When I first came across the brown ittobin, I knew I needed to do a refresher on what these amazing jugs are and how they relate to glass floats.
Ittobin is a Japanese version of a demijohn. Bin in Japanese, means bottle and Itto simply translates to 18 liters (5 gallons). Domestic manufacturing started 150 years ago. It was used commonly for sake, shoyu, water, vinegar and other solvents. Before glass, wooden barrels were used. Around the 1970's, plastic replaced glass as the preferred material for these containers.
Most ittobin are found in aqua and green. So coming across a brown one was extra special.
And I'm sure just like modern beer bottles, brown would have been chosen for its greater UV blocking capabilities.
Anyone else love the wonky bottle rim?
Adar waiting patiently during the photoshoot.
So were these glass bottles created from glass floats or were glass floats created from these bottles?
The answer is: glass floats were made directly from recycled glass. Mr. Asahara, great grandson of one of the first glass float makers in Japan, explained that glass floats were never made directly from sand but always with recycled glass. They would break sake bottles, ramune bottles, Coca Cola bottles, shoyu bottles and other glass materials which would be melted down and shaped into a sphere. The floats were a great tool so they wanted to produce as many as possible. Therefore in order to keep the operation costs down, recycled glass was used.
Typically (just like the ittobin,) floats are blue or green. This is because blue and green were the predominant color of glass bottles at the time likely caused by the impurities and high iron oxide content of the sand available.
Of course there are other colors like brown which came from beer bottles and even more rare colors like cobalt, purple, red and orange that came from excess glass from glass factories making high end products.
Mr. Asahara explained that the brown floats were not as popular amongst the fishermen so not as many were produced compared to their green and blue counterparts. The brown floats were made from large sake and beer bottles. Furthermore, according to Mr. Asahara it was thought that the blue and green were more popular colors for fisherman because they would blend with the ocean best so as to not startle the fish.
Walt Pich shares that exceptions in color would occur when truckloads of brown beer bottles would appear at a glass factory. This excess of glass would result in the creation of glass floats.
The amber 3 inch glass float features a star with the character that translates to"master". Walt Pitch shares that the popular star may have originated in as many as four countries: Japan, Korea, China and Russia.
One beer bottle that I found in an antique shop is this Kirin pre-war beer bottle. With its round body shape, it differs considerably in appearance to the modern day Kirin beer bottle.
This reads キリンビール (read right to left) and means "Kirin Beer".
Beautiful designs and textures.
The horse looking animal on the bottle is a mythical creature that has been part of the logo since 1933.
"The KIRIN is a mythical creature, a messenger of good luck. Derived from various ancient legends, it is said to appear as a prelude to joyous times to come. The KIRIN, a gentle creature, flies the skies; its feet never touching the ground as not to harm any insects or plants. Also known as a symbol of a peaceful world, it is said to bring days full of peace and tranquility."https://www.kirinholdings.com/en/profile/philosophy/kirin/
Apparently, if you look closely, the katakana characters for "ki", "ri" and "n" are hidden in the the mane of the Kirin Beer label. However it is said to be a mystery whether the graphic designer of the label wanted it to be "playful" or in fact created it to "prevent counterfeits." https://www.kirinholdings.com/en/profile/philosophy/kirin/
Here is the bottle used as part of my autumn decor.
So although brown glass is still widely manufactured and used today, I was shocked and delighted to find older beer bottle shapes and in the ittobin size. It seems like they were much more rare than the ubiquitous blue/green glass of the era. From sand comes bottles, from bottles come glass floats, and is it a wonder why they look so much at home on the beach for this photo shoot? I, for one, am grateful that for a moment until they return to their original sand form we can have them in our homes as cozy autumn decor that brings much happiness.