Edo Kiriko: The Fascinating Japanese Art of Glass Cutting
How about choosing the traditional Edo Kiriko glassware as a memento from your trip to Japan? Though they look like works of art, these ravishingly beautiful cut glasses with delicate patterns are in fact practical utensils meant to be used regularly! In this article, you’ll learn what makes Edo Kiriko glassware so fascinating and why it makes such a great souvenir!
What is Edo Kiriko?
Literally meaning “Cut Glass from Edo (the old name for Tokyo),” Edo Kiriko is a traditional form of glass craft in which highly skilled craftsmen cut glass into intricate patterns. Only items worked by the hands of associated craftsmen can be called Edo Kiriko. The craft origins are said to trace back to 1834 when craftsmen started engraving on glass in one of the neighborhoods of Edo. However, the techniques only achieved their present form later, when new technology for cutting glass was introduced to Japan from England. Despite their glamorous appearance, Edo Kiriko glassware are household items intended to be used regularly, having achieved the current level of development by providing cut drinking glasses to the populace at large. Nowadays though, you find much more than just drinking glasses. A wide range of products has been developed to meet the needs of the times.
How is Edo Kiriko Glassware Made?
Edo Kiriko glassware is made by cutting the surface of a two-layered glass to create intricate patterns. In most cases, the glass consists of a thin colored layer covering a clear one, and by making incisions along the colored surface, the craftsmen are able to bring beautifully vivid patterns to life. The cuts are all made manually by pushing the glass against a spinning diamond wheel. After the patterns are done, the craftsman then attaches grinding stones, wooden disks, and resin pads to the rotating drive and gives the cuts a smooth and lustrous appearance. Lastly, the craftsman attaches a fiber disk made of felt or cotton to polish the glasswork and achieve a gleaming finish.
Edo Kiriko’s Patterns
Many of the cuts applied to the surface of the Edo Kiriko glassware surface consist of traditional patterns, each of them carrying a particular meaning. Here are five of the most iconic patterns and their meanings.
Yarai Pattern (Palisade Pattern)
Yarai is a checkered pattern that combines thick and thin lines. Outlining the shape of a wooden or bamboo palisade, this pattern represents a safety fence and it\'s said to have protective powers against evil spirits.
Sasa-no-Ha Pattern (Bamboo Leaves Pattern)
As the name suggests, the Sasa-no-ha pattern is characterized by its luxurious cuts imitating bamboo leaves. As bamboo tress continue to grow thick foliage even during midwinter, they are known for their vitality and considered to be lucky charms in Japan.
Kiku-Tsunagi Pattern (Connected Chrysanthemums Pattern)
The fine intersecting lines of the Kiku-tsunagi pattern evoke the image of Chrysanthemum flowers linked to each other. The chrysanthemum is a flower that represents longevity in Japanese culture, so this is a very auspicious design. Additionally, the word “Kiku-tsunagi” can be written with a different set of Japanese characters to mean “connect to everlasting joy.”
Nanako Pattern (Fish Scales Pattern)
Nanako is a pattern made with a series of fine incisions imitating the shape of fish eggs. The delicate light reflecting on the cuts’ surface also shines beautifully, resembling fish scales, in this pattern that represents fertility.
Hakkaku-Kagome Pattern (Octagonal Basket Weave Pattern)
This pattern resembles the octagonal meshes of a bamboo basket. The octagon, because it extends to every direction (i.e. the eight cardinal directions), symbolizes the universe; meanwhile, the octagonal shapes of this pattern each represent a galaxy. The act of pouring sake into one of these vessels is said to mean fulfillment, and drinking it dry represents taking on challenges.
Types of Edo Kiriko Glassware
Edo Kiriko glassware comes in a great variety of products besides drinking glasses. Some examples of popular items are the cup and bottle sets for drinking sake, chopstick rests, and some other types of tableware. Additionally, you’ll also find a lot of goods for different purposes: from interior design objects, such as flower vases and lampshades; to stationery items, such as paperweights and pen stands. It’s fascinating that Edo Kiriko is able to constantly provide new products while preserving its beautiful traditions. This is something that only an art form that came to be by meeting everyday needs can do.
Try and Make Edo Kiriko Glassware Yourself!
Edo Kiriko glassware workshops are recommended for those who want to create their own unique glasswork and bring it home as a souvenir of an unforgettable trip. There are many facilities where you can have this hands-on experience, but one of the most recommended places is the Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan, located close to Kinshicho Station. Here, you can choose a drinking glass of shape and color of your liking and then cut it to recreate your favorite Edo Kiriko pattern. For elementary and junior high school students, the facility offers hands-on programs to create paperweights. You’re bound to make wonderful memories for your trip here!
Buying Edo Kiriko Glassware
With its traditional Japanese elements, Edo Kiriko glassware is a work of art that makes a perfect souvenir. It will certainly bring vivid colors to your day to day life, as it can be used regularly. There are many Edo Kiriko shops located at the working class area of Tokyo, in neighborhoods such as Kameido, Asakusa, Sumiyoshi, and Kinshicho; however, one of the most recommended places to go is Kagami Crystal Ginza Shop, due to its prime location and proximity to sightseeing spots. The good thing about this shop is that, though it offers genuine products of unmistakable quality, you can still find a variety of items at affordable prices here.
This article introduced some fascinating aspects about Edo Kiriko. This beautiful glassware of long tradition would make a great memento of your visit to Japan. You’re sure to find one you’ll love.
*This article was published on WOW! JAPAN. Click here to see a list of WOW! JAPAN articles.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.