18 October 2023
Experiencing Heritage: My Journey into Edo Kiriko Glass Cup Cutting
I have a friend who is a traditional Japanese candle craftsman, and every time I meet him, I am greatly influenced by the firsthand stories he shares about various traditional crafts from different regions and the cultural and spiritual aspects of Japan's traditions, which I wouldn't have known in my daily life alone. Observing the dwindling number of artisans, I couldn't help but ponder if there was a way for me to contribute as well.
Personally, I've always relished intricate work and harbored a deep desire to explore the world of traditional craftsmanship. Recognizing the profound depth and richness of this craft, I initially hesitated to plunge into its captivating depths. It appeared as an unending voyage, demanding immense energy and time. However, traditional craftsmanship isn't an exclusive realm; it's open to the public. Many workshops and kilns provide accessible classes for visitors to casually engage with the craft. The Kiyohide Glass Studio of Edo Kiriko cutting glass, where we recently visited, is just one such opportunity.
Writer and Editor
Owner of a cultural space in Tokyo with the theme of "Literature, Vintage Clothing, and Café." She has a strong interest in primitive art, contemporary art, philosophy, cultural anthropology, and discourse studies.
- Edo Kiriko
- Kiyohide Glass "Kirameki" Studio
- Let's Start
- His Charming Personality
Edo Kiriko is a general term for glassware produced with cut glass techniques in Edo (now Tokyo), starting from the late Edo period to the present day. In 1985, it was designated as a Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Traditional Craft, and in 2002, it was recognized as a Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry's Traditional Craft.
Kiyohide Glass "Kirameki" Studio
An incredible experience awaits you at the "Kirameki (Refined Light)" studio, located in downtown Tokyo, where Kiyohide, a master artisan of Edo Kiriko, provides direct guidance. This unique opportunity allows you to have the only hands-on Edo Kiriko experience led by a professional Japanese Edo Kiriko artisan.
Having seen Kiyohide's masterpieces, I was awestruck by the exquisite precision of his cuts. However, the process of creating such delicate pieces by a single individual seemed almost surreal, and I could only vaguely grasp the true difficulty involved. When I heard how challenging it was, I thought, "Well, that's not surprising."
Right next to the studio, there is a store showcasing the beautifully designed Edo Kiriko items created by Kiyohide.
Before attending the workshop, I had a chance to admire Kiyohide's items, and once again, I found myself utterly amazed by the intricate designs. The countless cut and polished glass surfaces reflect a sparkling light, captivating my heart with a clear shimmer, regardless of the angle from which I observe the items or any part of the store.
With a mix of great excitement and a slight sense of nervousness, my heart raced. I was excited to embark on this rare journey of experiencing it firsthand and truly understanding the artistry through my own hands and body.
We entered a workshop space inside Kiyohide's daily workplace and first received a basic explanation:
"The base cups themselves are produced by a specialized factory where we select the colors and place an order. What truly defines Edo Kiriko is the cutting process. It is the meticulous carving of the cups by a professional artisan that determines whether it qualifies as Edo Kiriko."
I felt that the allure of Edo Kiriko lies not just in the items themselves but in the profound appreciation for the craftsmanship that underlies it.
This time, we had two types of glasses: colored glass cups and transparent ones. We decided to make two cups each. Co-worker, Kawakami, chose a blue one, and I chose a red one.
The general process is as follows:
1. Decide on the design and mark the outlines using a pen.
2. Place the glass against the blade machine and start cutting.
The skilled artisans regularly change the blades as needed, but in a workshop, we used the basic one. We could also adjust the depth and thickness by varying the pressure applied while cutting.
Basically, the design is created using straight lines. It was more about using symbols and schematic designs rather than drawing pictures. Kiyohide showed us various design samples.
Once the design was roughly determined, we marked the outlines using a marker.
Let's start by placing the glass cup against the blade and see how it goes.
While observing our physical movements, Kiyohide taught us the proper way to hold the cup and the angle at which to place it against the blade.
Though we still couldn't quite grasp the technique, we kept cutting and adding lines, repeating the process as we went along.
Once we finished cutting the design on the bottom, the next step was to determine the design on the side. To draw straight lines with a pen, we used a custom-made stand created by Kiyohide himself. By fixing the height of the pen and rotating the cup, we could draw a circle on its side.
By guiding the pen along the wood, we could achieve stability and draw straight vertical lines as well.
I finished the first one!
I thought I was being quite careful, but aligning the center was truly challenging.
However, I believed that after the first one, I must have become somewhat accustomed to the technique! I motivated myself, thinking, "I must have improved a bit!" and began working on the second glass cup.
Oh wow, it was so challenging!
Cutting on the colored glass is indeed more difficult, as it becomes harder to discern the exact position where the blade contacts the glass. Your senses play a significant role in this process, as you rely on the feeling of your hand, the angle, and the pressure applied to create each line. It's a delicate dance of various relationships coming together to produce the intricacies of each cut.
Especially when cutting the sides horizontally, it becomes quite challenging as the other side of the thick colored glass is hardly visible. Your sensitivity to the sound of water, the way it splashes, and the feeling of the load on your hand becomes heightened. This is a world where your senses play a crucial role...! I was impressed by the skill of the artisans!
However, Kiyohide kindly taught me how to find angles that allow better visibility. He emphasized using our eyes and vision as much as possible during the creation process.
He also advised trying a light touch at first, shaving off the shallow colored parts. As the blade's position becomes clearer, you can then put more effort into deep cutting.
We continued to cut, draw, and cut again, repeating the process.
Finally, we made them!
His Charming Personality
Kiyohide is not only a skilled artisan but also a great storyteller. He made sure to explain things using various examples, making it easy for us to understand. Thanks to his affable and approachable personality, we were able to enjoy making Edo Kiriko, even though we were initially nervous.
Due to his busy schedule with his own work production, it's unclear whether he will be able to continue the hands-on workshops for a long period.
Having the opportunity to personally experience traditional craftsmanship is truly precious, and I believe it is something that should be embraced.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend trying this valuable experience while it is still available.