Here is the final and longest post on my trip to Japan back in September/October.
In Kyoto, there is a glass and tool supplier here called A3 International. Clicking on “English Click Here” on their site, then on “Glass Studio Ark” takes you to their map and directions in English. Their shop is located on the western side of the city and looked easy enough to get to by train or subway. I didn’t have time to get to this place but next time I’ll visit as their shop looks like it has a great selection of glass supplies.
Also, I found a Kaleidoscope Museum near where we were staying. It was closed the day I walked passed it so I just took a photo from outside and of a couple of posters that were there. I’ll go there next time I’m in Kyoto.
An hour by bullet and local trains from Kyoto is an interesting community arts town called Nagahama. It’s positioned next to Lake Biwa, a large fresh water lake north-east of Kyoto. The local people and businesses decided to turn the town into a glass and arts community in the ’80s when tourism to their town was dying. This has increased tourism and I can see why. If you love glass, studio glass, stained glass windows, glass beads, glass objects, glass Art Deco objects, etched glass, it is all here in this little place. This would have to have been the star of my trip, hence the big post.
Nagahama has a massive array of glass activities and sights to see. We were staying in Kyoto and would travel the one hour to get here, but I would recommend staying here for a night or two so that you can get to see everything without having to spend 2 hours on the train each visit. There really is so much to see here. Not only for glass, but for temples, shops, antiques gallery and figurine museum. And a warning, this is a long post so get comfy.
In the centre of town, and on the main street of Nagahama, is the historical building of Kurokabe Square. This two level, western-style building was built in the 1900’s and used to be a bank. It was painted black, and received the name “Kurokabe-ginkou” which means “black wall bank”. This building was restored by the towns people turning it into a glass shop spread out over the two levels. Downstairs is more modern and current works and trinkets and upstairs is larger beautiful modern works from glass artists around the world, from Japan to Czech Republic to Murano, all for sale.
Behind Kurokabe Square building is Studio Kurokabe. This is a glass gallery and hot shop filled with works from the local artisans made in the hot shop. The back wall of the gallery is all glass so you can view the artisans working in their hot shop studio.
The Kurokabe Museum of Glass Art – this museum is situated in a renovated merchant house from the Edo Period (1600 – 1868) which is interesting to see as well as the collection of Bohemian glassware and other pieces from around the world. The garden is quite a beautiful surprise when you see it. I have a photo of it as it was quite spectacular, I thought, and the last thing I expected on the grounds. But I won’t post the photo as I will leave it as a surprise for those who go there.
Sunrise KOKO is the lampworking studio of artist Akiro Katoh. This tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, shop is located on the main street of Nagahama just where the street is covered to protect from the rain. Akiro Katoh has appeared in Japanese contemporary glass bead making books and the Japanese lampworking magazine, Lammaga. Judging by his website, www.kosaisya.jp, there is a second shop in Nagahama, but I’m not certain as I didn’t see it. The shop I did visit is tiny but crammed pack with his beads. On his back wall are his more expensive and elaborate beads, along with works from other foreign glass artists that he is selling. I managed to get a photo of a Dan Adams and Celia Toops necklace! OMG, Celia’s glass mosaic work is really amazing! The necklace was so expensive, something like $2000 Australian dollars, way out of my price range but at least I got to see it up close. I would love to do a class with Dan and Celia one day.
The Narita Glass Museum (or Musee Narita as it’s sometimes called in brochures) is a private museum just 10 minutes walk from the main street. This museum houses about 50 works of the French glass artist René Lalique, all part of 70 pieces collected by one lady who lives in Nagahama. Lalique made and designed exquisite jewellery during the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. Jewellery was not his only work though and this museum shows his glass vases, sculptures and hood ornaments. A very impressive collection and I highly recommend it to glass lovers.
Now for the best part of my trip. The Kurokabe Glass Making School gives hands-on glass “experiences” to visitors for a reasonable fee. On my first visit here I booked into a glass sandblasting experience here. I met a gentleman, Tadayoshi Okuta, who is a glass fuser. We had a great conversation about glass art in our respective countries and then he invited me to his studio across the street! This was a great experience, and Tadayoshi and I chatted for quite awhile. He showed me some of his work and what was cooking in his kilns. Some beautiful work as well as some cute little glass animals.
The next visit to this town I booked into the glass blowing “experience”. These experiences don’t run everyday so it’s best to plan ahead, visit the town’s main website Kurokabe.co.jp , translate it to English so you can plan the days you go. And also maybe get your hotel to book you a spot. And I should explain what “experience” means. These are not glass classes or workshops where you are paying to learn about the craft. It’s just a brief experience where you just get to interact with the glass and the tools. It’s still great though and a good price I think. I had a look at the Kurokabe website above and there does seem to be some more in-depth glass classes availabe.
My glass blowing experience was really good and I loved it. The lovely girl who works at the reception, Miyako, really helped me and the glass blowing staff to communicate during the experience which I’m really thankful for. Anyways, I got to make a bowl made that I had to go back two days later to pick up. There is a possibility to have them post it to you, I think.
I also visited the Kaiyodo Figure Museum, also on the main street of Nagahama. Kaiyodo is a company that started out making little figurines that you used to find in breakfast cereal boxes. This museum shows where they started and all the pieces they’ve made since then, even a dinosaur that they created for the Jurassic Park movie. They have displayed a lot of their figurines in dioramas which looks like to be an impressive amount of work but a lot of fun to see. And then there is their shop…oh dear, some really cool collectable are available here!
We ate our lunch at a little restaurant next door to the Figure Museum (to the right when facing the museum). This lady does an awesome pork and noodle soup that we ate each visit. And coffee! It wasn’t espresso but it was lovely tasting filter. A little happy surprise for me in this restaurant were two cabinets filled with handmade glass beads! I found out that the restaurant’s owners’ husband is the lampwork experience teacher back at the Kurokabe Glass Making School. I only know his business name as “Glassbeads Kaka” and his website URL. Next time I’m in Nagahama, I will do the lampwork experience class so that I can meet him and actually experience Japanese glass bead making!
Other glass things to see in Nagahama that I can think of: Stained Glass Studio and Shop – they have classes here too; the Rattenbery Engraving shop; the giant kaleidoscope! Yes, Nagahama has a giant working kaleidoscope!
This post is quite long but I did warn you at the start that there was a lot to see in this one town, and there is a lot more – a train museum, a roman beer museum, a folk history museum, a castle. And this town used to have a gourd industry, a silk industry and they also have ceramic studio where you can attend classes! And the one amazing thing about Nagahama was that I didn’t even know about this place until my partner accidentally found it in the Lonely Planet guide book! We visited Nagahama the very next day. And then continued to visit is two more times over 4 days! Kyoto really didn’t compare with this place for us.
Other ways to get into glass while in Japan:
* Go to a kimono shop and look for the beads that are used on kimono belts. you can find some exquisite examples of Japanese designs in glass here.
* Otaru, a town in the far north of Japan that has a small glass blowing industry
* Hakone, a town more known for its hot spring, but it’s really pretty and has a cable that you can see Mr Fuji on a good day. Gora park has a glass hot shop. You can do a bit of hands on and make a cup for about $40, but you have to make sure you can pick up your masterpiece the following day. (From Nancy)
If you know of any other glass places in Japan, please put in a comment and I’ll add it to the post. Hopefully this will be a useful resource for glass bead makers who are wanting to travel to Japan.