I was bummed to miss out on booking a glassmaking experience when I was in Seattle, so it was a pleasant surprise when my husband found a glassmaking experience for us at Ryukyu Glass Village when we were in Okinawa earlier this year!
Ryukyu Glass Village has a few buildings across the area, with a lovely green lawn where I saw some children playing at.
There was a little colourful glass house that caught the attention of many children :D I wanted to go in to check out the different coloured light passing through the coloured glass but also didn't want to interrupt the kids.
One of the spaces is the glass making workshop - I think there were some workers making pieces on-site, but majority of the space looked like it was dedicated to glassmaking experience for the public. There a neat set-up where workshop participants get prepped with the right protective gear and shown the steps ahead of the real thing:
This is where we get to do a dry run to sit on a bench with handles to roll the molten glass into shape, just with a plastic cup as prop, of course.
There are a few choices of glasses to make - my husband picked the colourless transparent glass (not pictured here), and I got the one with the colourful speckled base:
This is how the colour specks are incorporated - the molten glass is rolled in these colourful glass chips, kinda like how one dips icecream to be coated in rainbow sprinkles
The experience comprised of two main parts - blowing the molten glass into shape, and then shaping the glass into the final drinking glass shape.
This is me at the first part - huffing and puffing to blow the molten glass. It's just like blowing into a balloon, but need to blow harder because glass is thicker than balloon 😝
This is the second part where I need to roll the stick the molten glass was affixed to, against a long metal tweezer / stick I was holding in my other hand to shape the glass. Because it involved two hands doing different things, I had a little bit of trouble with coordination (look at my emoji face 😦)
After some time and adjustment, I managed to get it into a somewhat acceptable shape 😮💨
And that's it! The entire experience took around just10 minutes, because they designed optimized the entire process for complete beginners to safely jump into and experience the key steps. There were professional glass workers helping with the other steps like getting the glass into a molten state in the furnace.
There were also other beautiful spots to walk around in and take photos at...
...including a recommended Instagram spot (with a helpful banner showing the recommended instagram photo 😄)
It's really lovely seeing light pass through coloured glass 😍
There were also various areas selling glassware, and my favourite find were these ones made with recycled glass from car windows. When travelling in Japan, I saw a number of shops referencing SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) - it's so nice to see businesses referencing them and trying to incorporate business practices to support the SDGs
Here are our two glasses we handcarried back from Okinawa to sunny Singapore:
I think we started with the same amount of glass, but mine is smaller than my husband's because I didn't blow as hard / much (I think) - my glass is thicker than his.
You can watch a short video I made on Instagram reels of my experience here
Details of the workshop
Duration: about 10 minutes, but the glass needs about 2-3 days to cool down before they are ready to be brought home. We also went earlier to secure a slot because they only take walk-in participants (no reservations). We found the details of the options and time slots on the website and used google translate.
Price: My colour speckled glass was JPY 3,850 (~SGD 36), and I think my husband's basic glass was JPY 1,620 (~SGD 15).
Level of "fun": 3/5
It was a new experience getting to work with molten glass, as it's usually such a hard and fragile material. It was fun to engage with it in its molten form to blow and shape it.
The overall experience was really pleasant - I was impressed with how the place was spacious and super well-ventilated so I did not feel warm at all (even though there were furnaces around to melt the glass). They have thoughtfully set up the flow to let participants experience the key aspects of glassmaking in a fun way (and even having recommended spots for your family/friends to stand to help you photograph yourself in action).
Level of difficulty: 1.5/5
The experience was designed to be very easy, and I saw very young children (looked like younger than 10?) giving it a try! The workshop held onto the more dangerous parts (melting the glass in the furnace), and carved out easy to do parts for participants to experience. There was always one glass instructor standing with the participant and guiding along the way.
While I took a bit of time to adjust to doing the second step, the instructor is always ready to help guide and correct the steps in case the glass was not shaping up well (pun intended). I'm sure they guide the younger participants' work more closely to help them get to a nice output. Overall, I found it a great easy way to get a first taste of glassmaking.
We don't speak Japanese, and the staff don't speak much English, but it was ok - we didn't need to use many words to communicate - we mainly needed to watch and follow the steps demonstrated.