Before we came to Japan we knew there was a long and rich craft tradition in ceramics, textiles and paper. ¬†We also knew that there is a strong Contemporary Glass Movement occurring in Japan but we knew little of its origins. We ¬†knew of a few of the glass programs here such as Toyama and Osaka but we imagined that since the studio glass movement started here only about 15- 20 years ago that there wouldn‚Äôt be many schools and programs. As we have spend time in Japan getting to know artists and visiting some of the schools we have learned that there are many other programs and residencies. It ¬†really surprised us that there are close to ten programs ¬†in glass art that we ¬†have heard of, and more to be sure. We recently visited University of Kurashiki, a program we had only heard about since arriving in Japan. We assumed because we not heard of Kurashiki before, that the program was not that big. Well, we were wrong. Our first inclination of this was when we visited the cold working facilities and saw a diamond saw that was taller than Tyler. From there we visited huge kilns with overhead 2 ton hoists and a hot shop with 3 furnaces, colour pots, 6 gloryholes and 24 hour access, essentially a glass artists dream. We were welcomed and hosted by Isogai San, the head of the department and ¬†Kyung-Nam¬†San, the kiln-casting instructor. The program was the third to open in Japan and offers undergrad, graduate and PHD degrees in glass. The students we met while visiting and presenting at the school seemed engaged in their practices and interested in learning about glass in Canada.¬† We originally came to Kurashiki to visit Kodani ‚Äď San, considered to be ¬†one of ¬†the first and most¬†influential¬†Mingei artists in glass in Japan. As a former professor at the University he held a lot of respect in the community. He is considered one of the fathers of the studio glass movement in Japan and despite being close to 80 years old he still blows glass in his studio,and ¬†makes his living creating functional work. After our presentation at the University our host Aki Isogai took us out to visit Kodani San at his studio. We then went out to a fabulous dinner with instructors Isogai San and Jang San and with Kodani San. During dinner we were able to discuss the philosophy of Mingei with Kodani San and his experiences as a glassworker. Mingei celebrates the beauty of pure ¬†material and and purpose. At dinner ¬†Kodani San expounded the the following tenants of Mingei,
-Respect your work
-Do this with all your heart
We could feel his passion for the material and could understand why he was so well loved by younger generations.¬†¬†
Kodani San knew he wanted to work glass from the furnace but had no resources to assist him. He evolved his process and equipment entirely his own. In the following pictures note the small size of the blowpipes! ¬†In the forground of the first picture you can see an open square shape, this is the “arms” of Kodani’s “bench”, his tools are inside with the exception of his Jacks which hang from the stool he sits on. On the left of the first shot you can also see a half round metal form which is the only device he uses for blocking and shaping the glass other than his jacks and a footing tool. While we were at his studio he showed us the optic mold he was using, it was made of an aluminium can and wire, he had made in 1960. In the final shot you can see his annealer at the back of the furnace. When he finishes working for the day he empties and turns off the furnace. Allowing the lehr to cool. In the furnace he runs two small pots, one clear and one colour, both charged in the morning, worked out in the afternoon.
Kurashiki is famous for its wood-fired ceramics. Potters Hamada Shoji, Bernard Leach, and Kawai Kanjiro all lived in the area. Kurashiki is a large industrial city by Canadian Standards but in the core of the city still remains the original settlement and the some of the tradition buildings that were not bombed during the second world war. ¬†
Here is a shot of the industrial side of Kurashiki taken near the University and some images of the school: