yoshiro kobayashi - Japanese glass-cutting master
The delicately and intricately carved Edo kiriko crafted by Yoshiro Kobayashi are, without a doubt, works of art.
Yoshiro Kobayashi, a traditional Japanese artisan, and previously the board chairman of the Edo Kiriko Cooperative Association, has produced works that have even been used as gifts for important foreign guests.
Edo kiriko is a type of handicraft that began its production during the end of the Edo period. It is delicately carved from crystals and other transparent types of glass, carefully polished before completing its transformation into a piece of artwork.
Cut-glass that originally flourished in Ireland and England but has been redesigned with traditional Japanese flair is now being called “Edo kiriko,” and has been established as something that Japan rightfully owns.
“There is no other glass cutting in the world that could compete with such delicate craftsmanship. The Japanese has a love for details and that’s probably why such fine glass carving has been developed.” Yoshiro Kobayashi said.
The Edo kiriko workshop, Kobayashi Kiriko, has been inherited and maintained through 4 generations by the Kobayashi family. As a result, the Kobayshis came to be known as a historical family of glass artisans. Currently, Yoshiro Kobayashi of the 3rd generation and Kohei Kobayashi of the 4th generation have been actively continuing the family production of traditional glass handicraft.
“[Kiriko] is no longer used in the current times, but the tradition that has been passed down from our ancestors has remained and not been forgotten.”
Precisely because the workshop enjoyed an ancient and honorable origin, the Kobayashi Kiriko workshop continues to utilize traditional tools that have usually been replaced by machines.
In the world of Edo kiriko, there is a saying only after 10 hard years can artisans reach adulthood. Training begins with polishing, digging, layout, design and advanced techniques in glass cutting could only be achieved through years of experience. Yoshiro, who learned the glass carving techniques from his father, now passes his knowledge in kiriko-making down to his son.
I have also tried glass carving, but it was clear that the delicate craft could not be acquired within a day. Even a single mistake in the process would require the entire project to be started over from the beginning. But Yoshiro confidently said, “Because the technique has been mastered, there are no mistakes in crafting.” The perfect glass craftsmanship, which produces breathtakingly beautiful pieces, is the reason why Edo Kiriko remains popular even today.
It seems that there remains only 59 companies that produce Edo kiriko. And most of those artisans work singly or with a partner in small glass cutting workshops.
“As glass products are now cheaply made and mass-produced, Edo kiriko production, which requires more than a month for a single glass artwork to be made, is certainly going against the flow of processes in this day and age. Even so, I want to be particular about each and every detail as I make my cut-glass.”
Yoshiro Kobayashi says that his dream is to move the entire glass industry forward.
“Glass handicrafts have still not been officially recognized as traditional crafts. It has not been included in any of the majors within the Tokyo University of the Arts, nor established as a national treasure in Japan. Even so, we can feel that it has gradually been gaining recognition. Because its recognition as a traditional form of art is steadily taking place, we hope that Edo kiriko would be accepted as a national treasure within this generation.
“Edo kiriko’s beauty is not only perceived in Japan, but felt throughout the world. We have been challenging and pushing the boundaries of glass-making beyond what has traditionally existed, such as wineglasses or vases. It would be wonderful if we could pass on our traditional art onto other countries.”
While Edo kiriko has had 300 years of history as a Japanese traditional handicraft, there continues to be new challenges for the art of glass cutting to overcome. The future and development of Edo kiriko should certainly be anticipated and looked forward to earnestly.