Updated: Oct 25, 2021
Yoshinori Kondo was born in 1975 in Osaka, Japan. When he was in his mid-twenties, he worked in a retail shop that started to sell glass pendants made by apprentices of Bob Snodgrass (@bobsnodgrass1946). Inspired by these pieces, he started making soft glass beads in 2001. It wasn’t until 2002 that Kondo started working with Borosilicate glass.
Less than a decade later, Yoshinori had his first group exhibition named “Glass Marble & Paperweight Arts Exhibition 2009.” In the years 2010 & 2011, Kondo won 1st place at the “Alphabet Marble Contest” for people's choice. At this point, his name in the glass art community was starting to take off. In 2013, Kondo joined a small group of Japanese glass artists and they took 1st place at the Treating Yourself Expo Flame Off that year in Toronto, Canada (ihe-importer.com). That group is now known as Team Japan.
Team Japan currently consists of three Japanese borosilicate flame workers - Daisuke Saito (DISK), Junichi Kojima (Rose Roads), and Yoshinori Kondo. The team formed at the Treating Yourself Expo Flame Off in 2013, as the three Japanese glass blowers showed up to represent Japan. Once they had won 1st place against the USA and Canada, they knew they were on to something and decided to form the well known “Team Japan” that we know and love today. Team Japan has become a staple in the glass community: not only by having widely recognizable, technical work, but because of their massive impact on the industry overseas. The team has opened many doors and created many opportunities for future Japanese glass artists (ihe-importer.com).
It's important to acknowledge that the climate and attitudes surrounding marijuana are much different in Japan; becoming an artist within the pipemaking community while living in Japan proved to be incredibly difficult and at times, dangerous. The Japanese term for hemp, taima, is derived from the Chinese term 'ta mà' (Cannabis in Japan - Wikipedia) and as of today, cannabis is not legal in Japan and can be punishable by law for up to 5 years if found to be growing or consuming without a license (pevgrow.com). Every year, around 2,000 people are imprisoned for marijuana or hemp related crimes. This statistic includes both foreigners and locals.
These laws surely promote advocacy, and there is a huge movement for legalization of marijuana and hemp in Japan. Nihon Scope, journalist for Japanese culture, stated, “Political leaders including Shinto Kaikaku have been on the front lines advocating for the legalization or at least the lift on the ban on hemp and marijuana in the country. This is an effort to fight for the interest of patients in the country who would benefit from medicinal marijuana and hemp.” Japan is a wealthy nation with more than 127 million people who could benefit from the medicinal properties that marijuana can possess.
However, there has been some breakthrough on the legalization of marijuana in Japan. The strict cannabis control laws were originally put in place SEVENTY years ago. Finally, back in 2018, there was an amendment on one of the clauses in one of the cannabis control acts: before, if you were caught with marijuana without proper documentation you could get up to seven years in jail. This has since been lowered to five. Though a small feat, it symbolizes change in the culture nonetheless. There are also many people advocating for lesser punishments than imprisonment.
It is also worth mentioning that the Cannabis Control Laws were originally put in place to help combat addiction. However, with new studies coming out every year, we have learned that while cannabis use can be abused like any substance, its addictive properties are significantly less than other controlled and non-controlled substances. We also now know that specific genetics play a role in how your body may react with potential addiction (Panlilio, Goldberg & Justinova, 2015).
The Depot reached out to Yoshinori Kondo and had an amazing conversation about his journey. He says, “Glass blowing looks like it’s easy by watching artists work, but if you try it for the first time, you can understand what we are dealing with. I think that’s not only for Glass blowing, I think it is like that for any kind of professional work. Our Boro glass art history is still younger than any other art.” The important take away from Yoshinori is that glass blowing is something that is a skill and is practiced. His skill is translated in his iconic work that our entire community, both local, and international, is something that we appreciate and love everyday.
Yoshinori Kondo is an amazing glass artist and human being within our community. His history, artwork, dedication, and kind soul will always be appreciated. If you’d like to read more about Yoshi, keep reading for a full interview from 2001! For those who choose to end here, thank you so much for taking a deep dive with us into Yoshinori Kondo’s journey as a glass artist in Japan. As always, have a great day #DepotFam!
Written and researched by Jordan Phillips
Edited and revised by Rach Beers
Panlilio, L. V., Goldberg, S. R., & Justinova, Z. (2015). Cannabinoid abuse and addiction: Clinical and preclinical findings. Clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, 97(6), 616–627. https://doi.org/10.1002/cpt.118
Yoshinori Kondo - Biography from ihe-importer.com
"This is How I started my Glass career.
The year 2001, I was working at a clothing store in downtown Tokyo. At that time I was hand making hemp necklaces and wallet chains at the store. I was always looking for the perfect sized glass beads to go with them.
About the same time, the store started to sell Boro Glass Pendants made by a Japanese artist who learned from Bob Snodgrass for three months. That inspired me to make my own beads.
Unfortunately I was living in a very small apartment (not an American standard) and had no money to start an oxygen torch. I had to convince myself to settle with an inexpensive Japanese air torch and very soft Japanese glass.
The first thing I bought was a book that showed me how to make Japanese beads with air torch. My little kitchen grill was converted into an ultra small studio by displacing the MSG and other seasonings with glass rods. This was the dawn of my glass career.
That next year, 2002, I moved to rural China prefecture, right next to Big Tokyo. Finally I was able to add Boro on my glass line. By the year 2008, I started making marbles full time. However, at that time, there was virtually no market for Boro marbles in Japan. I sold only 5 marbles that year.
That outcome made me work harder. I just could not understand why the marbles I made with full confidence and devotion did not sell well. I refused to accept the reality but worked harder and harder to improve my skills and uniqueness.
In the year 2009, the change finally arrived. I met a visiting artist, Josh Sable, in Japan. We made collaboration pieces together. Thanks to Josh, my Marbles got recognition beyond my expectation in the USA and other parts of the world. Now looking back at what I have done in the last few years, it proves that if you work hard believing in what you are doing things will come out just fine. I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my artist friends and clients.
For the last two years I am so happy to tell you that I have been devoting myself fully into making marbles injecting my free imagination and energy. I am the happiest man on the planet. Again I would like to express my utmost appreciation to all of the friends living all over the world from the bottom of my heart. Love and Peace."
Thanks again to Yoshi for sharing his journey and perspectives with us.