Contemporary Japanese glass art is diverse and beautiful. Yet it remains largely concealed from the west. There are objective reasons which limit people living outside of Japan from seeing and knowing Japanese glass art. Most information is available only in Japanese, and direct contact with the artists or galleries is difficult due to the language barrier. Many artists produce a limited inventory and often their pieces go directly to local exhibitions or regional museums. Japanese glass art is rarely represented at international exhibitions, or limited to a select few artists.
The aim of Japanese Glass is to bring what is hidden or hard to find in Japan to the western audience. To do so, Japanese Glass has travelled across Japan to meet some fascinating and talented artists. Here we exhibit the treasures that we have found and give a voice to the artists that have created them.
Japanese Glass Art
Although records show that glass existed in Japan as far back as the Yayoi period (300BC-AD300), Japan only encountered western glass making in the 16th century, which was brought in by the Portuguese. It was then that Japanese traditional glass art techniques of Edo Kiriko, Satsuma Kiriko and Hizen Vidro were developed and became popular. Edo Kiriko and Satsuma Kiriko glass is made of cut glass. Hizen Vidro consists of blowing glass to shape it without the use of moulds.
Despite the European influences which began to seep into Japanese culture in the 16th century, Japanese aesthetic has retained a unique identity that is to be found only in Japan.
One of the defining characteristics of Japan is the co-existence of two main religions, Shintoism and Buddhism, which has had a profound effect on Japanese culture and aesthetic. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples stand side by side harmoniously across Japan and the Japanese grow up influenced by the teachings and customs of both these religions. In the religion of Shinto, nature is worshipped and admired. Many customs are defined by the relationship between the Japanese and their natural surroundings. The Shinto religion teaches to notice and cherish nature from a young age. Buddhism arrived to Japan in the 6th century and teaches the respect for the transient and the impermanent.
Admiration for and harmony with nature is deep-rooted within the Japanese aesthetic, which appreciates its asymmetry, its unpredictability, and both its beauty and imperfections. The sakura (cherry blossom), which is now a worldwide Japanese symbol, is treasured in Japan not only for its beauty, but also for its transience and volatility.
It is often the case that culture contradicts nature. Not in Japan, where culture is defined by its relationship to nature. The Japanese artist will admire the beauty of the material that is being used to create a piece, rather than imposing his or her will onto it. Symmetry and geometric regularity are deliberately avoided, with imperfection and asymmetry being favoured. Scenes of nature and changing seasons are seen on the artefacts. Japanese art contradicts modern-day factory mass production and instead affirms our proximity to nature.
Another characteristic of Japanese glass - is an impeccable attention to detail, or kodawari, and a deep appreciation of the beauty in imperfection, a concept known as wabi-sabi.
Kodawari refers to the uncompromising devotion to a pursuit, an art, or an activity. It implies dedication, high quality, attention to detail, and perfectionism. Wabi-sabi are two integrated concepts, where wabi refers to simplicity and imperfection, and sabi refers to the appreciation of the old and faded. Influenced by Shintoism and Buddhism, wabi-sabi implies the acceptance of impermanence and imperfection.
Kodawari and wabi-sabi are the fundamental concepts that drive Japanese aesthetic and have given rise to the creation of unique glass pieces that can only be found in Japan.