Burning Beauty

If your artistic inclinations lean towards the more esoteric or exciting creative processes, you may want to try your hand at glass-blowing. There is nothing quite like knowing that the tiny shape forming at the end of your tube is radiating a 1200 degree heat while responding to your very breath. And for those who are a little nervous, it is definitely comforting to have a helping hand in the process, which is why a guided glass-blowing session at Izumo Shrine is a must. (*Izumo Shrine is a 10min walk from Fukuhara Station on the Mito Line)025(1)The Camosu Glass Workshop located in the Izumo Annex of Ibaraki’s Izumo Shrine is a tiny one-man operation that began roughly 11 years ago at the behest of the head priest. Initially a highly-paid professional glass artisan was invited in from Shiga Prefecture’s famous glass town and plied his trade here, but it soon became obvious that the shrine would go under if they didn’t find a way to reduce costs. To that end, the head priest spent a full 6 months watching the glass blowing process carefully on a daily basis until he felt confident he could try his hand, and then spent the next six months working with the artisan to perfect his technique. Now he runs the workshop single-handedly, producing whimsical pieces of artistic glass as well as offering glass-blowing experiences to visitors.DSCN5014

A reservation is required in advance and the fee is 4200 yen per person for a half hour of tutelage, but the experience itself is well worth it. Mr. Takahashi, the head priest, is there with you every step of the way, and you not only get to choose the color of the glass but also the ultimate shape of it. Beginners are usually encouraged to try their hand at a cup or bowl, the simplest forms, but with a variety of colors and styles (from transparent to opaque, patterned or solid) you can easily make something fairly unique.057

It all begins with a small glob of molten glass on the end of your tube, which you gently inflate while constantly rotating (to ensure gravity doesn’t take hold); from there you repeat the process a few times while cooling the outside with air or water, flattening the base with a wooden paddle, and opening the mouth of the cup/bowl with metal pincers.DSCN5017

It can be very exciting watching your creation take shape in front of you, but be prepared to sweat! The twin kilns are well-shielded, but when standing in front of them to re-heat the glass you may get the sensation that your skin is being baked by a tiny sun. Long-sleeved shirts and pants are highly recommended, and sandals are probably not a good idea.

Once your piece is finished it is placed inside a third baking kiln to be tempered overnight; you then have the option of returning to pick it up or having it sent directly to your home (cash on delivery). If you’re lucky you may even get to see the head priest making a creation of his own, which is especially impressive once you have experienced how difficult the whole process already is with two people involved. Within ten minutes he can single-handedly create a beautiful piece right in front of your eyes, and he has the added benefit of specially crafted Venetian glass forms that can add intricate details to the surface of the glass.DSCN5029

Whether you want to try making your own creation or simply watch the process from afar, this is a unique artistic experience that is quite hard to come by and gives you a whole new appreciation of the level of skill and labor involved in making some of your everyday household items.

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