Glassmaking in Osaka

Glassmaking in Osaka

In 1884 the glassworks at Shinagawa was sold by the Meiji government to a Japanese investor and British influence ceased at Shinagawa. Two of the British instructors moved to a private glassworks at Osaka, Elijah Skidmore (crucible maker) and James Speed (glass craftsman and instructor).

This was a flint glassworks that had recently been opened by Ito Keishin, an entrepreneur who wanted to make western-style glass. Under the company name Nihon Garasu Kaisha (Japan Glass Company) the factory was popularly known as ‘Little Shinagawa’ because a great number of Shinagawa apprentices  went there with Skidmore and Speed.

Skidmore travelled around Japan looking for suitable fireclay for Ito, eventually finding it at Shigaraki, and returned to England some time in 1884/1885.  It is not known exactly when Speed went home but according to Japanese records he gave instruction at Ito’s factory for a few months during 1883, perhaps going home soon after.

6 soda glass beakers made by Nihon Garasu Kaisha
Six soda glass beakers made by Nihon Garasu Kaisha. Height 10.4 cm. Photograph reproduced by courtesy of Kobe City Museum, Japan. Biidoro-Shiryoko-Collection
The six glass beakers above illustrate the influence of British glassmaking. The handles are in a shell design which was being used in Edinburgh and the Stourbridge glassmaking district of England at around this time, two places where Speed had been living and working before he went to Japan.
Later in Osaka
Ito was an entrepreneur and contributed much to the development of the glass industry in Osaka. The city was to become very important in Japan’s modern glass industry. Some of the Shinagawa trainees attempted sheet glass several times, including Shimada Magoichi (who kept Speed’s portrait) but the first really successful sheet glass company was established by an associate of Shimada’s – Iwasaki Toshiya. Iwasaki founded Asahi Glass in 1907 at Amagasaki not far from Osaka. By 1910 the company was producing 4% of domestic glass needs. After WWI it was able to begin exporting glass. For the history of Asahi Glass up to the present time see here.

Shimada Magoichi went on to found a glassmaking business in the Osaka area which stayed in his family for three generations. After some brief success with sheet glass in about 1902 he returned to tableware. The modern company Toyo-Sasaki Glass traces its history back to Shimada and to his teacher James Speed on its website Toyo-Sasaki Glass, and Toyo Glass Co., Ltd. also has a direct link to Shimada.