Commitment of the Glass Craftsman to Continually Improving his Skills over 55 Years[Suikobo]

Commitment of the Glass Craftsman to Continually Improving his Skills over 55 Years[Suikobo]

As a craftsman he says, “there is no end to improving my skills”.

Tomonagi Abe, a glass craftsman, says so.

He has been making glass products for more than half a century, and he never compromises to improve his techniques.

Where does his passion and enthusiasm come from? We asked him about the secret.

Career of Craftsman

Q.Could you tell us about your career?

I started working in glassware making after graduating from junior high school at the age of 15. I am now 70 years old, so I have been making products for 55 years. I got into this industry because my father was a glassblower, so I followed his footsteps. I first joined a workshop that was quite large in the area at the time, and then I had a chance to work at my current workshop, where I continue to make products.

Q.You have been in this industry for 55 years! What kind of work did you start out with?

The first company I worked for had a division of labor and a very large number of craftsmen. Therefore, we were making products using a system in which each craftsman was in charge of each process, such as attaching glass to a rod, finishing, and so on. As a craftsman, I longed to be involved in the finishing process that makes the product look cool, but for the first two years, I was only in charge of the process of removing a lump of glass called a “glass seed” from the kettle at the end of the rod.

The amount of glass to be taken out must be adjusted according to the product to be made by turning the rod. At first glance, it may look easy, but it is very difficult because you cannot put the rod too deep or too shallow into the molten glass, and when making a large product, the amount of glass to be removed is large, so it is very heavy. It was tough to be in charge of one process all the time, but I acquired a solid foundation, and I think it helped me improve the quality of my products.

Hard things and Difficulties

Q.What have been some of the difficulties in your work so far?

There have been so many, haha.  I can't count the number of times I thought about quitting the glass manufacturing industry. I entered the industry at the age of 15, but by the time I turned 20, all of my 11 or 12 peers had quit except for myself. I guess it was difficult to continue for a long time because We were in charge of one process for a long time and the work environment at that time was harsh. I managed to continue and gradually became able to do the work, but there was a period when I was 20 years old when I wondered whether I should quit the glass industry.

Q.What happened when you were 20 years old?

I was one of the younger people in the workplace at the time who could do the work, but I was facing a lack of growth in technique. It was very hard for me to feel that I was not doing a good job myself, even if other people thought I was doing well. It was a time when I suffered from the gap between ideals and reality. I still feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish each product, but I still want to improve my skills even more. I think about what I should try the next time I make a product, or how I should make it this way, and so on.

What is Your Commitment to Product Creation?

Q.What are you particular about when making products?

I am always conscious of “creating products exceed the standards I demand". As a professional, it is a matter of course to make products that can be sold, but each product is never the same. For example, when we make a dragon's face, the expression on the face is completely different depending on how we put on the eyes, how we trim the beard and antlers, and the position of the ball in the mouth.

I am happy to hear from customers when they are satisfied with my work, but as a craftsman, I am always aware that I must exceed the standards I demand. That is really difficult, and I put my whole body and soul into each and every product. It takes a lot of energy, so I have to take breaks in moderation or else my body won't be able to handle it. haha

I also always keep a new perspective in mind when creating products. I always think, “What would the expression be like if I positioned the eyes here?", "What would the finished product look like if I combined this color here?" I am always looking for new possibilities. In this point, I sometimes ask for opinions not only from myself and the craftspeople around me, but also from children.

Q.Do you also ask children for their opinions?

We hold hands-on workshops for children to participate in making glassware, and when we try making a new product in the shape of an animal, we ask the children about it. When we make new products that resemble animals, we ask the children what they think, which is very helpful. For example, I made a product that imitates a tiger, but it looks like a pig. While adults are more considerate when asked, children frankly tell us, “It doesn't look like a tiger!” and we use this information to improve our products.

About Craftsmanship

Q.What does “craftsmanship” mean to you?

Craftsmanship is someone who keeps "Continuing efforts". I think a craftsman is someone who is obsessed with one thing and continues to work hard at it. Of course, simply creating something does not improve one's skill. I feel that by being curious, making new attempts, and taking a new point of view into consideration, one can improve one's skills and create better products. There is no such thing as “perfection” in this world. It is not a case of “the end is when this is done,” but rather a repetition of the same process, as new standards are established when one is surpassed. In fact, I am keenly aware every day that I still have a long way to go, so I want to get better and better at what I do.

To Customers use Glass Products

Q.Please give a message to customers!

The glass products we make at our workplace are made of glass, so we are very happy if you take good care of them and use them for a long time so that they do not break. Although they can break if dropped, they do not rot, so they can be used for decades. 

Making Process of Glass Products