Mt. Fuji Glass for new adults A gift giving for coming of age day in January
Hello, this is Kanako from SUNCHI editorial desk.
It is fun to both give a gift and also to receive a gift from someone, isn’t it? In Japan we have celebrations each month, for example the coming of age day ceremony in January and Mother’s day in May. For each of these celebrations we normally purchase gifts, so it is best to select a nice gift that properly represents your words. In this column series, I will select and introduce you to a potential gift for each month’s celebration.
To launch this series, I have chosen a gift appropriate for the coming of age day celebration. In Japan we celebrate those who have newly become adults (20 years old in Japan) on this day. This celebration was started in the Showa Era (1929-1989), so it is a relatively new custom, however it is already regarded as one of the main seasonal traditions. After some consideration, for those new adult friends who can finally enjoy adult life, I concluded Mt. Fuji Glass would be the best choice I could offer.
The Mt. Fuji Glass has been commercialized after winning the special recognition award at the Tokyo Midtown Award Design completion in 2008. This is a fantastic glass that combines a beautiful shape and sheer happiness that MT. Fuji appears when you pour drink into it. Alcohol is one of the perks of adult life and this glass will surely make your time with alcohol more attractive. It also implies a message; be the bigger person who is open-minded and tolerant like the big Mt. Fuji.
I was wondering how the shape of Mt. Fuji, which is the soul of this product, was made. In order to explore the secret, I have visited the workshop and then got to know there were even more reasons this glass was really best for the celebration of coming of age day.
Visiting the glass workshop in Kuju-Kuri where sea breeze blows
I visited Kuji-Kuri, Chiba prefecture where there is the main office and the factory of Sugahara Glassworks Inc., the company that produces the Mt. Fuji Glass. I was lucky enough that the president Mr. Yusuke Sugahara personally accepted my interview and guided the factory tour.
The grandfather of Mr Sugahara set up the first factory manufacturing glass works in Tokyo in 1934 and later he moved the factory to Kuji-Kuri. But why Kuji-Kuri?
“There used to be many glass factories in old towns in Tokyo and the one my grandfather set up was also in Sumida-ku region”
Mr. Sugahara explained, “But at the time he started feeling the factory was becoming too small for the increasing orders and looking for other place to move to, he had an opportunity to visit Kuju-Kuri to view the beautiful cherry blossoms and then he liked the place as its temperature and people were mild” Within the site of the company, there are a lot of cherry blossoms planted and now it is a secret spot for viewing the pretty cherry blossoms in Spring.
“It is essential to use sand for glass making. So we are often asked the reason why we are located here, and that is because we like the sand here.” Mr. Sugahara continues, “But that’s not the exact reason. Actually good ventilation of sea breezes contributes more than that since we regularly set fire in kilns”
In summer room temperature goes up to 50 degrees but still anyone can come to visit the workshop (pre-booking is necessary). The workshop creates and sells a range of 4000 different glass works annually and all of them are initially hand-made here. Of course this includes the Mt. Fuji Glass as well!
The moment of the production of the Mt. Fuji Glass
Firstly Mr. Sugahara showed us a prototype of their crucible, which is exhibited at the entrance of the workshop.
Artisans pour raw materials of glass and melt them in the crucible and once they are melted like a starch syrup, they wind it up into a ball. That’s how the glass making starts.
Mr. Sugahara explains, “Glass starts its solidification at around 600 degrees. So we must create a certain form before the temperature goes down to that point. In order for stable mass-production, we divided and share tasks. For example 4 artisans make 1 group for production of the Mt. Fuji Glass.”
There were more than 20 artisans in the whole workshop. I recognized there were some groups working on different products and each group was divided by the central furnace. I was fascinated by how perfectly their teams work and how flawlessly well organized they appeared to be.
After wandering around the workshop, we finally arrived at the group of Mt. Fuji Glass. They flexibly changed their ordinal workflow, which is done by 4 artisans, to a special workflow by 3 artisans so that it is easier for us to get a complete view of the production. Even though they lack 1 artisan, still their work flow was fluently interconnected and that was simply amazing!
They showed us the “mold blowing” technique; the first artisan makes a small lump of glass at a tip of a pipe (process 1), and then the second artisan uses it as a base and make it bigger ball-shaped by winding up some glass in the furnace (process 2)
After the third artisan sets the ball into a mold, then he rotates it and blow evenly in order to make the shape into the right form. (Process 3)
Soon after the shape is fixed, the first visual inspection is performed. Only glasses that cleared the inspections move onto a cooling process at an annealing furnace, which slowly cools down the glasses. (Process 4)
When glass is cooled rapidly, only the surface shrinks first and loses the integrity. That leads to possible fractures or cracks. So it is essential for all the glass works to slowly cool down in the annealing furnace.
“The surface of the glass will be rough if you blow too rapidly” the artisan who specialized in this process explained. They use water to wet the mold before they set the ball to blow. The water evaporates when it touches the hot glass ball and that makes a water screen in between the mold and the glass ball.
“This water process protects the glass surface not to touch the mold and that very much contribute achieving the beautiful surface” the artisan carefully explained “it is necessary to blow strongly in order to make it the target shape however if blowing is too strong, it breaks the water screen so the glass surface touches the mold directly. In the result the surface traces a texture of mold. So it actually requires technical skill to blow at the perfect balance to achieve the clear shape utilizing the evaporated screen”
According to Mr. Sugahara, among their range of 4000 glass works, the Mt. Fuji Glass is indeed one of the more “difficult” products to produce.