Kousei Aoki, Glass Artisan
Kousei Aoki has continued to make glass items with a design reminiscent of snow crystals. It'll soon be 10 years since he set up his studio at the foot of Mt. Aburayama on the outskirts of Fukuoka city His great uncle was Shigeru Aoki, a famous oil painter representative of the Meiji Romantic movement. Aoki is a large, bearded man of 187cm, with his long hair tied back. He looks just like you'd expect an artist to, but when he speaks he leaves a delicate impression.
Aoki liked glass since he was a child, with an interest in jewels and jewelry design. As a student at Kyushu Sangyo University's Department of Fine Art he interned with Multiglass, then located in the Eastern district of Fukuoka city. This was his foot in the door, and he joined the company after graduation. However, the company broke up a year later and he joined Hagi Glass, located in Hagi, a city in Yamaguchi Prefecture. It was there that he discovered the "cracked glass" that would lead to his snowflake glass.
"It wasn't until recently that I got ideal kilns," says Aoki. Kilns come in varying types, with different fuels, temperatures, and sizes depending on what one wants to make. Electric kilns are inexpensive but lack heating power, so they aren't suitable for Aoki's glass. Oil kilns produce soot, so they weren't suitable either. His studio uses gas kilns, one big and one small used depending on the project. It took eight years to get the ideal kilns.
Cracked glass was born from a taboo. From a 1400 degree melting furnace, hard glass heated to a syrupy consistency is wound out with a stick. The glass is covered with a layer of soft glass powder, and air is blown in. The piece in then covered by another layer of hard glass to create a three-layer construction. Then comes Aoki's favorite part: the piece is transferred to a pontil rod for shaping. With the shape complete, the glass allowed to cool slowly overnight. As different types of glass cool and harden at different temperatures, it is taboo to combine more than two types of glass. Aoki's snowflake glass breaks this taboo. Accompanied by a dry metallic snapping, cracks appear on the soft glass, leaving the hard glass on the surface unaffected. After four stages of grinding, the piece is finally complete. The snowflake patterns continue to grow with love and use for three years.
Snowflake Glass has fifty products, including lowball glasses, beer tumblers, mugs, candle holders, sake cups, and saucers. They come in six colors, including clear. Whenever a new product comes out, Aoki takes another off the line in order to keep to an even 50. "Instead of just making something that seems about right for a lowball glass, I measure everything to make them the same," says Aoki. The product line is kept at 50 so item size can be kept consistent. He spoke passionately of his dedication to current products and his desire to sharpen the ones chosen for the future.Aoki's field is expanding. Japan Railways Kyushu's sleeper train, the Cruise Train "Seven Stars in Kyushu", uses Aoki's original glass works. They are reputed for their ease of use and tasteful elegance. They are made for those who want to drink their alcohol beautifully. The alcohol-loving Aoki's passion is sure to continue its spread.