Glassmaker pitches balls for the Cup


HIRAKATA, Osaka Pref. — At first glance, it looks like a soccer ball, and you might even try to kick it. But the maker of this “ball” would beg you not to, because it is in fact a patented lampshade built of stained glass.

Kazuhide Yoshikawa wants several of the stained glass balls to illuminate the pitch of International Stadium Yokohama to welcome soccer players for the World Cup finals on June 30.

“It would be beautiful and effective to color the climax of the world’s biggest sporting event, especially if the light show is accompanied by music. It is this dream that has enabled me to keep working steadfastly on this stained-glass making,” Yoshikawa, 49, said.

If World Cup organizers like the idea, they will have to rely on Yoshikawa, because his balls and the method for producing them is patented in Japan, the U.S. and 19 European countries.

Yoshikawa said the secret to his work is the precise measuring used on each piece of stained glass.

“Because it is a three-dimensional object with no open end, unless each piece is measured and cut accurately, the last pieces will not fit at the end of assembly,” he said. “Other people may have tried to make a stained-glass ball, but I guess they couldn’t assemble the lower part.”

Yoshikawa, who is a senior managing director at a midsize machine tool factory in Osaka, has been creating stained glass products as a hobby.

About five years ago, the Hirakata native thought of creating something in a spherical shape — soccer balls.

But when he searched his books and catalogs for a model, he couldn’t find one. This forced him to come up with an original method for his idea, an adventure that benefited from his experience in the world of machine tools.

First, he cuts a piece of glass into a perfect pentagon and a hexagon the same size as a real soccer ball. Each piece is placed on a ceramic mold that bears the same curved surface a soccer ball has. After being heated to more than 700 degrees in an electric oven, the glass softens to fit the mold. Although the upper half is put together on a steel ball Yoshikawa made, the other half has to be connected without the steel ball.

“When I completed the first stained-glass ball, I knew I’d made something great,” he said.

But before the lampshade could be presented as a finished product, he first had to sort out several other details, including how to install a lamp on a marble base.

During that time, Yoshikawa had to bear the criticism of his wife, who complained about how much he spent on the works and, especially, on the cost of taking out the patent.

“Only recently, now that (the ball) has become a product, has my wife seemed happy to talk about it,” Yoshikawa said. “She hadn’t talked about stained glass or soccer, although she was the one who introduced stained glass to me.”

The soccer ball lampshade comes in two types and costs between 880,000 yen and 1 million yen, with the more expensive one designed in complicated patterns.

“You may say it is rather expensive, but considering the money I spent for the patent, I think it is reasonable,” he said, adding that he invested “a lot” in the patent.

Before the World Cup begins May 31, Yoshikawa hopes to sell as many lampshades to organizations linked to the event as possible. Although JAWOC, Japan’s organizing committee, has so far shown no interest in purchasing the products, some hotels are interested, he said.

Yoshikawa has not abandoned his dream of a World Cup final illuminated by ball-shaped lamps. “I am sure that if FIFA officials see these balls, they will like them.” He also plans to contact the world soccer governing body.

Even if he can’t sell out his stock of 200 lampshades, Yoshikawa has another plan: to manufacture stained-glass American football lampshades and sell them in the United States.

“I will work on it only after the World Cup,” he said.