Visit the small Tajima Glass studio in Edogawa-ku to explore the unique Tokyo craft tradition of Edo Kiriko cut-glass.
One of the many charms of Tokyo is its wonderful diversity. While it offers all the modern and high-tech characteristics you would expect of Japan’s capital, the city is also home to many small and medium-sized, often family-run, manufacturers who carry on time-honored craft traditions like textile dyeing, woodwork and ultra thin glassmaking.
One such studio is the Tajima Glass factory in the predominantly residential area of Edogawa-ku. Established in 1956, Tajima Glass is a relative newcomer in a city that dates back to the 17th century, but as one of just three remaining glassmakers in Tokyo with its own furnace, the company can handle the entire process from preparation of molten glass to finishing of the traditional cut-glass craft known as Edo Kiriko, a unique style of cut-glass developed during the Edo period (1603 - 1868).
How this specialized glass is made is fascinating. Fine grains of silica sand are melted in a large gas-fuelled furnace on Tajima’s second floor. Five teams of three to five workers work around the furnace in eight-hour shifts. They step nimbly around its glowing glory holes as they gather molten gobs of 1400 °C glass on long iron pipes. For Edo Kiriko, a fine layer of colored glass as thin as 0.3 to 0.5 millimeters is first blown into an iron mold, followed by a thicker layer of clear glass. The desired shape and size are carefully adjusted before the eventual tumbler, wineglass or bowl is cooled in a 500 °C oven and sent downstairs, where the finishing takes place. Here, any superfluous parts are cut off, the rim is sanded and smoothed, and the final process of cutting, or more accurately grinding, the glass is done.
Edo Kiriko is noteworthy for its many traditional patterns—such as those modeled after fish scales or the weave of a bamboo basket—and also for how fine its layer of colored glass is. After a pattern has been transferred to the surface with a marker, artisans use grindstones to slowly and painstakingly remove the top layer of colored glass to reveal the clear glass below. The cutting is usually a three-step process: first the rough outlines of the design are made. Then, a finer stone is used to smooth the edges of the cuts. Finally, the grooves are polished to make the design sparkle and shine. The process requires not only a steady hand, but also patience and a keen eye for detail. The different stages of grinding are typically divided among six grinders on Tajima’s Kiriko team, each with his own specialty and each contributing to continuing a unique Tokyo craft tradition.