「枡」の新しい役割を探して

[From October Issue 2014]
201410-3
Masukoubou Masuya
“Sake comes in a one ‘shou’ bottle.” “Boil two ‘gou’ of rice.” ‘Shou’ and ‘gou’ are both units for measuring volume. These units are measured in a special container made from Japanese cypress called a “masu.” Japan used to use shou and gou for measuring units, but nowadays liters and kilograms are mostly used. Masu are used more often as cups for drinking sake, rather than as measuring utensils. And even this (way of using them) isn’t very common.
OHASHI Hiroyuki, the third generation director of Ohashi Ryoki (Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture), is trying to find new uses for his masu. Masu have been familiar objects to Ohashi since childhood, but upon graduating from college, he joined IBM and his life took a completely different course. However, when he went home at the age of 27 to announce his engagement to his parents, they asked him to take over the family business. Two years later he quit his job and took over the business, initially with little enthusiasm.
He changed his mind when he took a look at their accounts. “The sales figures were about half of what I’d heard from my parents when I was in junior high school. I was so alarmed that I made the round of our customers across Japan.” In four years, sales rose back up to 80% of what they once were. Yet, around the same time, he started feeling that his sales efforts weren’t making much difference anymore. “I began to understand that if we continued to sell cheap we couldn’t expand.” That was the second time warning bells went off.
So he began to wonder if he could create something new by improving his masu. At the same time, he tried to satisfy all of his customer’s requests. He soon secured a large order. It was a huge opportunity, but the quantity was such that he failed to handle it properly and ended up delivering a large amount of defective products. “That was a huge failure. Since then, I’ve decided never to take on any work we can’t deal with.” Adopting a policy of selling only quality handmade products, he managed to create different models of masu by producing a variety of prototypes.
To sell these items, in 2005 he opened the factory store “Masukoubou Masuya” on his factory site. By offering unusual products – storage cases for knickknacks with synthetic marble lids, triangular sake cups, different-sized masu for easily measuring ingredients for bagels or buns with a bean-jam filling – more people took an interest in masu itself and the sales of traditional masu also increased.
Ohashi is enthusiastic about overseas marketing. In order to do this, rather than advocate that they are used in the same way as they are in Japan, he intends to suggest different uses of masu to suit different lifestyles. “Should we market masu with additional features or create something entirely new? It’s hard work to come up with ideas, but I wouldn’t be happy if our products were only used for a short time.” At a trade fair in New York, he showcased them as containers for seasonings, including sugar, and also as utensils for measuring ounces.
Masu have been used for 1,300 years since the Nara era (8th century). Ohashi describes the appeal: “Its story has been cultivated by its long history. It’s possible to sense the smell and warmth of Japanese cypress. It also has a complete, simple beauty.” His newly purposed masu have inherited those characteristics.
Masukoubou Masuya
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年10月号掲載記事]
201410-3
枡工房枡屋
「一升瓶に入ったお酒」「お米を二合炊く」――升も合も体積を表す単位です。枡というヒノキで作られた専用の容器を使って量ります。かつての日本では升や合が一般的な単位でしたが、今ではリットルやキログラムを使うことがほとんどです。枡も量るものとしてではなく日本酒を飲む器として使われることのほうが多くなりました。ただしこちらもそれほど日常的ではありません。
そんな枡に新しい役割を与えようと試みているのが大橋量器(岐阜県大垣市)の三代目当主、大橋博行さんです。大橋さんは小さいころから枡に親しんできましたが、大学卒業後はIBMに就職し全く別の道を歩んでいました。ところが27歳のとき、結婚を知らせるために実家に帰ると親から跡を継ぐように言われます。2年後に退職して跡を継ぎますが、最初は熱心にはなれませんでした。
気持ちが変わったのは決算書を見たときです。「中学時代に親から聞いた数字の半分くらいでした。それで危機感を抱いて全国を営業してまわったんです」。4年ほど経つと売り上げがかつての8割ほどに戻ってきました。しかし同じ頃から営業にあまり手ごたえを感じなくなります。「安く売るというやり方では限界があると肌で感じました」。これが第二の危機感でした。
そこで枡を改良して何か新しいものができないかと考え始めます。また、お客のどんな要望も聞き入れるようにしました。そうするうちに大口の注文が舞い込みます。大きなチャンスでしたが、注文数が多すぎてさばききれず不良品を大量に出してしまいました。「あれは大失敗でしたね。それ以降自分たちでできること以上の仕事はしないと決めました」。手作りで質のいいものだけを売るという方針で試作品を作るうちに様々な枡ができあがりました。
2005年にはそれらを販売する「枡工房枡屋」を工場の敷地内にオープンします。人工大理石のふたをつけた小物入れや三角形のおちょこ、ベーグルやまんじゅうの材料を簡単に量れる枡セット――一風変わった品を置くことで枡自体に興味を持ってくれる人が増え、昔ながらの枡の売り上げも伸びました。
大橋さんは海外展開にも積極的です。その際、枡をそのまま紹介するのではなく、それぞれの生活様式に合った使い方を提案したいと考えています。「枡プラスアルファで展開するか全く新しいものを作り出すか。考えるのはとても大変な作業ですが、一時的に使われて終わりにはしたくないんです」。ニューヨークでの展示会では砂糖などの調味料を入れる容器として紹介したり、オンスが量れる枡も用意しました。
枡は奈良時代(8世紀)から1300年使われてきました。大橋さんはその魅力を「長い歴史で培われてきたストーリーがあるところ。ヒノキの香りと温もりを感じられること。そして完成されたシンプルな美しさがあるところ」と話します。それらは新たな用途を持った枡にも引き継がれています。
枡工房枡屋
文:市村雅代

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