Japanese Crafts: A Guide to Edo Glass

Edo glass

Edo Glass is a form of Japanese glassware mainly produced in Tokyo. Its distinctive character that makes it stand apart from the popular Edo Kiriko glassware has won it numerous fans. Even today, Edo Glass is still evolving, with Edo Glass collaborations with large companies like Starbucks and new kinds of Edo Glass wares being formed each day. In this article, we’ll discuss the allure, characteristics, history, and more of this official traditional Japanese craft.

The History of Edo Glass

Saigen Jiro / Wikimedia Commons

Glass was first produced in Japan during the Yayoi Period, around the 4th century BC. The picture above shows a west Asian glass bowl that arrived in Japan during the Kofun Period (250 – 538). However, the history of glassware in Tokyo only started during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) after the Netherlands and Portugal introduced glass products to the country through Nagasaki in the 16th century. They quickly became known throughout Japan under such names as “vidro” or “giyaman.” They eventually reached the city of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) which soon started producing its own glassware.

Glass manufacturing in Edo began in the early 18th century with two craftsmen: Kyubee Kagaya from Nihonbashi, and Tomesaburo Kazusaya from Asakusa. Kagaya was responsible for popularizing glassware (which was a luxurious product at the time) amongst ordinary people by producing mirrors, eyeglasses, and other useful, common items. Kazusaya, on the other hand, was known all around Edo for his stylish creations like “kanzashi,” which are ornamental hairpins often accessorized with kimonos, as well as windchimes and kaleidoscopes. This is how Edo Glass got its start.

During the Meiji Restoration (1853 – 1867), when Japan overthrew the shogunate and started to modernize, Western and Japanese glass manufacturing techniques began to blend, leading to rapid advances in the field. This resulted in the establishment of the Kogyo Company, a private glass manufacturer, in 1873. Just three short years later, the Japanese government, in an effort to overhaul the glass industry, purchased the factory and turned it into the government-operated Shinagawa Glass Works.

New glass manufacturing techniques continued to be developed after that, and soon glass was being used for everything in Japan, from everyday items to medicine bottles, scientific equipment, and more. This has continued to this day – look around and you’ll see glass everywhere in all sorts of forms, such as household goods, windows, or the windshield of your car.

The Characteristics of Edo Glass

Edo Glass is characterized by its exceptional transparency and free, fanciful designs made possible through the techniques of skilled craftspeople. Each piece of Edo Glass is made individually by hand, making them emanate copious amounts of warmth despite the material. Because Edo Glass is all handmade, no two pieces are exactly the same and each boasts a fine, unique design.

Another kind of traditional Edo glassware is Edo Kiriko. As Edo Glass is an umbrella term for all glass products produced in Tokyo, Edo Kiriko is actually Edo Glass with distinct “kiriko” patterns cut into the glass using a grindstone or diamond. So, broadly speaking, the famed Edo Kiriko is just another type of Edo Glass.

To make Edo Glass, the glass material is first heated to 1,400°C and melted. It is then shaped, which can be done by one of three ways: air-blowing, mold-blowing, and casting.

・Free-blowing
Blowing air through a metal blowpipe to shape the attached molten glass.

・Mold-blowing
Blowing molten glass through a blowpipe inside a mold to create a shape.

・Casting
Pouring molten glass into a mold and pressing it into shape.

Unlike mold-blowing, free-blowing allows the craftsperson to shape the glass however they want, which is a difficult process requiring a lot of skill and experience. To keep the shaped glass from breaking once it cools due to the sudden change in temperature, the finished pieces are placed in an annealing furnace whereby the temperature is lowered gradually.

Edo Glass Today

Continuing to evolve while keeping traditional production techniques alive, Edo Glass was designated an official traditional craft of Tokyo in 2002. In 2014, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry further designated it as a traditional Japanese craft. Today, Edo Glass is used to make everything from glasses to plates, accessories, and more. Additionally, by trying out new things like making Edo Glass as thin as possible or through collaborations with large brands like Starbucks, the craft remains relevant in modern times.

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

Featured Products

Engraved Edo Glass Red and Blue Fuji Celebratory Sake Cups (Pair, Wooden Box Included)

Source: BECOS

This pair of sake cups has been designed in the shape of Mt. Fuji, the world-famous symbol of Japan that is also considered to give good luck. The red and blue cups are made from flashed glass, which is clear glass that has been coated with a thin layer of colored glass. Each piece is handmade by experienced craftspeople, who have also painstakingly sandblasted the snow-capped top of Mt. Fuji onto every exquisite piece.

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Tomi Glass Ukiyo Iki Set (Includes Asabachi Shallow Bowl, Soy Sauce Bottle, and Mamezara Plate)

Source: BECOS

The Ukiyo series features colored, handmade Edo Glass inspired by traditional Edo culture. This particular set includes the shallow asabachi bowl, the small mamezara (literally “bean plate”), and a soy sauce bottle. The beautiful patterns on all the pieces are the result of a collaboration between an old glass workshop and the Tomi Glass company. The set is colored by hand using pounce powder, making each a one-of-a-kind piece.

*Discontinued product

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Mariene XANA Marienne XANA Edo Glass

Source: BECOS

Shown previously in this article, this stylish and modern sake glass is the work of the famous German designer Wolf Wagner. With a radius of 8.0 cm and a height of 6.5 cm, it’s a little larger than a regular sake cup. However, it is still very easy to hold and use.

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Related articles:

▶ A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Satsuma Kiriko Glass

▶ The Complete Guide to Traditional Japanese Crafts

▶ Japanese Crafts: A Guide to Tsugaru Vidro

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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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