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Enchanting Edo: Shimmering Tokyo cut glassware dazzles with intricate patterns

Wineglasses with repetitive rice grain patterns are seen at Edo Kiriko workshop Hanashyo in Tokyo's Koto Ward on March 11, 2020. The masterpiece, which requires cutting oval shapes uniformly across a curved glass surface, could only be created by the shop's second-generation master Ryuichi Kumakura. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida) =Click/tap photo for more images.

TOKYO -- Deep in Kameido, a "shitamachi" downtown area where the Tokyo Skytree stands sleek and graceful against the Japanese capital's blue skies, is a workshop dedicated to a more traditional kind of beauty: intricate cut glassware, both dazzling and refined.

    In Japan's postwar years, this area was packed with small glass factories. A nearby river brought in the raw materials, and carried the finished products out into the world. While most of the neighborhood has since become residential, a workshop called Hanashyo continues to create traditionally crafted "Edo Kiriko."

    "Kiriko" comes from the Japanese word "kiru," meaning "to cut," and refers to glass products with decorative patterns engraved on the surface. The craft is said to have started around the end of the Edo period (1603-1867) after glassware craftsman Kagaya Kyubei cut patterns into a British glass type used for eyeglasses. Glass was originally brought to Japan through the Dutch trading post of Dejima in Nagasaki, and began to circulate as material for jars and eyeglasses in late Edo. It is thought that patterns were etched into the glass using a file, but scratching the precious stuff may have been a somewhat bold experiment at the time.

    Edo Kiriko glassware, which has been in production for more than a century, was certified as a national traditional craft of Japan in 2002. The patterns in the glass are now created using grinding discs.

    In the foreground, two artisans engage in "waridashi" work of marking glass, while others cut patterns into glass at the back, at Edo Kiriko workshop Hanashyo in Tokyo's Koto Ward on March 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida) =Click/tap photo for more images.

    We entered the Hanashyo workshop and found young craftspeople splitting the tasks involved in creating Edo Kiriko glassware. The work begins with "waridashi," or drawing vertical and horizontal lines that serve as markers for cutting in the patterns. Then, incisions are made using a disc grinder while water is splashed continuously onto the glass. The next step is "rough grinding," during which large lines are engraved, followed by surface patterns with lines finer than a single human hair using a grinding disc coated in diamond powder. A screech echoes throughout the factory as the glass touches the high-speed spin of the disc.

    Hanashyo's second-generation master Ryuichi Kumakura, 72, said that while there is also cut glass outside Japan, overseas it is typically made by placing it below the grinder, and not above as it is here. "More detail can be incorporated by placing the glass atop the wheel. Artificial intelligence allows for precise work using machinery, but the best feature of Edo Kiriko glass is its shine and elegance, which are unique to each handmade work."

    Detailed patterns are engraved in the glass at this stage, but the shimmer unique to Edo Kiriko is born of the polishing process, where the whitish ground areas are made transparent. The methods used for this process differ workshop to workshop, with some using scouring powder dissolved in water, while others employ the "acid polishing" method of soaking the glass in chemicals.

    From right, the stages leading to the completion of an Edo Kiriko cut glassware piece are shown in this image taken at Edo Kiriko workshop Hanashyo in Tokyo's Koto Ward on March 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida) =Click/tap photo for more images.

    Takayuki Kumakura, 40, the third-generation head of Hanashyo, said proudly, "Our products are all polished by hand" using scouring powder. This secret hand-polishing technique was devised by the company through trial and error, and is said to "create the perfect shine for each glass." Many of the shop's products are household goods, like drinking glasses or large sake cups, and need to be washed regularly. The durability and delicate beauty of the glass are brought to life through the technique.

    Edo Kiriko glassware, which shimmers under light, is a mesmerizing sight resembling the view through a kaleidoscope. The handmade works of art each have their own unique sparkle, and no two glasses are the same.

    (Japanese original by Tadahiko Mori, The Mainichi Staff Writer)

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    The Japanese version of this article was originally published on May 26, 2020, and the ages of individuals indicated in the story are as of the publishing date.

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    Two layers of colored and transparent glass

    Takayuki Kumakura, third-generation head of Hanashyo, cuts intricate "chrysanthemum chain" patterns into the surface of a glass at the workshop in Tokyo's Koto Ward on March 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida) =Click/tap photo for more images.

    The glasses and containers themselves are made by a different company before patterns are cut into their surface at Hanashyo. Though at a glance, the whole surface may appear to be red or azure, the glass actually has two layers -- a color layer over a clear one. This is called "case glass" or "overlay glass." By cutting through the colored glass and exposing the transparent layer beneath, a shimmering pattern rises to the surface.

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    Edo Kiriko classes

    Hanashyo also has a classroom where visitors can try their hand at creating Edo Kiriko glassware under the guidance of the shop's craftspeople. About 100 people have participated in the workshop, some of whom were junior high school students. "As there is no danger, elementary school students can also give it a go. There were also children who tried it out as part of their summer break research project. I think the classroom would be enjoyable for someone who likes to make things while being creative," said Takayuki.

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    Various patterns

    Many of the shop's glass patterns are derived from traditional kimono designs, including the "yarai" pattern of diagonal lines representing sharp arrows to ward off bad luck, "kagome" woven-bamboo patterns that also drive away evil spirits, and "nanako" fish scale patterns symbolizing shedding, and hence resuscitation and freeing oneself from evil.

    Hanashyo also has original designs that developed out of the traditional ones, including repetitive hemp leaf patterns, rice grain patterns, circular chequered patterns, and chrysanthemum chain patterns. Glassware with repetitive rice grain patterns are masterpieces that can only be created by second-generation master Ryuichi Kumakura. Wine glasses gifted to world leaders at the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit in 2008 were also embellished with this design.

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    Edo Kiriko glassware shop Hanashyo is located at 3-49-21 Kameido in Tokyo's Koto Ward.

    At Hanashyo, located near the Kameido Tenjin shrine, eight craftspeople create the traditional cut glassware in the shop's first-floor workshop. Both manufacturing and direct sales are carried out at the establishment, and kiriko glass of various colors line the third-floor shop area. Single items run between about 10,000 yen (around $91) and several hundred thousand yen (several thousand dollars). There are apparently many customers who purchase the glassware as presents for celebratory occasions.

    The shop's official website is at https://www.edokiriko.co.jp/ (in Japanese).

    For more inquiries, please contact the shop at 03-3682-2321.

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    Hanashyo is introduced in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Edo Tokyo Kirari project which, based on the concept "old meets new," profiles brands at the link https://en.edotokyokirari.jp/project/life/edo-kirikos-shop-hanashyo/

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    Enchanting Edo

    The "Enchanting Edo" series highlights Japanese traditions, crafts, artisanal techniques and culture that date back several hundred years. Stories offer a glimpse into old shops in Japan's capital, which are all searching for ways to protect long-established skills and talent, while also keeping them alive in the modern day.

    The original Japanese versions of the articles, which can be reached via the link located at the top right below the headline, include "furigana" phonetic characters to assist in reading all kanji characters that appear in the text. The user-friendly text primarily targets elementary school children in Japan, but can also be used by non-Japanese readers learning intermediate-level Japanese. We encourage any readers interested in Japanese culture, language, or both to make full use of our series.

    The next "Enchanting Edo" story on bonsai, Japan's art of miniature trees, will be published on Oct. 5.

    In Photos: Tokyo Edo Kiriko cut glass shop brings out the sparkle

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