In Japan, artisans make “Cut Glass from Edo”.

SOKA, Japan – When independent watchmaker Daizoh Makihara decided to use the traditional Japanese glass-cutting technique called Edo-Kiriko for the face of his first watch, he contacted eight companies specializing in the technique.

But only one agreed.

“Most Edo-Kiriko companies are family businesses, so they don’t usually have the time to deal with someone who does something different,” said Kyosuke Hayashi, the president of Mitsuwa Glass Kogei, the only company willing to to take on the unusual task.

“My concept was to make the world’s first Edo Kiriko clock,” said Mr. Makihara, and as far as he knows, that’s exactly what he did.

Launched as a special order in 2018, the watch was called Kikutsunagimon sakura (Chrysanthemum in English in conjunction with a cherry blossom pattern), and the dial looked like lace or decoration on an elaborate wedding cake.

He also collaborated with Mitsuwa for his second watch, kacho fugetsu (in English, beauties of nature), which debuted in 2021 and engraved cherry blossoms and birds on the glass dial. “Mitsuwa is a forward-thinking company and was willing to take a risk.”

Edo-Kiriko literally means “cut glass from Edo” in English: Edo is an old name for Tokyo, and Kiriko is the name of the cutting technique.

“Edo-kiriko is a brand name, a label given by the government,” Mr. Hayashi said. “To be an Edo Kiriko artisan and use this label, you must reside in the Kanto area of ​​Japan” and either be a registered member of the Edo Kiriko Cooperative Association or work for a company that is a member. Mister. said Hayashi. Many types of kiriko are made throughout Japan, but only two are recognized by the Japanese government: Edo kiriko and Satsuma kiriko from Kyushu, an island at the southwest end of the Japanese archipelago.

According to the association, the technique was developed in 1834 by Kyubei Kagaya, the owner of a glass wholesale company in Edo, who first attempted to cut a glass with an abrasive emery powder. But it was Emmanuel Hauptmann, a British engraver invited to the country in the 1880s, who passed his skills on to local artisans.

In the Meiji era, mid-18th to early 20th centuries, “after Japan opened up to Western civilization, craftsmen borrowed techniques and machines from the West,” Mr. Hayashi said. So while the basic glass-cutting techniques originated in England, the patterns incorporated into Edo-Kiriko are traditional Japanese: for example, the dotted nanako (fish eggs) or asa-no-ha (hemp leaves).

Since Mitsuwa launched its Saihou brand in 1990, its craftsmen have used rotating abrasive tools to freehand etch intricate designs into clear or colored glass for items like sake cups and other types of glassware. The result is a glossy surface that reflects light like a kaleidoscope. The glasses are then distributed to department stores across Japan and the rest of Asia, as well as being sold directly from the company’s online store.

“My grandfather was the founder; He used to work in a glass company in Tokyo but came to Saitama to start his own business,” said Mr. Hayashi, 31. The company originally produced a variety of glass products, but in 1991 it specialized in Edo-Kiriko, around the Time when Mr. Hayashi was born “The Edo-Kiriko industry is very small, it consists mainly of family businesses, but my grandfather ran his business like a normal company and hired outside craftsmen,” he said.

According to Mr. Hayashi, there are only 70 to 80 Edo Kiriko artisans in Japan today, including those who are inactive. Saihou employs 10 craftsmen, an equal number of men and women (having a gender-balanced workforce “is very rare in the industry,” Mr. Hayashi said).

One day in October, I visited the Mitsuwa factory in a residential area in Saitama Prefecture, about an hour by train from central Tokyo. The large building, the only piece of land the company has ever used, has the factory on the ground floor and the offices on the top floor. The factory is divided into work stations and littered with large cases of glassware; The constant grinding makes the area very noisy.

The Edo Kiriko process begins with hand-blown glassware sourced from three suppliers in Japan. “It arrives here at the factory as glasses, and we cut them,” Mr. Hayashi said, displaying a purple drinking glass. “The colored glasses are double-walled. The outside is purple but the inside is clear glass. So when you cut the patterns, they’ll see through.”

The Saihou brand mainly offers drinking glasses of various sizes and occasionally bowls or vases, but these are usually reserved for exhibitions. Most of the colors are jewel tones – red, purple and the like – but the brand also produces clear and black items. Prices without tax range from 20,000 to 30,000 yen ($135 to $205).

Kei Hosokoji, who is the oldest craftsman at the factory at 40 and has worked there for 18 years, guided me through the three main steps of the Edo Kiriko process: marking, cutting and polishing.

Mister. Hosokoji chose a simple, double-walled glass in cobalt blue for his demonstration. “First we draw lines on it to create a grid that can be used as a guide for the cuts to make,” he said. “The rows will be deleted later.”

A craftsman pressed the glass to hold it steady against a rotating roller and, using an oil-based ink pen, by eye drew a grid of perfectly straight horizontal and vertical lines (later the grid was wiped off with a piece). wool cloth saturated with cerium oxide.)

“As you look inside the jar, you can cut the pattern” into the outer, colored jar, he said, sitting at a table with a vertically rotating blade. Edo Kiriko craftsmen engrave the pattern freehand simply by using the grid.

“We use a diamond blade because glass is very hard,” he said as he gently rotated the glass on the blade, creating a sharp diagonal cut. “You have to make sure the pressure is right.

“The first cut can be rough, so you have to smooth it out again,” he added, while swapping out the blade for a finer cut.

The glass was then polished to smooth the cut edges. “It has to be wet, otherwise it will sparkle from the heat and glass powder will splatter around,” Mr. Hosokoji said.

He then had to polish again to sharpen the lines in the glass, which he felt were a bit cloudy. This second polishing was done with quartz powder (the material used to make glass), mixed with water to form a paste, and applied to the glass with a rubber blade. After he wiped the paste from the glass, the incisions were visible, clear and shiny. “It’s a mixture of polishing and grinding,” he said.

A final polish was given to a blade that looked as if a stack of rugs had been cut into a wheel shape. He applied a paste of cerium oxide and water to the blade, then rubbed the glass on the rapidly spinning wheel.

Then the Edo Kiriko jar was ready for packing. I tried Hosokoji-san drawing circles on the glass so I could follow his markings. It was extremely difficult to create perfectly round circles and I wondered how crafters could achieve such complex patterns by eye. And what happens when they make mistakes? “You can’t fix it,” Mr. Hosokoji said. “You have to dispose of it and recycle it.”

Mitsuwa artisans can craft about 10 of their most popular items per day; Its best seller is a set of two small bamboo leaf-designed glasses priced at 22,000 yen. “In a month, we make about 2,000 pieces of various shapes and sizes,” Mr. Hayashi, the president, said. “We wish we could do more, we want to hire more craftsmen, but we don’t have enough space in this building.”

Noyuri Yamada, 38, who has worked at Mitsuwa for 15 years, designed the dial for Makihara-san’s first watch, using the same techniques the team uses for glassware.

But, she said, “the dials are much thinner” than the glassware. She initially tried using a 0.5mm thick piece of glass for the dial, but eventually settled on a 0.8mm thick one.

Woman. Yamada drew a grid on the dial as a guide for the cut. “You have to be very careful with the pressure, otherwise the plates could break,” she said. “It’s also difficult to hold them, you just have to gently rest your fingers on each side. Cutting straight lines is also very challenging as you have to make sure all the lines are symmetrical.”

The dial used the very intricate Kiku Kogame pattern, a combination of chrysanthemum and basket weave, and she cut it right on the first try without fail. “But I broke a plate,” she said.

Mister. Makihara said he watched her cut the first dial, which took a full day. “I wasn’t bored,” he said. “We’re both craftsmen, but that’s the only part of the clock I couldn’t make.” Finally, Mrs. Yamada cut a total of eight dials. (Another craftsman cut the dials for Makihara-san’s second watch.)

Mister. Hayashi said that Mrs. Yamada had extremely advanced skills. “The focus here is amazing; The technology is super advanced here,” he said. “Even though she’s in her 30s, she has the experience of someone in their 60s.”

“When she was done,” he said, “her face was red and she looked feverish, but the result was amazing.”

Woman. Yamada said she was tense the whole time. “My mind, not my body. I was aiming at a target, so my body was relaxed,” she said. “Also, I used top-notch tools, which helped a lot.”

But for Hayashi-san, it wasn’t about the tools: “Your skills made it possible.”

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