Aomori Prefecture in northernmost Honshu, the main island of Japan, is home to many traditional Japanese crafts that blend functionality with artistic designs. Among them is Tsugaru Vidro, which manages to capture Japan’s colorful seasonal scenery inside beautiful glassware. In this article, we will discuss the fascinating history behind this Aomori-designated traditional Japanese craft, as well as its unique characteristics, how it's made, and recommendations of Tsugaru Vidro products.
History of Tsugaru Vidro
Tsugaru Vidro is a type of glassware that originated in the city of Aomori in Aomori Prefecture, northernmost Honshu. The word “vidro” comes from Portuguese, where it simply means “glass.” This Aomori craft is known for capturing all the unique colors of Japan’s seasonal scenery like spring cherry trees in bloom or snowy winter landscapes inside functional, easy-to-use glassware. Most Tsugaru Vidro is manufactured in Tomita, Aomori City by glassmaker Hokuyo-Glass Co., Ltd.
Hokuyo-Glass was founded in 1949, and it originally produced Japanese glass floats used by fishermen to keep their fishing nets afloat. They were also used as markers. The products proved to be more durable than other gear of the same kind available at the time, and by 1973 Hokuyo became the top domestic manufacturer of glass floats in all of Japan.
However, once plastic floats became popular, the demand for glass fishing gear went down, so Hokuyo used its knowledge of glassblowing techniques to instead make vases, dishware, and other everyday items. Then in 1977, Tsugaru Vidro was born.
The colorful glassware that we know today came about by accident. Initially, Hokuyo-Glass used transparent, uncolored glass to make their floats. However, one day, a craftsman added sand from Shichiri-Nagahama, thought to be one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Aomori, into their glass mixture, producing an exceptionally beautiful deep green color in the process. The glass became an instant hit all around the country.
After that, other craftspeople continued to develop new techniques, following their customers' wishes and eventually coming up with ways to create all the colors of a rainbow as well as a variety of patterns. As their techniques improved, so did the appreciation for Tsugaru Vidro, which today is an Aomori-designated traditional Japanese craft.
Characteristics of Tsugaru Vidro
The first thing you'll notice about Tsugaru Vidro glassware is its bright coloring. Each piece looks like it has captured the unique colors of Japan’s seasons inside them. This effect takes a lot of precise work and can only be achieved by experienced artisans. Every Tsugaru Vidro piece is made by hand using specialized techniques that allow craftspeople to blend all sorts of colors in natural ways and create one-of-a-kind examples of functional art.
Tsugaru Vidro is made from mineral-rich silica sand, which is heated to extreme temperatures, melted, and made into glassware. The shaping can be done in several ways such as mouth-blowing, mold-blowing, centrifugation, and tool-shaping.
・Mouth-blowing: Inflating a molten glass bubble into a desired shape using a blowpipe.
・Mold-blowing: Inflating a molten glass bubble that's housed inside a mold using a blowpipe.
・Centrifugation: Dropping the molten glass bubble into a metal mold, which is then spun. The centrifugal force shapes the glass inside the mold.
・Tool-shaping: Using metal chopsticks or forceps to shape the molten glass, which is attached to the end of a pipe.
Mouth-blowing, also known as hand-blowing, is the most popular technique, as it gives artisans the most freedom when working the glass. However, it requires the utmost control and skill.
Tsugaru Vidro Today
Many examples of Tsugaru Vidro are available on the market today, and not all of them are inspired by the changing of the seasons. Some allow you to get a close glimpse at Aomori’s beautiful nature, such as the hydrangea stretching around Cape Tappi at the northernmost tip of the Tsugaru Peninsula in Aomori Prefecture or the cherry blossom nightscape at Hirosaki Park, which surrounds Hirosaki Castle, a famous cherry blossom site.
Also, there are now more female artisans as well as young craftspeople in the field, who use their own unique techniques and ideas to create new kinds of Tsugaru Vidro, taking the craft beyond tableware like glasses and plates and using it to make knick-knacks, ornaments, and other things that bring a little joy and color into people’s lives.
TSUGARU SCENE BEAN PLATE SET
This mamezara plate (traditionally used for serving small quantities of food or soy sauce for sushi and sashimi) set was inspired by Japan’s four seasons. The red is meant to invoke images of cherry petals blowing in the wind, while the green represents verdant trees growing in early summer. The blue color is meant to look like clear blue skies reflecting on the ocean, and the yellow brings to mind flowers growing at the foot of a mountain. Mamezara plates are a must-have for a Japanese-style meal and would make a great gift for anyone who likes Japanese cuisine in your life.
NEBUTA SMALL BOWL
This bowl was inspired by the Nebuta Festival, one of the three largest festivals in the Tohoku region. During the festival, which takes place all around Aomori Prefecture each year between July and August, a magnificent 4-ton Ningyo Nebuta float decorated with lanterns cruises around the city, accompanied by a parade of people. The bowl measures φ4.64" x H1.96" (φ11.8 cm x H5.0 cm) and has a flamboyant yet refreshing quality about it. Thanks to its very reasonable price, you can buy a number of these bowls and use them to dish out salad or anything else you may have in mind, though the bowls are especially recommended for a summer table setting.
GREEN APPLE OIL LAMP
This adorable oil lamp was inspired by the image of a green apple, as apples are a famous product of Aomori. Simply light it and watch any room be filled with a faint yet marvelous Japanese aura. The product is compatible with Muraei Rainbow Oil.
Clear CL (2 Liter) Muraei Rainbow Oil, Made in Japan, 67.6 fl oz (2,000 cc)
This oil leaves no soot, unpleasant odors, or any other impurities behind. The product is made in Japan, and comes in a 2L bottle.
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer's website for more information.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.