar to the previous "Rokkaku Kagome-mon", this basket-weave pattern is said to repel evil spirits. The octagonal pattern is is especially a sign of good fortune.
The outwards-expanding spider web pattern carries the meaning of "catching happiness".
A "Yarai" is a hedge, created by interlocking bamboo and logs. The pattern is said to protect its owner from evil.
Named after the hemp leaf, known for its fast growth. It contains the wish for children's healthy growth.
This pattern represents a pine tree leaf. Due to its evergreen nature, the pine tree is said to symbolize powerful vitality.
Many other patterns are used for Edo Kiriko. If you find any attractive patterns, you can ask for their names and meaning.
Japanese Glassware Flourished in the Taisho & Showa era
For 120 years since its establishment in 1899, Hirota Glass co., ltd. has been dedicated to the craft of glass manufacturing. Their lineup of Japanese glassware is not limited to just Edo Kiriko; from hereon, we will introduce their glassware lines that are more geared towards casual everyday use. These wares are revitalizations of styles born in the Taisho and Showa Eras, and may just be the next additions to your dining table!
Sumida Wa-glass-kan is in the same premises of Hirota Glass co. ltd., within a 3-minute walk from Kinshicho Station
Our next destination was "Sumida Wa-Glass-kan", which also stands within the Kinshicho area, at a 3-minute walking distance from Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan. This building is also owned by Hirota Glass co. Ltd, and is an experience workshop that combines archival and research-related spaces for glass production. The first floor contains a glassware shop, stocking products crafted by Hirota Glass co. Ltd.
Glassware made with care, to speak to your nostalgia
Although glassware is used so regularly in our everyday lives, we rarely think about the procedures in which they are made. Take any two pieces of glassware, and the two will have been crafted using different technologies and techniques.
One example is the “arare” series with the pattern of raised dots, characterized by soft hues of pink or yellow. In their crafting, heated glass is poured into a mold and pressed into shape. They carry a refreshing look, which is perfect for plating sweets with.
"Setsu-getsu-ka" (Snow, Moon and Flower) Arare series (from ¥1,100)
The old-fashioned glassware is also made with press technique, and has a look reminiscent of retro cafes. These are part of the "Fukkoku" (classic reproduction) series, and includes plates, tumblers, and more.
Fukkoku series (from ¥880)
The tumblers are characterized by thick bottoms, which Mr. Hirota tells us is a result of catering towards the cafes and restaurants using them to serve drinks. The thick bottom allows the establishment to fill it to the brim with less liquid, and the light refraction at the bottom gives the illusion of a more full glass.
Thick-bottom tumblers were often used in cafes in the Showa era
This series is sure to bring back memories for Japanese people who remember the Showa era. It includes many relatively affordable pieces within the ¥1000 range, and make great pieces for serving guests with.
The "Taisho Romantic Glass" catches your eye with soft opal-colored patterns
Pay special attention to “Taisho Romantic glass”, which makes use of the "aburidashi" technique that was common in the Tiasho era. The foggy white patterns are not applied via paint, but exposed by blowing molten glass into unevenly shaped pattern molds.
Taisho Romantic glass (from ¥2,750)
The pale white color is created by using calcium extracted from sources such as bone ash, and create a variety of geometric patterns that resemble Edo-era kimono designs. Their beautiful designs make quite the gift.
Outlets products are also available. They are perfect for your personal use.
Modern & Approachable: Other Edo Kiriko Products
You can certainly find Edo Kiriko lineups in Sumida Wa-glass-kan too.They sell products which you can use more regularly and casually, while maintaining the time-honored elegance. Be sure to check the Hirota Glass co., ltd. original, "Edo Kiriko Futa-Choko” (small lidded Edo Kiriko glass)!
"Edo Kiriko Futa-Choko”(2,000JPY and up〜）
“Futa-Choko” comes in a set of a small cup, and dish-like lid with the same pattern. Since the lid also has the same beautiful colors and patterns, it can also be used as a plate on its own, to hold condiments and snacks. You can also use it as a chopstick rest. The Futa-Choko series offers you various usages, that you can enjoy flexibly according to your needs.
There are Kiriko products other than tableware too, such as the bunchin (paperweight) and Mangekyo (kaleidoscope). These mesmerizing works of Edo Kiriko will make great additions to your everyday life!
The Glassware that Inherits Japanese Culture and Tradition
Since Western glass products were introduced to Japan in the Edo era, various craftsmanships of glassware have emerged through the meiji, taisho, and Showa periods. The glasswares ranged from artisanal pieces inheriting a rich historical tradition, to more casual wares that encouraged daily use. Head to Kinshicho to find Edo Kiriko, or the Japanese glassware that's just right for you!