Development of Engraved Glass in Japan in comparison with Europe
Atsushi Takeda, Former Vice Director of the Yokohama Museum of Arts

First of all, I would like to start with a survey of the general history of glass in Japan.
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. It is supposed that this is the first recorded European glass objects in Japanese history. Of course these glasswares were presented to the emperor or feudal lords, in Japanese, called "daimyo," and not for the general public. It could be said that the imported glasswares were not popular in the daily life of people .
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. Nagasaki is also the place of the opera "Madame Butterfly" by Puccini. 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 Japanesque 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 and 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. There were also cut glass works which had decorations on the colorless transparent glass as well as on the casing glass which was getting popular. The variety of products also expanded according to the variety of technique. Actually, there were various things made by glass not only tableware such as 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.
Talking about engraving glass, unfortunately, we could only find a few examples decorated with this technique among the glass products created during the Edo period right now. We could only find it in a small cup for Japanese sake, hair combs, small folding screens, stationery, and lamp shades. We are also unsure about when and who created these products and who gave instruction in this technique. Their technique and design were still simple and unsophisticated as well .
In 1868, the new government was estabrished 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 of glass making. The new Meiji government took a governmental policy to encourage new industries and to promote the modernization of Japan and they started supporting glass making as one of them.
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. He taught the technique of engraving and cut glass to Japanese students and the number of artisans who mainly used these techniques increased. As a consequence, from the end of the nineteenth century to early in the twentieth century, a lot of English style engraved glass which had Japanesque decorations, were created, though their design and the expressive style were still on an unrefined level.
The development of technique and design in Japanese glass became improved after the 1930s. The consciousness of glass making among the people who were involved in the glass industry changed and that is the reason of why the situation improved. Instead of the industrial glass making system which had been promoted since the beginning of the Meiji Period, they became interested in creating glass individually as art craft objects and they wanted to produce glass art as their original art work. Talking about the field of engraving glass, the primal artist of this new movement was Kozo Kagami. Kagami was born in 1896, and in 1918, he started his research and investigation in glass making. He went to Germany in 1927, and studied at the National Stuttgart School of Arts and Crafts. Under the instruction of Professor Wilhelm von Eiff, he studied crystal glass and acquired the technique of cut and engraving glass. He returned to Japan in 1929, and in 1930, he established his own institute of crystal glass. Later, this institute became one of the leading glass companies in Japan which is "Kagami Crystal." Kagami took responsibility for the artistic and management section of his company and besides his business, he created and exhibited his original and excellent glass art works. Under the influence of Art Deco design in Europe, he adopted the Japanesque theme in his work and motif and made use of the most advanced techniques with free and unique concepts. I think Kagami is the first person in Japanese glass art history who reached the quality of European glass with his work.
After Kagami, some artists who learned or were influenced by him, and used engraving technique for their creation, existed before and after the second World War. Unfortunately, we could hardly find one who was as highly talented as Kagami, who loved and developed engraving glass as he did, and created excellent glass works by the engraving glass technique. Even today, it is still hard to see engraving work among the works by young Japanese Studio Glass artists. It could be said that in the history of modern glass in Japan, engraving glass had a splendid day just after its beginning then shortly lost its brilliance, and came to decline. It is really strange why engraving has not been firmly established in the glass artists in Japan.
However, now we have an artist who might be a leading artist in the engraving art field in Japan. His name is Mr. Takemasa. It is already known that he studied at Kramsach and now lives and works in Corning in the United States. Though his present base is in the United States, he is a Japanese artist and he frequently holds exhibitions in Japan. His keen and fertile sense of beauty and his sharp expressive style as well as his established skill of engraved glass technique is highly appreciated. So he has to have a big responsibility to take the role of reviving Japanese engraving glass as one of the leaders in Japanese glass art.