Searching all of Japan for handcrafted items that express its heart and soul, our proprietor, KASHIYUKA, presents things that bring a bit of luxury to everyday life. Her destination this time is Kagoshima, where she came upon Satsuma Kiriko, the beautiful crafted glass, once known as “illusion glass”, that was reintroduced 35 years ago.
Lately I’ve been captivated by modern design associated with the Edo period. The Nanbu Tekki iron kettle of Iwate, Yosegi-zaiku marquetry of Kanagawa. And so next I wanted to learn more about Satsuma Kiriko, the glass craft of Kagoshima in southern Japan. “Kiriko” is cut glass. Satsuma Kiriko, which emerged from the time of the Edo period’s end and into the start of the Meiji era in the domain known as Satsuma, is a handcraft wherein beautiful effects are achieved by layering colored glass upon transparent, and carving delicate patterns deeply into the glass surface.
“Shimazu Nariakira, the enlightened lord of the Satsuma domain, took an interest in Western culture and developed many enterprises in pursuit of it. One was glassmaking, and he succeeded in producing the first red glass in Japan. But Satsuma Kiriko went out of production within 30 years, and perhaps only around 120 of those items exist today.”
This was explained by Mr. Hitoshi Arima of the Satsuma Glass Kogei. In 1985 the factory reissued the long-lost “illusion glass”. All the work is done on site, from making the overlay glass in red, indigo, purple, yellow and green to finishing and polishing each piece. Of all the processes, the cutting stands out as most remarkable. A simple guide line is laid on the glass, which is then applied to a diamond cutting wheel rotating at high speed. The wheel pares away the outer surface to reveal elaborate patterns little by little.
“The feature that distinguishes Satsuma Kiriko is its complicated patterning. Traditional patterns, such as the familiar shippomon are utilized, but we combine them with more modern patterns to create rather spectacular designs,” said Mr. Arima. In the workshop they make choko (sake cups) that revive the olden patterns, and these appear astonishingly fresh and modern. Both the shape and the cut configuration are sophisticated. It’s clear that the Satsuma folk had a high sense of style. Back in that day the patterns were formed using hand files, so even a single small piece might take more than a month to finish. However long it took and whatever effort was required, this was the result pursued, and the crafter’s love of beauty comes shining through it.