A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Edo-Kiriko Glass

Edo cut glass

This traditional Japanese craft stands out among Japan’s various crafts. Edo-Kiriko gets its name due to it originating in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Every detail is cut into the glass by hand to create stunning designs. The way the glass sparkles changes depending on the light, which is a sight to behold.

History of Edo-Kiriko Glass

“Edo-Kiriko” (Edo cut glass) is a glasswork craft that is produced in Tokyo. It is believed that its origins can be traced back to glass imported via Nagasaki, the only trading port active during Japan’s “sakoku” period. Sakoku (1639 – 1853) was a national policy that closed Japan’s borders for most of the Edo period (1603 – 1868) and did not allow interaction with other countries, aside from small-scale trading with the Netherlands. At the time, the term “vidro” was used to refer to glass.

In the latter part of the Edo period (17th – 19th century), the “cut glass” method of engraving designs onto the surface of the glass was brought over to Nagasaki from the Netherlands, and “kiriko” was born as a result of trying to mimic those techniques.

Cut glass started to be produced in Tokyo after it was introduced to the capital via Nagasaki in the first half of the 17th century. In 1834, a predecessor of modern Edo-Kiriko glass was created when Kagaya Kyubei, a vidro wholesaler from Odenmacho (a district of Edo), figured out how to use “kongosha” emery (a powdered mineral that can be used as an abrasive agent) to create fine designs on the surface of the glass.

With the modernization of Japan, the Shinagawa Kogyosha (Shinagawa industrial company) was established in 1873, but in 1876 was rebranded as the Shinagawa Glass Factory in the wake of the government’s modernization policies. Later, in 1881, Englishman Emmanuel Hauptmann came to Japan and became a guiding figure in the development of kiriko. Several dozen Japanese studied under Hauptmann, mixing English and Japanese cutting techniques to create the traditional glasswork we know today.

After the beginning of the Taisho period (1912 – 1926), research into glass materials and glass polishing methods advanced, contributing to improved Edo-Kiriko techniques and quality. During the period of Japan’s high economic growth (1955 – 1973), Western-style glassworks increased in popularity, and the demand for products such as drinking glasses and lighting fixtures soared.

Between the Taisho period and the beginning of the Showa period (1926 – 1989), Edo-Kiriko glass enjoyed its golden age. In 1985, it was designated as a traditional Tokyo craft, and in 2002 was recognized as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

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Characteristics of Edo-Kiriko Glass

Edo-Kiriko is known for the beautiful patterns cut into the surface of the glass. It is completely done by hand, and the pieces sparkle mesmerizingly when the light hits them.

Only pieces that are registered with the Edo Kiriko Cooperative Association can be sold as “Edo-Kiriko,” which signifies that they were made in Japan and cleared strict production criteria.

The fine designs on Edo-Kiriko glassworks are created one by one by craftsmen using grinders. The unique and delicate patterns glimmer mesmerizingly whenever the light hits them. But Edo-Kiriko glass doesn’t just come in the colorless variety. There are also gorgeous pieces made with different colored glass including red and blue.

The process of making colored glass involves the use of “iro-kise,” which is transparent glass plated with colored glass. The design-cutting process can broadly be divided into six steps:

① “Wari-dashi”: lines are drawn as reference for the pattern
② “Ara-kezuri”: a diamond wheel is used to cut and create the rough outline
③ “Sanban-gake”: finer designs are cut based on the rough pattern 
④ “Ishi-kake”: artificial grindstones and natural stones are used to cut and smooth out the surface of the glass
⑤ “Migaki”: a rotating wooden disk or resin-type pad is used to polish the surface of the glass
⑥ “Bafu-gake”: textiles such as felt or cotton are used to polish and finish the product

Edo-Kiriko Today

The Edo-Kiriko craft, a product of tradition and research, is still evolving and producing different pieces that best fit people’s lifestyles. Besides traditional Edo-Kiriko glass, there are also pieces made in collaboration with a Tokyo soccer team and anime series. By always changing, this traditional Japanese craft is able to reach as many people as possible, including children and people outside Japan.

There are many ways to use Edo-Kiriko glass, including as dishware, interior decorations, or accessories. It can even be seen inside the elevator of Tokyo Skytree where it continues to fascinate people and prove that Edo-Kiriko glasswork can be more than just dishware.

Featured Edo-Kiriko Glass Products

[Glass] Hoshikenbishi Old Pair | Edo Cut Glass

These are true Edo-Kiriko glasses, designated as both a national and Tokyo traditional craft. “Hoshikenbishi” refers to the diamond pattern called “kenbishi” compromised of sharp lines that resemble a sword (ken). This original design also has an additional star pattern, making it even more vibrant.

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[Glass] Star Anise Roe Tumbler Pair | Edo Cut Glass

The design seen on this pair of tumbler glasses is masterfully intricate even by Edo-Kiriko standards. The octagonal, woven bamboo “hakkaku-kagome” pattern can only be achieved by highly-skilled craftspeople. Kagome-patterned products are considered to be good luck charms and therefore make great gifts.

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[Accessory] Tokoba Pyramid Earrings Mini Akagiku Tsunagi (K18) | Edo Cut Glass

These mini earrings are made with crystal, which requires even finer cutting techniques than those used on glass. If you’re looking for beautiful accessories that sparkle differently depending on how the light hits them, then these earrings are just for you.

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Related article: ▶ 7 Japanese Accessories for Any Outfit and Occasion

Click here to see more beautiful pieces: ▶ Edo Cut Glass

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*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer’s website for more information.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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