What is Edo Kiriko Glass?
"Edo Kiriko" is a traditional form of cut glass manufactured in or around Tokyo which developed during the late-Edo period as an offshoot within the broader Edo Glass industry.
Edo Kiriko is characterized by beautiful, intricate patterning and a bold contrast between colored and non-colored elements. In 1985, Tokyo City designated Edo Kiriko a 'Traditional Craft Industry', and in 2002 it received the accolade of 'Traditional Craft' from the Japanese government.
The History of Edo Kiriko
In the late-Edo period (the early 19th century) there was an influx of foreign ideas and technologies through the port at Nagasaki. Many of these new methods were quickly adopted and 'Japanized' — Edo Glass was one such technology.
The pioneer of the industry was Kagaya Kyuube, who learned his craft under the master glassmakers in Osaka. On returning to Edo (Tokyo) in 1834, Kagaya invented a technique for engraving intricate patterns on the surface of glass using emery powder. He then shared this method with other craftsmen and a new industry was born.
One of Kagaya's apprentices, Shimoto Kamejiro, was among a host of artisans invited by the lord of Satsuma to come to his domain and build an industrial hub there. While there, Shimoto developed Satsuma Kiriko which has a specific vermillion or crimson color. The vivid coloring of this glass quickly gained popularity throughout the country. However, the nascent Satsuma industry collapsed when war came and the feudal lord died. Jobless, the craftsmen moved back to Edo and spread the new coloring technique there. Commodore Perry — the American naval officer who forcibly opened Japan — received some Edo Kiriko items as a gift on his arrival in 1853 and was said to be very impressed.
During the Meiji period, glass manufacturing developed and improved further; in 1873, the Shinagawa Glass Factory was established and over the next few years craftsmen received instruction from an English glass technician.
The industry continued to make progress with new techniques and research into materials and advanced polishing methods in the Taisho era. Since then, quality has continuously improved as producers strive for innovation while passing on traditions to the next generation.
The Characteristics of Edo Kiriko
What sets Edo Kiriko apart are the 20 intricate patterns traditionally used to decorate the glass and its incredible thinness; in comparison with Sastuma Kiriko, which is typically 2-3mm thick, Edo Kiriko is only 1mm. When you gently flick the glass it makes an almost metallic sound. And, due to its high reflective index and excellent transparency, Edo Kiriko shines remarkably in the light. Colorless Edo Kiriko has the same intricacy of patterning as the colored versions, creating an endlessly fascinating design. The colored versions, on the other hand, exhibit a beautiful contrast between the color and non-color elements of the design.
Edo Kiriko was originally intended for use by the general public in their daily lives. Items such as plates, wind chimes, boxes for serving food and even cloth hooks were commonly made. Consequently, the patterns found on Edo Kiriko reflected those regularly found in the surrounding nature. Among the most prominent designs are: yaraimon which is based on a bamboo fence; nanakomon which reflects the pattern of fish scales; asanohamon which resembles interconnected hemp leaves; and sasanoha which is modelled on the bamboo leaf. These are, of course, ubiquitous items, but all have an innate beauty.
The crafting of Edo Kiriko begins with a process called wari-dashi, or a rough drawing of the patterning on the glass. The traditional method involved using bamboo sticks to measure out the pattern from the opening at the top of the glass and then using marking the design with ink. More recently, however, this stage is usually undertaken by a wari-dashi machine. The next step in the production process is a series of progressively refined etchings in the glass. Each one has a different name: arazuri, then nakazuri and finally sanbankake. These etchings used to be made with different-sized grains of emery powder; nowadays it is carried out with a diamond disc. But the process of cutting the pattern is still extremely demanding of the craftsman, and there is no room for error. Very experienced hands are required for this stage.
After the pattern has been successfully cut into the glass, ishigake is the next step. This involves smoothing the edges of the cuts with a natural, round whetstone. The final stage is migaki in which the craftsman polishes the glass with an abrasive material to give Edo Kiriko its distinctive shine. Traditionally, migaki is completed using a wooden polishing wheel made of either willow or paulownia, and a powder agent to finish the pattern.
How to Use and Maintain Edo Kiriko
Edo Kiriko, as a craft, continues to improve and innovate; efforts are constantly made to pass the knowledge and techniques on to a new generation, and even increase the number of artisans who can make it. The non-colored versions of glasses and other items for daily use are enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment as products with a retro feel become popular. There have been new additions to the Edo Kiriko patterns to appeal to foreign buyers and tourists.
Edo Kiriko is not able to withstand sudden, dramatic temperature changes or very high temperatures. Therefore, these items are unsuitable for dishwashers. Edo Kiriko should be hand washed using tepid or cold water. As the surface is easily marked, it is best to clean the glass with a soft sponge and a neutral detergent. If you notice limescale or a dulling of the glass, soak the item in diluted bleach for a few minutes. This will clean even inside the most intricate of patterns. Edo Kiriko includes some lead and so it is not suitable for use with an acidic detergent, such as citric acid. Baking soda, though alkaline, becomes acidic when dissolved in water, and so should be used with caution. Please dry Edo Kiriko items by hand using a microfiber cloth or glass linen, ensuring that no water remains on the surface. Do not wipe the glass repeatedly or too strongly, as this too can result in marks on the surface.