This web magazine proposes new ways to enjoy kogei.
Through interviews with creators, artists and people who live in Hokuriku,
discover the allure of Kogei from various angles.
Toyama is a city of glass. Glass objects are scattered throughout, a glass museum sits in the city center, there are myriad facilities and events: an educational institution specializing in glass art, a glass workshop for getting abundant production experience, a glass festival…
If you didn’t already think “glass” when you heard “Toyama,” a look at the smiles of all those who visit there will be an irresistible invitation. At Glass Festa 2020, I saw a kind of glass integral to the lives of Toyama’s people and well-loved by them.
Orange glass stretches from atop scaffolding to the ground. While it’s being pulled by gravity, it is also being blown, and when measured is a whopping four meters long.
Toyama Glass Festa’s “TGS Cup” is an unusual glass competition where professional glass artists complete for who can create the longest piece of hand-blown glass.
If the glass stretches too far under the force of gravity and sticks to the floor, it’s a disqualification, so it must often be swung like a pendulum or carefully inflated bit by bit to push the edge of the glass’ extension. I couldn’t help but admire the balance of dynamic movement and delicate changes.
Previous years have included participants from abroad, but due to the pandemic, this year’s event was more intimate, with only artists from the Glass Studio and faculty from the neighboring Toyama Institute of Glass Art participating. Nevertheless, the seats were packed. Even more visitors were outside, unable to enter for crowding restrictions, who eagerly awaited the results.
“It’s been difficult, as it requires a different kind of care and attention to detail than our usual production,” said Ryuhei Nadatani of Toyama Glass Studio.
The venue for the event, Toyama Glass Workshop No. 2, is said to be “the world’s largest workshop for lay hands-on experience.”
“People from die-hard glass lovers to those who’ve never had an interest in it before are welcome here. Our studio is a place where glass as local culture takes root.”
The studio is normally open to the public for production experience. A glass furnace occupies the center of the dome, which itself has a surprisingly high ceiling. To one side is a stepped seating area where visitors can watch artists in action.
“Dale Chihuly, an American master of contemporary glass art, made part of his installation at the Toyama Glass Art Museum in this workshop. He came with a team from the U.S. and made the work public. Famous artists from Italy, Australia and other countries have come to demonstrate their work and have even held music concerts here.”
Thirty years ago, the city of Toyama established the Toyama Institute of Glass Art, Japan’s first public educational institution specializing in glass, in order to counter the outflow of young people from the city. At the time, Japan had no strong “glass culture,” though Toyama was already associated with glass bottles as it was a town of medicine production. Three years later, the Toyama Glass Studio was established with the aim of training graduates of the institute to become professional artists and cultural leaders.
Today, Toyama is very well known in the glass world, and the institute attracts students from all over Japan and from as far overseas as Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Norway and Estonia. The cultural complex, Toyama Kirari, designed by Kengo Kuma, was established in 2015 in central Toyama. The Toyama Glass Art Museum, specializing in the exhibition of contemporary glass art, opened on the upper floor and features a striking atrium.
“Now the workshop’s intended purpose, to nurture human resources for the furtherance of glass culture, has become even more important. The school nurtures specialists; the workshop nurtures artists and glass lovers among our citizens. Additionally, the art museums are able to communicate our work to the world. I think it’s pretty rare across the nation to have a glass school, workshop and museum together like this.”
The Toyama Glass Festa began with the aim of bringing people in greater contact with glass art, which at that time, had not yet taken root as a culture in the area, and this year marks its 27th anniversary.
“I feel like the number of visitors is gradually expanding and that the event continues to grow,” says Nadatani.
Most visitors are from around the prefecture and the major city, and many are repeat visitors. Some became interested in glass art as children after doing the hands-on experience in the workshop, and later attended the institute to become glass artists themselves.
The children are clearly captivated by the TGS Cup. Demonstrations like this competition or the hands-on experience of physically creating something that will be put to use and not merely “made” for sightseeing purposes makes a strong impression.
We tend to think of these kinds of crafts as something austere, only truly understood as adults, but personal experiences are just as important while growing up. We need to remember that culture starts with children.
Many of the participants of the hands-on experience at the workshop were children. One little second-grader from Toyama City says she “likes to make things!” She had already once made a cup, and here in her second experience at the workshop, she was making a bean dish.
As she works with the glass, her gaze is steady, and I was amazed at her dexterity a she spun the orange-colored blocks of glass. She took pleasure in shaping the material with her hands, and it made me aware of the fundamental joy there is in creation.
Also from the city was a woman who had come for many sessions at the workshop while raising three children. On this day, she came with now-adult son’s wife, and both participated.
“There are a lot of pieces at my home now,” she says. “All of them are blue, and I’m making something blue again today. [Laughter.] This place is like a second home to us.”
It’s touching to see how glass could be such a part of a family’s life and add color to their memories. Mustn’t it be exciting to return to the place where memories with your family are made?
The hands-on blown glass experience is always available, as well as other experiences, like creating holiday ornaments or millefiori, a process of combining glass to make floral patterns. The opportunity isn’t only for Toyama residents, but for all, adults and children alike, to try at least once.
The TGS Cup included a creativity demonstration in which originality scored highest. The most impressive work looked like a stack of bulging mochi rice cakes topped with delicate pear flowers.
Tominaga, one of the creators, says, “I wanted to do something not too serious, but rather something that would allow me to relax and have fun.”
Tominaga, who has also been working as an assistant at the institute since April, is a glass artist who was active at the Kanazawa Utatsuyama Kogei Kobo until March. Originally from Osaka where he graduated from the Osaka University of Arts, he worked as an assistant at a university before moving to Utatsuyama in Kanazawa, and after his tenure at the Toyama Institute of Glass Art, he plans to return to Kanazawa to work independently.
“When I was in university, many of my professors were from the Kanazawa Utatsuyama Kogei Kobo, and I developed a longing for the Hokuriku area.”
He says he came to the Toyama Institute of Glass Art because he wanted to be in a place where he could challenge himself.
“In Kanazawa, glasswork is connected with tea culture, but Toyama has an environment that concentrated on glass itself. Because the facilities are well equipped and glass as a culture has taken root here in Toyama, international exchange is also thriving. When you’re here, you can feel a connection to the rest of the world.”
By taking the time to nurture the craft, Toyama has let glass culture truly grow, and people gather from miles around to see the fruits of its labor.
The Toyama Glass Festa emphasizes the importance of a “nurturing” attitude. This unique kogei medium has really become the “new local culture” and given Toyama a sense of fresh potential.
Toyama Glass Festa
Oct. 3rd (Sat.) – Oct. 4th (Sun.), 2020
time: 9:00 – 17:00
venue: Toyama Glass Studio, 85 Nishikanaya, Toyama City
organizer: Toyama City Glass Art Center
phone (studio): +81 (0)76-436-3322 *We are always available for hands-on production
Born in Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture. After graduating from the department of Faculty of Environment and Information Studies at Keio University, she jumped headfirst into workshops focused on Yuki pongee [silk products using natural indigo dye] to learn about “the power of human hands,” through which she sought to revitalize the craft through her kimono store and brand, Yuki Sawaya. After marrying three years ago, she moved from Sapporo to Toyama. She enjoys filling her world with kogei and working with her hands and is currently renovating a private house and rice field at her future home in the west area of the prefecture. Her current greatest interest is in anthropology.