A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Satsuma Kiriko Glass

Satsuma Kiriko glassware is a traditional Japanese craft on par with Edo-Kiriko. Whereas Edo-Kiriko glass is rather thin, Satsuma Kiriko’s glassware is much thicker. This allows for color gradations, which vary according to the deepness of the grooves. Together with the technique of overlapping layers, it all culminates in colorful designs that have become popular with both domestic and international audiences.

The History of Satsuma Kiriko Glass

"Satsuma Kiriko" refers to cut-glass products made in Kagoshima Prefecture. They are distinguished by their color gradations and the intricate designs that are hand-carved into the glass by artisans. Satsuma Kiriko glasses are quite thick and heavy, so light carvings produce darker colors while deeper carvings produce lighter colors. This is how these vibrant gradations are achieved.

© K.P.V.B

The story of Satsuma Kiriko glassware begins in the 1840s when the 26th feudal lord of the Satsuma Domain (now Kagoshima Prefecture), Narioki Shimazu, oversaw the beginning of glass-manufacturing in his province. Narioki had been focusing his efforts on producing medicine and needed the right containers to store it, so he invited the glass artisan Kamejiro Shimoto to Satsuma from Edo (what is now Tokyo).

Later, his successor Nariakira Shimazu enacted modernization policies that led to the rapid development of glass production techniques, including a successful glass-coloring method which created beautiful crimson products that became known as the “Crimson Glass of Satsuma.” The artistry of Satsuma Kiriko glass, a product of the province’s rapid modernization, drew attention from the world over, but the craft’s progress ceased when Nariakira died unexpectedly in 1858 and his successor’s revised fiscal policy downsized the domain’s glass industry. Then, the 1863 Anglo-Satsuma War between the domain and the British Empire devastated their glass factories, and so Satsuma Kiriko glass met its demise after just 20 years.

A full century later in 1985, locals embarked on a project to bring Satsuma Kiriko glassware back from the dead. The project was spearheaded by the Shimadzu Limited company, with assistance from the Kagoshima prefectural government, and led to the establishment of the Satsuma Glass Crafts company. Glass artisans and experts from all over the country joined forces to bring back this craft, using the few remaining documents and examples of Satsuma Kiriko and references. They succeeded in faithfully reproducing the old style of colored glass, which is still being sold today.

Related articles:

▶ A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Edo-Kiriko Glass

▶ The Complete Guide to Traditional Japanese Crafts

Characteristics of Satsuma Kiriko Glass

Many Satsuma Kiriko glassware use a technique called “iro-kise” (color-layering), where one transparent glass layer is overlaid with a colored layer so that carving a pattern creates a contrast between the clear and colored sections.

In Japan’s pantheon of glass artisanship, Satsuma Kiriko stands alongside Edo-Kiriko, based in Tokyo. Edo-Kiriko glass is thinner than the Satsuma variety, which lends itself to a sharp design with clearly defined boundaries. Meanwhile, the thicker glass used in Satsuma Kiriko allows for carvings of varying depths and the creation of a color gradient.

These distinctive, fine gradations are hand-made individually by artisans. The creation of Satsuma Kiriko glassware can be broadly divided into six stages:

1) "Atari": draw the pattern onto the glass with permanent marker
2) "Ara-kezuri": cut a rough shape of the design using a diamond wheel
3) "Ishi-kake": carve the design more finely using a grindstone
4) “Kiban-migaki”: polish the surfaces and lines on a paulownia wheel
5) “Burashi-migaki”: polish the surface more finely on a brush wheel
6) “Bafu-shiage”: polish and finish the item on a cloth wheel until it gleams

Satsuma Kiriko Glass Today

© K.P.V.B

The meteoric rise of Satsuma Kiriko was suddenly cut short with the death of Nariakira Shimazu. But after some 100 years, a large group of artisans and experts combined their efforts to revive this Japanese art, and today Satsuma Kiriko continues moving forward, fueled by continued research. For example, the “iro-kise” color-layering technique has been augmented and developed into a double-color-layering method using two layers of differently colored glass.

Nowadays, you can even find small items such as earrings and other accessories made from scrap material from the Satsuma Kiriko production process, which is testament to how this traditional craft, once left for dead and only recovered through a determined group effort, continues to grow and move forward towards a bright future.

Featured Satsuma Kiriko Glass Products

Double-Covered Lattice Old Glass 2 Pieces (Green-Lapis Lazuli, Gold Red, Lapis Lazuli) In A Paulownia Box

This pair of glasses employs the distinctive technique of layering transparent and colored glass to create a pleasant color gradient that you can only find with Satsuma Kiriko glassware. The shape and size of these wares are very convenient, making them perfect for a variety of settings.

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Black Kiriko Old Glass In A Paulownia Box

Black-colored glass only became possible thanks to a breakthrough in 2006, yielding this sleek, modern Satsuma Kiriko item. Since black glass doesn't let light through, the artisan can’t rely on their eyesight and must use the instinct that they developed over many years to create this exquisite, high-quality product that would make for a perfect gift.

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Double-Covered Tokkuri & Ochoko 2 Pieces (Green-Lapis Lazuli) In A Paulownia Box

This beautiful sake set combines two colored-glass layers, green and sky blue, to create a beautiful color gradient. Because of its clear, refreshing look, the set can be used for any occasion, not just during Japanese-style meals.

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Click here to browse more beautiful Satsuma Kiriko items: ▶ Satsuma Cut Glass

▶ About BECOS

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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