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GLASS IN THE HISTORY OF EARLY JAPAN


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Dear Members,

 

Around the fourth century A.D., glass already exited in Japan. These were glass beads and glass bowls. However, most of these objects were imported through trade with China. Some glass beads are considered as Japanese products. However, there was no exact record to prove this fact so it is still doubtful that they were truly made in Japan from an archeological viewpoint

 

After the tenth century, Chinese glassware was increasingly imported. From sixteenth century, more glasswares which were created in Spain, Italy, Holland, Portugal and England, were being imported. That was the time when Japan encountered European glass for the first time. To be exact, in 1551, there was a record on the list of presents from Francisco de Xavier, the Spanish missionary to the Japanese feudal lord Ohuchi Yoshitaka in Kyushu. Xavier arrived in Japan to propagate Christianity and records said that he presented glasswares and mirrors on his arrival.

 

In 1633, the government of Edo began a national seclusion policy and broke off all relations with foreign countries for 200 years. Edo is the old name of present Tokyo and the name Edo period came from the name of where their government was founded. Before they took this policy, European glass imported and brought through Nagasaki port, which opened its gates to foreign countries at that time. At the same time, not only products but also Portuguese and Dutch glass artisans came to Japan. It is commonly said that the history of glass making in Japan was started around early in the seventeenth century. Through this policy, the government opened the port in Nagasaki, especially the place called Dejima. During their period of isolation they accepted limited imports of foreign goods and culture mostly from Holland. So, it can be inferred that European glass and their techniques were continuously imported through the time of national seclusion.

 

The Edo period started in 1603, and, as I have already mentioned, through the research on the history of glass art, the production of glass ware by Japanese started early in the Edo period. There is no exact date of establishment, however, according to records, there were several association of glass artisans in the middle of the seventeenth century. Nagasaki, is the birthplace of glass making in Japan and was one of the oldest port towns in the North of Kyushu, the great island which is positioned in the Southwest of Japan. The technique of glass making which developed in Nagasaki expanded all over the country, especially in the beginning of the eighteenth century, glass making became popular mostly in Kyoto, Osaka and in Edo. At the end of the Edo period, that was the middle of nineteenth century, the place called Satsuma, the old name of the present Kagoshima city, was the center of the blooming of the unique glass culture.

 

The Japanese glass making method which originated and developed in Nagasaki had its foundation in the technique from Chinese glass. At last, they developed their own technique mainly taking in the European glass making technique such as from Portugal and Holland. Anyway, in the beginning, the technique of Japanese glass was quite simple in all aspects. They had only a few variations in its style. Basically these were small and thin blowing glass and on its surface, they had unsophisticated decorations such as the paintings of Japanese flowers and plants or the diamond cut pattern. At that time, facilities for glass making were simple and on a small-scale and they could only create plain design glasswares. In the eighteenth century, glass making skill developed and improved, and the technique and style of glasswares began to show variety. Not only using the free blowing technique but also the mold. Blowing which enabled the creation of free shapes but also they came to make some decorations on their products with a kind of lamp work technique. bowls, plates, goblets or cups but also accessories, stationery, medical instruments, lamp shades, bird cages, and so on. These were mostly made of transparent colored glass and used to have a simple pattern design which obviously expressed the unique Japanese sense of beauty. The common people in the Edo period were supposed to enjoy these products. However, they were still so fragile and did not have the strength and practicality of European glass. Therefore, it is unsure how these glass products won popularity and actual use in the daily life of the common people.

 

In 1868, the new government was established instead of the Edo government and the Meiji period started. At that time, Japan had a great reformation in political, economical, industrial, cultural and educational areas. Needless to say, the circumstance of glass making changed drastically. There were small glass makers which continued the old style which began during the Edo period and barely able to continue their production. However, on the other hand, several governmental and private glass factories were established. These factories adopted various Western glass making systems and as a result, Japanese glass began to enter a new stage with brand new techniques. After 1873, the government invited instructors of glass making several times, and received instruction of the facilities as well as the techniques of various styles of glass making from them. The government also expected them to train Japanese technicians in making glass. Especially in the engraving glass field, the English advisor, Emmanuel Hauptmann was invited to Japan in 1881. As a consequence, from the end of the nineteenth century to early in the twentieth century, a lot of English style glass which had Japanese decorations, were created, though their design and the expressive style were still on an unrefined level.

 

 

The above history of glass in Japan is by no means complete, ... but it does serve to take us up to the point at which the Hand Blown, hand decorated coal oil lamp in my collection pictured comes from. As a point of interest, I would date this lamp as coming most probably from the early 1860's to approximately 1880 ... when molds were then employed in the production of most glassware both Europe and a little later in Japan.

 

 

Coal oil was first produced in 1850 and Kerosene a short time later. Although technically different both are often simply referred to as Coal oil. Therefore the lamp cannot be dated any earlier although it is definitely hand blown, and appears to be of Japanese manufacture and definitely of Japanese decoration. I cannot prove however that it is of Japanese manufacture but the hole on the bottom ( where the blowpipe was affixed is not generally the way European glass blower removed the blow pipe as they generally gave the pipe a slight twist to seal off the hole caused by the blow pipe with a bit of excess glass.

 

The burner was missing when I found the lamp, ... and is of an odd size. The chimney too is of an odd size, and of a diameter more often found in Asia than Europe or North America. Although I have in the past dealt ( Antique Business ) with some truly magnificent lighting devices, ... I could never bare to part with this lamp.

 

I hope I have not bored you all to death with this non Samurai related Japanese work of art. As is always the case any errors or omissions are mine alone. I did make use the extensive research of Atsushi Takeda, former director of the Yokohama Museum of Arts and in some areas plagiarized his writing.

 

 

... Ron Watson

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Nice lamp, Ron, and full of interesting nuggets.

 

Have to agree with Brian. This is an area that I had some inklings about and indeed I have a few Japanese glass pieces, but the whole story had never fitted together quite like that.

 

It is amusing to note that the Japanese have formed two different words from the English word glass, ie Gurasu グラス for drinking glasses, and Garasu ガラス for glass in general, such as window pane glass. You have to be able to remember to say Gu, or Ga, depending on the context or you could be laughed at. Well, no, people are far too polite.

 

Now it is too late to ask him for further information, because he died a couple of years ago, but a good friend, a Professor Seno at our university who was also Chief Monk at his temple in Fukuyama, told me he had the biggest and best collection of Japanese glass, (usually called "Bidoro", from the Portuguese Vidro) in Japan. He had many Garasu-e ガラス絵, too, pictures painted on glass, although he assured me the world was full of fakes nowadays. Most of the time his collection was out on the road, ie on loan to some prestigious institution or other he said. I went to see a display of Bidoro at the Kobe Museum some years ago and he proudly pointed out which bits in the catalog/ue were his.

 

Once when I mentioned an interest in Nihonto he drew back and said that was one thing he refused to collect. Having been in charge of prisoners-of-war in Hakodate, Hokkaido during the war, he felt as a Buddhist that he could not be involved with an object designed to take life.

 

Thanks for the prompting, Ron. I have other friends involved in glass in this area, and you have brought this into focus. One is the curator of a museum and he has been involved in collecting ancient glass from the middle east, and another has amost single-handedly rediscovered how to make core glass, as opposed to the later Roman invention of blown glass. This artisan was called in to recreate the missing hanging beads on the square Buddhist canopies in Nara. I shall gather together some bits and pieces such as an Edo Period glass Netsuke and Tombo-dama beads into a Furoshiki and ask them for their thoughts at an appropriate moment.

 

There is a pair of Edo Period firemen's glass goggles on display at the Hayashibara Art Museum (opened yesterday) which fascinated me. I know there are collectors out there of Edo reading glasses, but I have seen very few. Someone offered me a pair the other day, but with no glass where the lenses should be... :(

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Wow ! Very nice piece and interesting read !

 

I was of the understanding that because of Porcelain, glass never made it big in Asia.

But what I found really interesting last year were glass beads found in a Jomon tomb which had all the characteristics

of glass made around Egypt and the levant.

 

KM

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Ron, Some years ago I was invited to visit the excavations of Date Masamune's castle in Sendai. Although nothing remained of the main tower, the garden area survived and they had managed to deduce the original planting and had discovered some large pieces of Bohemian drinking glasses decorated with enamels. One had most of a mounted knight on it and the archaeologist had found an identical example in a German museum catalogue. Although nothing to do with the thread, it seems the size of the castle base was increased in the early Edo period and that the stones used were much smaller than the original and more or less conical with the bases forming the face of the wall. It was thought that the skill needed to handle massive polygonal stones had been lost and they had to rely on the makers of grave markers for the new stones.

Ian Bottomley

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