August 23, 2016

Pre-war Japan glass: a journey to the U.S. by way of India

Pre War Japanese Glass CollectionWhen Cargo’s owners found these glass food jars in a dusty corner of a small shop in India, they knew they had stumbled upon a forgotten treasure, pre WWII glass from Japan. They bought the store’s entire collection. 

Glass is a newcomer to Japan, arriving in the 18th century through Portuguese glass blowers, many of whom came from Portuguese colonies in India. Until that time, glass was a rarity, a luxury item for the upper class. Utilitarian industrial glass didn’t become a part of everyday Japanese life until the late 19th century. 

Pre war Japan glass jar

The Shimada Company, which made this particular jar (left), was founded by Magoichi Shimada during the Meiji government. Trained by an Englishman, he introduced the first domestically produced sheet glass in 1903. As Japan prepared for World War II, Shimada began to produce glass food containers like this one to replace tin cans when metal was rationed.

But how did these food containers arrive in India? Actually, there is a long history of cultural relations between the two countries as early as the 8th century with the arrival of Indian monk Bodhisena who spread Buddhism in Japan. Because of the strong influence Buddhism had on Japanese culture, there is a strong sense of kinship with India, which can still be seen in Japanese folklore today. The first formal trade relations with India came as part of a modernization period for the entire country, which also spurred the advent of industrialized glass in Japan.

patty merrill cargo in india

Mystery solved! Luckily we have friends in India (with Cargo owner Patty Merrill right) who love collecting unique objects filled with history just as much as we do. Come have a peek at Cargo's Portland, Oregon store.