16 October 2023
Possessing the Light, Edo Kiriko Glassware
By Yoshikaze Kawakami
Edo Kiriko are true masterpieces of unbelievably precise cutting artistry, inviting whoever possesses them to a realm of magical enchantment. One cannot but be fascinated by the serenity of the luminous lines engraved into glass. A possession of holy light in the palm of your hands. We visit a workshop of Edo Kiriko, in hopes to talk to its owner Kiyohide, a young energetic artisan, about the beauty and dreams of Edo Kiriko glassware.
Kiyohide's workshop Kirameki "Refined Light",
Writer and Editor of MUSUBI KILN.
He studied classical Japanese literature at university, and practiced the art of Noh drama. His interests are East Asian art and literature.
- A Schoolboy's Dream
- "Blood-ties" in The World of Fine Art
- The Art of Crystal
- The Refined Light, An Artisan's Dream
A Schoolboy's Dream
Kiyohide's workshop resides in the eastern suburb of downtown Tokyo, where various canals built a few hundred years ago still retain the nostalgia of old Tokyo, when it was still called Edo. The river brings forth the salty fume from Tokyo Bay not so far away.
Utagawa Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo depicts the canals near Sumiyoshi, where Kiyohide's workshop lies today. (Courtesy Tokyo National Museum）
Kiyohide, a junior high school student who liked crafts, was one day led by his mother to a nearby fair of traditional crafts. It was there he met the person who would become his future teacher and set the course for his career. Of all the craftspeople present at the fair, the master of Edo Kiriko intrigued him the most. He was the only one letting customers have a try of the actual making process. Young Kiyohide visited the fair every day for a week and finally told him he wanted to be like him. The master promised to take him in, but only after he finished school. Kiyohide felt he had found his job and what he would pursue.
The cylindrical metal disk used to cut glass. The pool of water is filled with the dust from both the metal disk and the glass.
"Blood-ties" in The World of Fine Art
Kiyohide was in his twenties passionately and tirelessly training hard under his master. Every night returning home, he would be too tired to do anything else. But it occurred to him one day that he should enjoy his free time as well, so in his weekends he'd spend time camping and driving with his friends, after a week of hard work.
But his lifestyle of tireless training and enjoying his outdoor activities came with a slight envy for so called "blood-tied" apprentices. "Blood-tied" are those apprentices who are part of the family of the craft. One advantage for those people is that they can stay at their workshop and work on their skills until late at night. Perfecting, exploring and gaining more experience.
Kiyohide said perhaps if he were also able to stay a little longer and work on his own craft, maybe his training period would not have been as long. Or he may have had some leisure to explore some new designs. Nevertheless, Kiyohide persevered through the challenges of being an independent apprentice for a duration of 15 years.
The Art of Crystal
In Edo Kiriko, the cutting is done by carefully pressing the crystal glass cup onto the cutting wheel. When the metal wheel cuts into the glass, you hear the shattering and grinding echoing through the atelier. Contrary to the violent and uneasy noise, soft and thin lines are engraved into the colored glass like a droplet of cream-milk slowly streaming down in a line with an enigmatic shine.
There appears gracefully an elegant white crystal line that has been cut through the glass; an unbelievable beauty engraved in the sole of a cup. It reminds us of a stained window, but with the delightful surprise of being able to hold and savor its artistry with your bare hands. The artisan continues this meticulous process, patiently carving out the remaining patterns.
The Refined Light, An Artisan's Dream
Kiyohide opened his workshop "Kirameki" (The Refined Light) after 15 years of training under his master. His intensive training began with tasks such as washing the glass and mastering hand polishing. Hand polishing, the final process of Edo Kiriko, involves cleaning the freshly cut glass, removing dust and cloudiness, and refining it through meticulous steps of precision and care. It's an extremely time-consuming process, but it's what Kiyohide had trained for all his life. "The finishing gleam becomes extraordinary when polished by hand, though it demands a significant amount of time."
While Kiyohide takes great pride in his hand-polishing skills, he has recently embraced the quicker method of acid polishing as well.
"When I first learned about acid polishing, I was very relieved and surprised. It saved me a lot of time, which I could then use to concentrate on my cutting."
Acid polishing involves dipping the cut glass into a special acidic liquid, which smooths and polishes the surface, achieving a beauty comparable to hand polishing. Furthermore, acid polishing facilitates more detailed and intricate designs that would be challenging to achieve with hand polishing. While Kiyohide values his hard-trained technique of hand-polishing, he is open to the potential of acid-polished glassware. This newer method allows him to reimagine more sophisticated designs and to spend more time focusing on his cutting.
Currently, Kiyohide holds the prestigious official title of "Traditional Craftsperson," as well as the hard-earned "Edo Kiriko Craftsperson," a title only granted to those accepted and certified within the Edo Kiriko glassware craftsmen community. He continually reimagines designs, aiming to captivate both the eyes and hearts of his clients, as he further refines his handcrafted glassware artistry.
"I'm not an artist, but a craftsperson." His smile and bright eyes radiated genuine conviction. This distinction didn't matter to him; the art of Edo Kiriko had already carved out a place for him, allowing him to stay true to himself and pursue his creative vision.View Kiyohide Glass Collection