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Sophisticated Ryukyu Glass by [Okuhara Glass]: Chosen by Those Who Know the Difference
post : 2021.03.12 07:00
Ryukyu Glass by Okuhara Glass Meet the Refined Tastes of Those Who Know the Difference
When we’re looking for a gift for someone or something special for ourselves, we look for items that are “good”.
It would be nice to visit shops and take our time choosing the best item, but nowadays, while we’re encouraged to stay home, it’s not like how it was before. So, for our readers, we’re going to introduce some attractive Ryukyu glassworks by Okuhara Glass that are highly recommended and available online at Okinawa CLIP Marche (site available in Japanese only).
“These glassworks are fabulous.”
That’s what some of you with great taste will be saying as we introduce the allure of Okinawa’s “craft art for the people.”
[Okuhara Glass]: A Glass Factory in Naha with the Longest Glassmaking History in Okinawa
Adjoining the Naha City Traditional Arts & Crafts Center in Makishi, Naha, is a studio where people can experience glassmaking with Okuhara Glass, a longstanding glassworks company using recycled glass.
Okuhara Glass was founded after the war in 1952, by glass craftsman, Seiei Okuhara. Later in 1972, the company welcomed Masao Tobaru, known as “an outstanding expert and a great craftsman of the modern times” in the field of glasswork. Presently, the glass factory is managed by Yukiharu Uezato, Mr. Tobaru’s nephew, who was certified as a craftsman in 2005 by Okinawa Prefecture. Together with the other craftsmen in the factory, Mr. Uezato has dedicated himself to the art of glasswork as he hands down the knowledge and skills that he has inherited.
The beginning of Ryukyu Glass dates back to around 1909. The first glass factory was established in Okinawa by a craftsman from Kagoshima Prefecture. Ryukyu Glass was lost due to the Battle of Okinawa but was once again revived at the hands of craftsmen who survived the war and also by those who returned from evacuation.
Ryukyu Glass may be a younger craft art than some of the other traditional crafts found in Okinawa, but its allure has spread from Okinawa to across the nation and around the world.
The Beauty of Recycled Glassworks are Cherished by Many
Ryukyu Glass refers to glassworks created on Okinawa Island through methods such as glassblowing. In the past, the main method used was using recycled glass such as cola, beer, and medicine bottles discarded by the American military.
Some of the distinctive characteristics of Ryukyu Glass are found in their simple designs and uniquely rounded and gentle shapes. As you hold the glasswork in your hands, there’s a tender sense of transparency unique to recycled glass. Even if some of the pieces were created with the same methods, each one has a slightly different shape, which is the beauty of handmade items.
Another characteristic is the colors; the original colors of the recycled glass are brought to life in seven hues of clear, light blue, green, brown, sky blue, purple, and navy blue.
In the times after the war when all of the tools and items needed for everyday life were scarce, people put their heads together to come up with the necessities. These have a beauty all their own, and that’s also another charm of recycled glass.
Ryukyu Glass, Valued as Folk Craft Art
Immediately after the war, the demand increased for glass items used in American lifestyles such as salad bowls, wine glasses, pitchers, and others. These glassworks from Okinawa were so popular that many found their way to the continental USA.
Domestically, the famed art critic and founder of the Mingei (folk craft) movement in Japan, Muneyoshi Yanagi (also known as Soetsu Yanagi), and potter Shoji Hamada, both saw the significance of Ryukyu Glass and continued to convey its allure to mainland Japan. As a result, the popularity of Ryukyu Glass expanded nationwide.
With the decline in businesses catering to Americans combined with the downward trend of folk arts, the numerous glass factories from postwar Okinawa dwindled, and glass studios producing goods made from recycled glass dramatically decreased.
With the changing of the times, many manufacturers of various goods are also switching from glass bottles to plastic, making it more difficult to procure glass bottles for recycling.
There are still some glass studios in Okinawa but studios that are particular about using recycled glass are scarce, making this form of Ryukyu Glass a very rare and precious folk art with only a handful of craftsmen.
Loyal & Unchanging, Glassworks by Okuhara Glass
At the Okuhara Glass factory, manager Mr. Uezato is joined by two other craftsmen in creating various glassworks as they preserve the skills that have been passed down the generations of craftsmen.
Each piece of glasswork is blown carefully, one by one, and the number of glass items made in total among the three craftsmen adds up to about 70 pieces a day.
I asked Mr. Uezato what some of the most important things are for Okuhara Glass with its 70-year history in making glasswork.
“First and foremost, learning and acquiring basic skills.”
Without any hesitation, that was his first response.
“As long as we have solid basic skills, we can apply them in all situations. We can meet the requests and wishes of our customers, too.”
Every day, the craftsmen twirl the small ball of glass called Motodama at the tip of the iron rod, and with great skill, they add cracks and colors to their work and create delicate shapes. Engaging in this step over and over is how the craftsmen hone their skills.
Making things by hand brings out not the superficial things but the heart of the maker.
At a glance, glassworks by Okuhara Glass are simple and rustic. That’s exactly why they can’t cut corners. The essence of producing things by hand lies in the maker’s continuous efforts to polish “basic” skills, and that is what brings the realness in their creations.
It’s these everyday steps in creating craft art that has kept Okuhara Glass stand proud.
The folk craft arts are the pride of Okinawa, with their usefulness and the distinct beauty found within them.
The light through the recycled glass that shines in our humble lives is brought to us from a different time, a different use. In their past life, the glass may have been a window, a cola bottle, or an Awamori bottle that saw people celebrate joyously.
When we use these glassworks with such backgrounds in our homes, it might shed light on something important that we may be missing in our everyday lives.
The charm of glassworks made from recycled glass lies in the beauty found in these items that were created for practical use in people’s lives.
Okuhara Glass Items Available Online at Okinawa CLIP Marche
In this article, we introduced glassworks available online at Okinawa CLIP Marche.
The basic “barrel cups” (front-right) is a great choice as your first Ryukyu Glass. It can hold a lot so toss in some ice and enjoy a refreshing drink.
The small jar with a lid (front-center) is charming and great to keep your pickled plums or candy.
The small, light Ramune bottle-colored bowl (front-left) and other works in the same hue are some of Okuhara Glass’s most popular items.
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, monobox (Tetsumasa & Kozue Kawano)