Many traditional Japanese crafts arise from foreign techniques. One such is glassmaking. During the long period of Japan’s isolation, the Bidoro style turned up through the Dejima trading post at the port of Nagasaki. From there it spread to Edo (today’s Tokyo), Satsuma (now Kagoshima), and Osaka. The Bidoro technique involves wrapping molten glass onto a hollow rod and creating various shapes with the breath while suspending it in motion.
“Official records show that by 1676 Bidoro had already appeared in Nagasaki,” says Mr. Katsuto Takeda of glassmaking studio Rurian. He’s also worked on the stained glass restoration of Japan’s oldest Christian church, a recognized National Treasure called Oura Cathedral; as well as design details of the elaborate floats for the Nagasaki Kunchi, a local festival of long tradition. It was Mr. Takeda who revived the making of the Nagasaki Chirori teapot-style cold sake flask that was first seen in Nagasaki in the 18th century, and then simply ceased to be made.
“The studio mixes a unique color formula to achieve the rich azure tone of lapis lazuli. Form is created by shaping the molten glass in the air. Speed is everything, because when motion stops the temperature drops and it breaks immediately,” explains Ayato Takeda, the second-generation artisan who demonstrated for me the making of a chirori piece. He first makes the body of the pot by blowing into a mound of glass heated to 1100° centigrade, spinning the rod constantly so as to allow gravity to determine its form.