Japan is famous for many things – glass production isn’t one of them. The more I was surprised to find an abandoned glass factory and wholesaler somewhere in the countryside.
Ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman glass, Venetian glass from the island of Murano, Baroque style Bohemian crystal… those were milestones, both technically and artistically. And though early glass production in Japan dates back to the Yayoi period (300 BC to 300 AD), production was suspended for several hundred years between the Heian period and the Muromachi period, roughly between 800 AD and 1600 AD. In the 1570s glass products and glass making was reintroduced by the Dutch and the Portuguese and spread from Nagasaki via Osaka and Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo), where glass production began in the early 18th century. The most famous and most expensive Japanese studio glass is from the second half of the 19th century, when Shimazu Narioki and his son Shimazu Nariakira invited craftsmen from Edo to the Satsuma Province (modern-day Kagoshima) in an effort to combine their knowledge with technology imported via Nagasaki, the *Rason* of the Edo period. After WW2 Japan became a world leader in the production of industrial glass while glass art was damned to a niche existence – Kagoshima revived their Satsuma tradition in the 1980s, Otaru and Sapporo are somewhat known for their glass craftsmanship… and in Okinawa you can take glassblowing lessons at several locations as a tourist attraction. (I took one in Sapporo and it was great fun, especially when you have to kill time on the way to the airport on a rainy day!)
Sadly there is a lot less known about the Kansai Glass Factory & Wholesaler. The oldest photos of the abandoned place I found were from 2009, showing a calendar from 1999 – so I guess it’s safe to say that the business closed about 15 years ago. At the time there were at least one or two additional buildings on the premises, gone by the time I went there in 2014. The main factory though is missing even on those older pictures.
All that was left in both 2009 and 2014 was a small abandoned glass furnace next to the mostly intact storage hall, a rather small administrative container building and several gas tanks all over the place, implying that the now leveled ground indeed once had production facilities on them. Oh, and there were a few abandoned cars, too, at first confusing me a bit since I assumed they were still in use as there are fewer items easier sold than cars…
The storage hall on the other hand was still quite busy. Maybe not used on a daily basis, but it seemed like the neighboring recycling company took over in the past few years. On older pictures the hall was mostly empty, with crates of glass products stacked in the back. Those crates were still there and kept me busy taking photos for about an hour, but in addition to that I found a couple of old fridges and a massive amount of huge sacks filled with cloth. I’m not sure what those were exactly, but the way they were warehoused didn’t inspire confidence, so I tried to keep my distance – better safe than sorry, especially since I was exploring solo.
From an urbex point of view the Kansai Glass Factory & Wholesaler left me with mixed emotions. There was a lot less to see than I was hoping for, but on the other hand it was a rare and rather unusual location. What elevated this experience tremendously was the walk from the nearest train station to the exploration location through picture-perfect countryside on a wonderful late summer day with picture-perfect weather. Living in a big city now makes me appreciate the rural areas even more…
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