When people think of crafts from Japan, glassware is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But even though the craft has a relatively short history in Japan, I personally think Japan boasts many glass makers who create exceptional work, both sculpturally and functionally.
An emerging example of this Japanese glasswork excellence is Floresta Fabrica, a studio of husband and wife glass blowing duo of Suzuki Tsutomu and Ai, based in Mori town of Hamamatsu city in Shizuoka Prefecture. ‘Floresta Fabrica’ is Portuguese for ‘forest factory,’ because Tsutomu and Ai wanted to honor the Portuguese who brought glass blowing techniques to Japan in the 18th century. ‘Forest’ refers to their hometown of ‘Mori’, which means ‘forest’ in Japanese. They established their gallery and residence inside an old Japanese house in 2016.
Tsutomu and Ai’s hand-formed glass vessels have very pleasing and slightly nostalgic forms and textures. “We thoroughly study the forms so that they are pleasing to look at and are comfortable to use” Ai explained. “We try to have the perspective of the user when we design the vessels.”
They are particular about forming each piece by only using hand tools because they believe that is the best way to convey the beauty of mouth-blown glass. For textured pieces, the mold is only used in the beginning to add the texture but shaping is done with hand tools. Ai said that mastering the use of tools is the most difficult process of glass blowing, and that she sometimes just wants to use her hands, but laughed that “would not end well.”
The batch, which refers to the raw material for the glass, is also very carefully selected for the transparency of the glasses. “We use batches from Sweden because they are very transparent, and we melt the materials carefully so that very few impurities get mixed up.” Any impurities will affect the clarity of the glass.
Ai studied glass blowing at the Osaka University of Arts. She was among the first generation of students that studied in the newly established department. “It was a very good environment because they had the newest and top of the line equipment,” she recalls. Tsutomu was born into a family of ceramicists in Mori, which is well-known for its Moriyama ware. He learned glass-blowing at the Tokyo Glass-Art Institute, and worked several years in Tokyo. The couple decided to settle in Mori after they got married because they believed it was the ideal location for their studio.
Tsutomu and Ai recently became parents to a baby boy and are very happy to be able to raise him in the beautiful natural environment surrounding their house. “This location works well because people come to town to see the ceramics and they also stop by to see our glass work,” Tsutomu said. They dream that Mori will be known one day for both ceramics and glasswork.
And history is on their side. Moriyama ware has a history of about 100 years, a relatively short timespan for ceramics in Japan. Moriyama was started by Nakamura Hidekichi, a local man who was so impressed by the story of Seto’s potter Kato Kagemasa that he invited a Shitoro-ware potter to establish a kiln in Mori. These days Mori is a well-established pottery town that is home to four families of potters.