Edo-Kiriko (江戸切子) is originally a glass art and sometimes the technique to make it, originating from Edo era in Japan. So, the piece of Edo-Kiriko is not always a glass to drink but sometimes a box, a plate, or a vase, all of which are made of glass, though. Their graceful and Japanesque patterns on the pieces are mesmerizing many people all over the world even today.
Now, the contemporary Edo-Kiriko is often characterized by its thick colored glass that enables the artisans to engrave patterns vividly, but this feature is not always necessary to be recognized as Edo-Kiriko. On the very contrary, the Edo-Kiriko at the dawn had the opposite characteristics.
What does it mean? Let’s delve into the history.
History of Edo-Kiriko 1 (Pre-war)
The pioneer of Edo-Kiriko is “Kyuubee Kagaya (the pronunciation should be Q-Bay Kagaya, by the way), who used files, emery and so on to put some patterns on the surface of glass and then refined it. It is believed that all of this process was done manually. At this time, the glass used for the art was rather thin and colorlessly transparent. Yes, this is quite opposite to the feature of the modern recognized Edo-Kiriko.
Actually, there was another technique to make a glass art then, which was called “Satsuma-Kiriko (薩摩切子)”. Satsuma is an old name of a certain area of Japan, and Satsuma-Kiriko originally started as “the official industry of the domain”. However, in 1871, this domain was completely gone because of the attempt of the Japanese government to centralize the local authorities. Unfortunately, this movement also destroyed the record of Satsuma-Kiriko techniques and its successors.
On the other hand, the technique of Edo-Kiriko was carried on successfully by many people. As a part of this, Emanuel Houptman, a British technician of cut glass, introduced many “cutting-edge” techniques into Japan in 1881, including what is called “graveal”. Unlike Satsuma-Kiriko, Edo-Kiriko started as a private industry, so it didn’t get affected by the government. Therefore, Edo-Kiriko is often said to be culture that common people fostered.
Edo-Kiriko also absorbed the endangered techniques of Satsuma-Kiriko then, and all of these factors prompted the development of the combined techniques. This is why the recognized feature of the modern Edo-Kiriko is often different from the original one’s.
History of Edo-Kiriko 2 (Post-war)
World War 1, in a sense, benefitted Edo-Kiriko. It altered the system of industries in Japan and propelled many studies about materials and polishing techniques, and Edo-Kiriko became prestigious as a top-notch luxury product. However, the Pacific War didn’t do good for Edo-Kiriko. It depleted many resources, including humans.
After the depletion due to the war, many Edo-Kiriko masters made use of their skills in different fields, including that of optical lens for military uses. This movement restored the industry to some extent, but they could not bypass the biggest trend in the modern world – automation resulting from development of machinery. In addition to this, the import of many inexpensive articles made of glass from overseas started, and many of the artisans of Edo-Kiriko got in trouble to carry on their profession.
However, Japanese people didn’t overlook the decadence. There is movement that re-acknowledges the value of Edo-Kiriko now, and in 1985, Edo-Kiriko officially became a traditional craft of Tokyo, followed by being registered as the manufacture of Traditional Crafts designated by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2002. In order to be officially a traditional craft of Tokyo, there are 4 requirements: The process of manufacture should be largely manual; it should be manufactured by traditional techniques (which means approximately 100-year-experienced techniques); the material should be traditional; there should be 4 companies or more that manufacture it in Tokyo. Judging from these facts, you can tell that the registration of Edo-Kiriko as an official traditional craft owes to cooperation of a great number of people.
Although many problems remain, many Edo-Kiriko artisans are still alive today to preserve their tradition and legacy, and common people can enjoy their crafts.
The modern Edo-Kiriko
Almost all the artisans of Edo-Kiriko belong to EDO KIIKO COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION, which plays an active role to preserve and prevail Edo-Kiriko. One of the greatest achievements is the registration of Edo-Kiriko as a traditional craft of Tokyo.
Additionally, individual Edo-Kiriko artisans often participate in exhibitions held in many places to diversify their work. Some of them collaborate with other artists of different genres on that purpose, too.
Although the prevalence of automation and advanced machinery deprived some of the manual work of Edo-Kiriko, they are getting all the more famous and precious for the transience these days.
By the way, there exist pieces of Edo-Kiriko that are much older than any of us. Yes, some masterpieces of them that were made in Edo era still can be seen now.
The old-aged Edo-Kiriko
These articles are recognized as antiques and are so precious today. Some of them are exhibited at some museums but others are sold such dealers. Well, what is the difference from the modern pieces?
There are many points to differentiate the old-aged genuine Edo-Kiriko, and one of the most notable features is that their surface is so “smooth”. When glass is processed by wheel, it entails sharpness on the pattern because the artisans can’t adjust the angle to put glass on the wheel that freely. On the other hand, the old-aged pieces were fully manually processed, which allowed the artisans to refine the piece from all angles. Thus, their surface is so smooth and less sharp.
When you happen to see a glass with beautiful patterns on it at a flea market or such places, you should check the surface. If it seems to be made by hand and feels sleek, it can be a secret treasure.
Where to go to watch Edo-Kiriko?
As said above, you can watch the masterpieces of Edo-Kiriko in many places these days, including some events held at department stores and museums. EDO KIRIKO COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION often has events where you can watch the latest pieces of Edo-Kiriko of modern days as well.
Apart from those, some artisans of Edo-Kiriko is selling their pieces on their website, so you can purchase them directly. How about making a toast by the traditional masterpiece next time?