An Innovative New Ambiance Rooted in Tradition
The Many Novel Ways to Enjoy Sake in New Glass and Silver Sake Cups
When thinking about "sake cup sets" used for drinking sake, most people probably imagine ceramic tokkuri server vessel and ochoko small cups. However, against the backdrop of a growing amount of non-Japanese and female sake lovers, new kinds of sake cups made from glass and silver have emerged, further diversifying the ways of enjoying sake. We visited 4 companies involved in making new sake cup designs and learned all about how wonderful these cups are.
For grape wines, different kinds of glasses are used depending on the flavor and aroma of the wine. With glass sake cups now available, sake can also be enjoyed in cups selected specifically to match flavors and aromas.
Preserving Glass Craftwork Traditions Passed Down from the Edo Era at Hirota Glass Co., Ltd.
Japanese glass tableware production started in the Edo era. In the Meiji era, the number of production plants in Tokyo increased and the glass phenomenon brought in from the West flowered into a new and original design tradition and culture through the handwork and techniques of Japanese artisans.
Ever since its inception in 1899, Sumida-ku based Hirota Glass Co., Ltd. has offered original glass tableware. They have been devoted to artisan handwork from day one, but with the introduction of inexpensive machine-made glass tableware products imported in massive amounts from foreign markets in the mid-1960s and 1970s, the number of manufacturers and artisans in Japan started to decrease.
Hirota Glass still preserves the handmade traditions of artisans to this day, however. They are even a part of the Tokyo Omiyage Project -Tokyo Souvenir-, which is aimed at foreign visitors in Japan and deployed in concert with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. A collaboration with a creative director selected by Tokyo led to the birth of the Kyukyoku no Nihonshu Glass Set ("Ultimate sake Glass Set," English title: "The Glass of SAKE"). One of the glasses in the 2 piece set, the plump shaped Tsubomi (Flower Bud), enhances the junmai-shu aroma and savory flavor of rice. The other glass, the Hana (Flower), is a bit tall with a rim specifically designed to be perfect for enjoying the vibrant aroma of daiginjo. The beautiful form complementing the female hand line and the thin, slender rim are proof of the genius of professional glass artisans.
Hirota Glass Co., Ltd.
2-6-5 Kinshi, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Discover the History and Beauty of Edo Cut Glass at Hirota Glass Craft
In the Tenpo Era (1830–1844) in the late Edo period, Kagaya Kyubei, who ran a Bidro toy wholesale operation in Odenmacho, Edo (currently Nihonbashi in Tokyo), took foreign glass products brought in by foreigners and decorated them with cut glass craftwork. This technique was passed on from generation to generation, and glass items that underwent that sort of processing in Tokyo came to be called "Edo cut glass."
The "Sumida Edo Kiriko Kan" operated by Hirota Glass Craft displays the history, work process, and tools that are used in this work. Visitors can see artisans inserting each cut glass pattern one-by-one. It is said that this may be the only place that uses handwork for all steps from the glass blowing stage to the final polishing.
"We cannot let the history and techniques passed down from the Edo era to be lost." This is the ideal kept alive by Tatsuo Hirota, who serves as the Chairman and Executive Director of Hirota Glass and the President of Hirota Glass Craft. With backup support from Tokyo, this tradition has been preserved by the very hands of a few select artisans in the form of a traditional craftwork christened "Edo cut glass" and "Edo glass."
A glass design from this company employing the Edo cut glass tradition was even used in the Tokyo city project called Tokyo Omiyage Project -Tokyo Souvenir-. The design blends a checkerboard and shichiho pattern for a traditional feel and an Edo stylishness. It is of course beautiful even as is, but pouring sake into the glass and putting it under a light will add an extra layer of delight in the form of a gently glittering undulation.
"Sumida Edo Kiriko Kan" offers more than displays. It also offers glass products for sale. In addition to classic red and blue glasses, there are Edo cut glass products in various color patterns and a modern style glass depicting the Tokyo Skytree in cut glass rendering, as if the monument was towering right there next to you. There is an amazing discovery waiting for everyone.
Hirota Glass Craft Y.K.
2-10-9 Taihei, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Kimoto Glass Tokyo Co., Ltd. Wants the Entire World to Know How Wonderful the Sake Glass Can Be
The setting is Okachimachi, Tokyo. Without even thinking, I found myself stopped in front of the luxurious lineup of glass objects displayed in a window facing a main street. This is the shop and showroom of Kimoto Glass Tokyo Co., Ltd.
Since its inception in 1931, Kimoto Glass Tokyo has operated a wholesale shop specializing in glass tableware. "We have maintained an unbroken business tradition of purchasing products from manufacturers and artisans and selling them to department stores and retailers," says third generation President Seiichi Kimoto.
The artisan techniques were definitely producing "good products." But Kimoto still felt that something was missing. And that ingredient was "design." Therein, he decided to get involved in production with designers, artisans, and plants able to craft Edo cut glass that complements the current times. Two years of work led to the birth of the black Edo cut glass called "KUROCO." The Edo cut glass tradition has woven together a long history, and this new development retains that beauty developed through artisan techniques while also being reborn in a modern and stylish way.
What captured the attention of idea pioneer Kimoto next was sake. An unrivaled sake fan, Kimoto was sharing a few drinks with a skilled designer friend when his friend asked him, "Do you have a special cup you like to use when you drink sake?"
Kimoto got involved in the production of cups to enjoy various kinds of sake. He visited sake breweries in regions all over Japan, gathered information from professionals like sommeliers, and quested for a shape that would bring out the aroma and flavor of sake while fitting even more firmly in the hand. And just like in the creation of black Edo cut glass, he integrated input from designers and creators into stylish designs that complement a modern lifestyle. The styles of sake cups created through this process currently number over 120 designs. He has categorized the glasses into five types of "Hana," "Sou," "Miyabi," "Jun," and "Wa," and pairs them with categories of sake in a user-friendly way.
"Drinking is believing. Try it and you'll be amazed." Urged on by Kimoto, I compared drinking the exact same sake in the sake glass commonly called "guinomi," and then in the "Sou" glass and the "Hana" glass.
Sipping sake from the guinomi sake glass, I sensed a strong alcohol feeling more than I did the aroma and flavor of rice, and there was a bit of acidity in the aftertaste as well. The aroma and flavor both changed to a refreshing and mellow impression when imbibing with the "Sou" glass. In contrast, when the rim of the "Hana" glass approached my lips, I felt a pleasant tickling of a vibrant aroma in my nostrils, and then experienced the full bodied savory flavor of rice expanding pleasurably through my mouth.
Linking with artisans, designers, breweries, and eateries, Kimoto strives to join hands with the sake consumer. He continues to spread the word about the amazing aspects of the ever-evolving traditional Japanese culture to people in Japan and across the globe.
And he also travels the globe to tell everyone about how wonderful sake glasses can be. When I met with him, he was actually forced to hold off on trips to the US, the Middle East, and Africa.
"From Tokyo to all of Japan, and onward around the globe. I want to keep on forming bonds with all sorts of people and showing everyone the wonder of craftwork and culture."
Kimoto Glass Tokyo Co., Ltd.
2-18-17 Kojima, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Kimoto Glass also offers sake glasses that make imbibing sake visually fun as well, such as silver cups with playful designs.
Moriginki Seisakusho Co., Ltd. Makes Traditional "Tokyo Silverware" Craftwork Items More Accessible
Thump, thump, thump!
A stretched and flattened sheet of silver that was melted at the high temperature of 1,200 degrees in a kiln and then slowly cooled. When the artisan put this circle-cut sheet on an anvil and rhythmically and carefully pounded it with wooden and metal mallets, it gradually took on three dimensional form and transformed into a guinomi sake cup that displayed a beautiful curved form in his rough hand.
Moriginki Seisakusho was founded in 1927 in an area called Shitaya-ku at the time (present Taito-ku) when Zennosuke Mori, who studied under master Ginza craftsman Katsunosuke Tajima, launched his own independent career as a tankin metal molding craftsman.
Masaru Mori, the fifth generational company president, explains, "Taito-ku from the Edo era onward was a place that saw a large gathering of artisans involved in silverware, like craftsmen who pounded out silver sheets to form three dimensional shapes (tankin metal molding craftsmen), carvers who worked decorative embellishments (repoussé craftsmen), finishers who handled work like polishing and the like (metal gloss craftsmen), and even artisans who made empress tree wood boxes to hold finished products. Even today probably over ninety percent of silver craft items are made in Tokyo. Tokyo is a major silver work production area."
When searching for something in a storage area, Mori stumbled upon something unexpected. He found a "gyokuhai" sake cup. When you pour sake into this kind of a cup, a round "gyoku" form takes shape inside. It looks almost like a full moon is floating right there inside the cup. Imbibing gives the magical feeling of draining the moon little by little.
In researching silverware that sets afloat an even larger round "gyoku" form, Mori collaborated with designers to produce a new kind of gyokuhai cup. The "Gyokuhai Nagare" features a hammered tsuchime pattern arranged in stripes on the outside of the cup, giving a shimmering effect when pouring in sake akin to the flow of a river or gently rippling waves. And in the center floats that perfectly round, beautiful "gyoku" form.
Another new kind of gyokuhai cup born from a blending of Mori's ideas, designs from designers, and artisan techniques is the "Ume Ichirin." This is a sake cup with real lacquer applied to the inside of silverware hammered out in the shape of an ume plum blossom.
Mori brims with confidence about his creation, "The word 'ichirin' can mean both 'one flower' and 'full moon.' First you pour sake into an ume plum blossom shaped cup. When you do this, it looks like the form of an ume plum blossom is reflecting in a full moon. The colors of red and white are both present, making this a sake cup that will add even more vibrancy to sake served at celebratory gatherings."
This "Ume Ichirin" cup was even selected to be a part of "TOKYO Teshigoto" a Tokyo city sponsored design project that works in collaboration with modern designers to promote in Japan and worldwide the wonder of detailed artisan handwork passed down from the Edo era. It is a gyokuhai cup that has successfully wedded tradition with innovation.
Mori concluded with these words.
"Sake is most delicious when you drink the regionally brewed sake in that region. So I really want Tokyo people to enjoy Tokyo sake. And of course I want them to use Tokyo silver sake cups when they do."
Moriginki Seisakusho Co., Ltd.
2-5-12 Higashiueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo
(Photographs: Hidetaka Yamada Text: Asako Nakatsumi)