(image: Mt.Fuji Glass from TAJIMA GLASS: http://item.rakuten.co.jp/babynews/tajima-01/ )
Nowadays, you can find glass anywhere; thus, you may well think glass is not luxury. However, there is some “special” one in the world. One of such glass exists in Japan, which is called “Edo glass”.
Why is it so special?
Edo glass is the glass that is still manufactured in the same way as people did in Edo Era in Japan. It can’t be automated by machinery, and therefore the manufacturers can’t make that many at once.
Glass products are made by a mold. The glass creators hold a straw-like stick (which has a hole in the center) and put the “seed” of glass on the end. They put this stick into a mold into which shape they turn the glass and blow the stick. The material of glass on the other end of the stick begins to balloon in the mold, making the shape of it eventually. This procedure runs in great heat to soften the material. In this case, the finished product becomes thin.
There is another way of using molds: they put the heated material of glass into a mold and press it by the other counterpart mold. In this case, the finished product becomes thick, so it’s good for making plates and so on.
In addition, skillful artisans of Edo glass can blow the stick with material on the other end without a mold, and they shape it by rods. They put this in a kiln to exposure it into 1,400 degrees Celsius.
When put some patterns on this surface, the glass product is called “Edo Kiriko”; Kiriko means the technique to cut and grind glass to embellish it, and this cutting procedure is also manual.
Because of this manual process, the finished product becomes a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. The manufacturer can’t make the identical one twice.
The crystal-clear history of glass
The first piece of glass in Japan is thought to be made in its Yayoi Era (B.C. 300 – A.D. 300). However, the imported glass product is found in 1543 in which time a ship that was planning to go back from India to Portugal drifted onto the land of Japan due to a typhoon. This land is famously called “Tanega-shima”, where reportedly they exchanged their pelters for a large amount of gold coins. This story spread in their own country soon and many people headed for the country of “gold”, named Zipangu.
6 years later, in 1549, Francis Xavier, a Portuguese missionary, landed on Japan to gain the gold in exchange for precious articles of Europe. One of such articles was “vidro”, which means glass in Portuguese. Vidro soon became luxury exclusive for very limited people for a while; in Edo Era, they started making glass products by themselves.
During 1868 and 1912, namely in Meiji Era of Japan, this business got highly industrialized. They produced more glass products by the help of automation, and the price of such products became much more affordable for common people. In Meiji Era, Japanese people got cultural enlightenment to catch up with the culture of foreign countries, so this trend also propelled the momentum to pursue its development and follow the example of overseas countries. Of course, buying and using glass products, which originally came from foreign countries, was suitable for such a trend.
Some wars Japan underwent damaged this glass industry, but anyway, the technique of Edo glass (and Edo Kiriko) survived it. Now, glass products are inexpensive and seen anywhere in Japan (and all over the world). However, the products made by the technique which developed in Edo Era is called Edo glass and as luxury as it was in the time. Yes, they conserved not only their technique but also their value.
For what this glass is used?
One of the usages of Edo glass is making Japanese wind chime (Fu-rin). After blowing the stick to balloon the material, they cut the material off the stick. This cut surface is crucial for the sound of the wind chime.
Other ones are making chopsticks, mirrors or glasses. It might surprise you that they can make such a wide range of products just by shaping glass by their hand.
Speaking of Edo glass, some people refer to diamnt (or gyaman). What’s diamnt and is it related to Edo glass?
In Edo era, Japan closed itself to foreign countries. Many foreign people who came to Japan then were Christian or of other religions, which were not in line with the policy of Tokugawa shogunate. However, Holland was allowed to keep the business with Japan even after that because they didn’t have intention to preach.
On the ship of them, there were some of products of glass, which were called diamnt by them. Japanese people called it “Gyaman”, emulating the pronunciation of Dutch people, and this product got also popular and prestigious in Japan. Diamnt is diamond in their language, and it’s thought that the glass products cut by their technique looked diamond.
Diamnt is not always related to Edo glass, but some Edo glass should have become diamnt through the Edo Kiriko technique. You can say that the piece of Edo Kiriko sure is as beautiful as diamond is.
What’s the difference between Edo glass and Edo Kiriko?
Both Edo glass and Edo Kiriko refer to Japanese masterpieces made of glass that are manufactured in the way the people in Edo Era did. So, what’s the difference? Let’s make it clear.
What you need to know is that Edo Kiriko is the technique to put patterns on a surface of glass. Therefore, if you buy a glass product which has a pattern on it, it should be called “Edo Kiriko”. On the other hand, Edo glass is originally the material and manufacturing way of the product, so the products called Edo glass do not always have patterns on the surface. They tend to be thin and perfect to enjoy your favorite drink. The thinness of Edo glass allows you to feel the liquid inside directly and enjoy the flavor much more.
Of course, some Edo Kiriko is made of Edo glass, so such products are called in both ways; they tend to be Edo Kiriko, though. It goes without saying that such masterpieces are combination of Japanese historical and cultural techniques, which makes it much more precious; some of them are used even by the Japanese imperial family!
【日英対訳】日本の歴史100 100 Things on Japanese History