It shouldn’t come as a surprise, from the country known as the ‘land of the rising sun’, that symbolism plays an important role in Japanese culture. The crane, for instance, is often seen in origami (the Japanese art of paper folding). As a symbol of longevity, the folding of a thousand paper cranes is fabled to grant any wish, and as such, they are given as gifts to family and friends who have been taken ill. Ingrained as motifs that occur throughout Japanese culture and art across the ages, symbols have allowed beautiful artwork to be created, with powerful meanings behind them.
Here, we take a look at the matrimony of two quintessential Japanese things – whiskey and beautiful Japanese symbols – in the whiskey glasses that can be found at Kori whiskey.
Japanese whiskies are world-renowned for their quality, having often come out on top even when put alongside strong competitors like Scotch. Glasses serve as an integral part of the drinking experience, and how better to enjoy the fermented beverage than in glasses that remind you of the rich culture of Japan? At Kori Whiskey, each glass comes with a special theme, often symbolic of a Japanese heritage.
The lotus flower is a symbol of purity in Japan, and its reputation is well-deserved. The lotus flower is resilient – it will bloom from even the dirtiest of waters, rising above all to display its beautiful pink petals. In Buddhism, the second biggest religion in Japan (after Shinto), this is seen as enlightenment.
The Lotus glass at Kori whiskey is beautifully shaped, bearing semblance to the blooming cup-shaped lotus flower in mid-July.
Bonsai is a favourite of ours at Nakama and we keep coming back to it. As a miniature tree that you can grow either indoors or outdoors, bonsai has become extremely popular these days, both for its aesthetic and for its association with harmony and peace.
A feature of a good bonsai is that its surface roots (called nebari) are visible and open to the elements. This exact characteristic is drawn to attention in the Bonsai glass at Kori whiskey, which is designed to encapsulate the visual features of the roots.
Mount Fuji probably needs no further introduction. In Shinto and Buddhism, Mount Fuji is regarded as sacred; beyond religion, the sight of its beautiful snowy cap that can be seen as far as Tokyo attracts heaps of visitors every year.
The Fuji glass captures the mouth of Mount Fuji, creating an almost conical, but still very tasteful, whiskey glass.
Although Mount Asama may not mean much to the average Japanese, it holds a special meaning to the whiskey community. Situated on Mount Asama, a town called Miyota was the birthplace of the Karuizawa distillery in 1955, which eventually closed in the early 2000s.
Its remaining stock, now sold as matured, vintage drams, means that they are sold as one of the rarest whiskies in the world. The Asama glass itself is quirky, containing a small geographically mapped sculpture of Mount Asama.
Sakura — cherry blossoms — is the national flower of Japan. Every spring, streets upon streets of Japan transform for a short period, looking as if a vast pink cloud had descended upon the streets.
People feast and celebrate under the trees, where the transience of beauty is celebrated — a symbolism of mortality and life. Etched on the Sakura glass at Kori Whiskey are the words 山桜 (Yamazakura — a species of sakura, but it can also mean wild cherry blossoms).
While the blooming of sakura is a sign of spring to come, winter is felt just as much in Japan, where the white snow is a symbol of purity. In particular, there is great significance in “hatsuyuki”, meaning the first snowfall of the season.
The transience of the changing of seasons is at the heart of Japanese wabi-sabi philosophy — where beauty is seen in transience and imperfection. On the Yuki glass at Kori whiskey, the words 初雪 (hatsuyuki) etched on the glass add a delicate touch and detail to the design of the glass.
The Nami glass in the collection is the most special in terms of colour, in an eye-catching light blue, exemplifying the feature of Nami, meaning “wave”.
Waves often feature in Japanese designs in the form of “seigaiha”, arches of concentric circles, representing waves of good luck. It is said that the seigaiha pattern was inspired by the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa itself!
Hisame, which literally translates to “ice rain”, refers to an ice storm or hail in Japanese.
While this does not particularly have a strong history of symbolism in Japanese culture, the glass is a piece of artwork in itself, its shape reproducing the hail during snowstorms in northern Japan. It’s one to have for the collection.
This article would be unending if we were to go through all the glasses, but each one of them is just as unique and symbolic as the next. Each of the glasses come with its original wooden casing, and they are produced using the Edo Kiriko technique.
These techniques have been passed down from generation to generation from 19th-century Edo and are a special way to cut patterns on whiskey glasses. In 2002, it was recognised as a traditional craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
The skilful craftsmanship is clear to see on these glasses at Kori whiskey, where the fusion of Japanese culture, symbolism and craft come into one.