• 日本語に突撃

    [From February Issue 2012]

    Daniel ROBSON

    Japan can be intimidating for newcomers, but plenty of people who arrive with little or no language skill under their belt can still find success. “I came to Japan armed with a teeny, tiny amount of spoken Japanese,” says Daniel ROBSON of his arrival here in 2006.

    That little Japanese was “mostly learned from Japanese punk and pop songs or from this awful home study CD that taught me how to speak perfect Japanese circa 1930. Whenever I spoke Japanese learned from that CD set, people laughed.”

    Now, his work relies on interactions in Japanese. “I work as an editor at The Japan Times and a freelance writer for publications around the world. I also run a tour agency, ‘It Came From Japan,’ which takes Japanese bands to tour abroad, and I put on a monthly live show in Tokyo called ‘Bad Noise.’”

    He explains, “As a freelance writer, I use Japanese to line up assignments, interview bands or videogame creators, and so on – I write about music, games, city guides and Japanese culture in general, so of course I need to understand what the hell is going on around me in order to write about it.” And moreover, “As for booking bands for live shows and organizing tours, I couldn’t do a good job at any of that without being able to contact bands, create promotional material, chat with customers and so on.”

    So how did Robson do it? “I really wanted to become fluent, but as an overworked freelancer I never had much time to study.” At first, “I mostly learned by osmosis, drinking in the sort of bars where no one knew any English and I would be forced to speak Japanese.” It was slow going, “but I picked things up slowly but surely, and eventually got a teacher for one-on-one lessons, which I kept up for a year and a half.”

    He also met his future Japanese wife, who spoke little English, the bonus was that it, “helped in terms of practice!” He recalls, “I guess the biggest challenges at first were things like phone calls to sort out a bill or some other problem, and of course kanji.” But persistence is key: “Bit by bit it all sticks.”

    “It’s inevitable that one has to adjust to the customs and culture of another country.” Yet there are still situations when Robson says, “You want to smash your head repeatedly against a wall … Like when someone says ‘it’s difficult’ when what they really mean is ‘no.’ You have to learn to read those situations.”

    And I still struggle with kanji, whether it’s penetrating a short email or enduring 50 hours of Final Fantasy XIII for a review.” But as he says, “There are other difficulties, sure, but no one ever got anywhere by focusing on the negatives!”

    Being married to a Japanese, “We speak Japanese at home 99% of the time, and these days I even understand my in-laws slightly old-fashioned vocabulary.” Besides, he loves living here. As he says, “Tokyo is 300 times better than London in almost every way, and I love it here.”

    Bad Noise

    Text: Gregory FLYNN





    今では、彼の仕事は日本語でやりとりします。「私はジャパンタイムズで編集の仕事と、世界の出版物のフリーライターをしています。バンドツアーの手配会社『It Came From Japan』も経営しています。これは日本発信の仕事で、日本のバンドを海外ツアーに連れていきます。『BAD NOISE!』というライブも東京で毎月行っています」。


    それでは、ロブソンさんはどうやったのだろうか? 「流暢になりたいと本気で思いましたが、働きすぎのフリーランスには勉強する時間があまりありませんでした」。最初は「主に英語を知らない人しかいなくて、自分から日本語を話すしかないバーのようなところで飲んで、少しずつ学びました」。それには時間がかかりました。「でもゆっくりですが確実に理解し、やがてマンツーマンでレッスンしてくれる先生を見つけて1年半続けました」。





    Bad Noise


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  • ビジネス文化は思いもかけないことがある

    [From January Issue 2012]

    Alessandro ALLEGRANZI

    Although Alessandro ALLEGRANZI, holds dual American and Italian citizenship, Japan has fascinated him ever since reading the samurai novel Musashi in junior high school. “It was great fun, and really opened my mind to a completely different culture and world,” he says.

    “I’ve had an interest in Japan since that time, but unfortunately didn’t get to study the language until college, when I attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenessee, USA. I studied the language for four years.”

    The big change for his Japanese came, however, during his semester abroad at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. “I remember for the first few weeks people kept giggling at my Japanese, and when I asked why, they said it was because I spoke like an old woman. Thankfully, after a few yakuza and samurai period movies, the problem solved itself.” He goes on, “I learned more during those four months in Japan than during the four years in the US combined.”

    He now works for a freight forwarding (shipping services) company in Tokyo. “I focus on the USA-Japan lane, and sell the company’s services, organize rates and customer support, etc.” More specifically, “On a typical day, I actually spend most of the time outside the office, making sales calls, visiting clients and prospects. I usually get back to the office around four or five, and stay there until seven or eight glued to the computer doing correspondence and clerical stuff.”

    “I am the only foreigner in the office. The vast majority of my sales calls are in Japanese.” He continues, “Business Japanese is a totally different beast. Just in terms of vocabulary I felt like I had to learn a whole new language. ‘Bonded warehouse,’ ‘customs inspection,’ etc., were all terms I had to learn from scratch. Additionally, in school I had learned keigo (formal Japanese) towards the end of my studies as a sort of afterthought.”

    The culture also presented some surprises. For example, “One of the guys who works under me in exports leaves every day at 6pm sharp.” As a result, everyone criticizes the man: “He is lazy; he doesn’t care about the job, the list goes on.” Yet, according to Allegranzi, this is the most efficient man in the office. “To me, as an American, the whole phenomenon is ridiculous. However, in Japan, in a lot of cases, how long you work equals how well you work.”

    According to Allegranzi, this is because, “In Japan, generally the company is the focus, and the individual is a cog in the machine.” But actually, he has come to appreciate one effect of this. “The sense of unity and togetherness also has its positive side. It takes a while to break in and be accepted, but once you’re part of the group, you’re in.”

    Text: Gregory FLYNN











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  • シニア劇団と共に歩む

    [From December Issue 2011]

    Theater Group Suzushiro

    In Minoh City, Osaka Prefecture, there is a senior citizen’s theater group called “Suzushiro” whose members are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The group, which now has about 20 members, was first established after a theater class for local citizens, “Introduction to Theater for People Aged 60 and Older,” was held in 2004. Since its foundation, the company has been lead by KURATA Misao, who also works as an actor.

    “Back then, I was 28, quite young, so I was worried whether I could teach people who were more than double my age,” says Kurata, speaking about how he began feeling his way around the task of teaching an amateur theater group made up of only elderly people – a rarity in those days.

    Problems such as clashes of opinion in meetings or difficulties memorizing lines cropped up one after another. After overcoming these problems they had their first performance, which turned out to be a great success, and they gradually began to win support from audiences. “Unlike performers in professional or young theater groups, it often takes time for elderly members to learn to do what I advise them during practice, but since people at this generation show respect toward their instructors, the members trust in and listen to my opinions as a director, which I really appreciate,” says Kurata.

    In June 2010, they gave a performance at an off-Broadway theater in New York, which in Japan received a lot of coverage in local magazines, and also on Japanese TV and in newspapers. The plot is as follows: two men, who have died unexpectedly, hesitate to go to heaven and instead talk to each other about their lives in the waiting room of a funeral home while meeting each other’s families.

    The play starts off in Japanese with English subtitles, then English is gradually introduced, and eventually it is entirely spoken in English. “Some of the members had never learned English at school because Japan was at war in those days, but they studied the language extremely hard before they went on stage,” says Kurata. “They had a chance to interact with local American seniors, which made me grateful for the peaceful state of the world.”

    Working as a producer and director, Kurata turned videos of how they had worked toward their performance in New York into a documentary movie titled, “Harebutai wa Broadway de!” (The Big Moment in Broadway!). The movie is scheduled to be shown in Spring, 2012 at Uplink Factory in Shibuya, Tokyo.

    The promoter of the theater group AKITA Keiko says, “I never expected that an activity we’d started simply for our own pleasure would have an impact on society. The theater is fascinating because it allows you to look at yourself objectively. There are a number of hurdles that we faced because the members were elderly people, but we would like to continue doing this.”

    “In a play, we can naturally express the things that have been building up inside us, which I think is great,” says TOYODA Asahi, a member of the group and a former principal of an elementary school. “People who come and see the play tell me that they feel a sense of release.”

    Kurata says, “When I was studying drama, I hoped that I would one day participate in activities which could make a contribution to society. There was a time when I assumed that this would only be possible after I became a professional actor and got famous. Through the activities at Suzushiro, I realized that what I’m doing now is just that.”

    Theater Group Suzushiro

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko














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  • 見本が生んだ奇跡の糸

    [From November Issue 2011]

    Sato Seni Co., Ltd.

    When the Inauguration Day ceremony of American President Barack OBAMA was held in Washington DC, the attire worn by Michelle OBAMA caused a stir. It is customary for First Ladies to wear suits for official functions, but Michelle instead wore a cardigan designed by the famous French fashion brand, Nina Ricci. The yarn used to create the cardigan was developed by Sato Seni Co., Ltd.

    Sato Seni started out as a knitting subcontractor. But in the 90s business became very tight. This was because many Japanese companies moved production to China. Many clients repeatedly pressured Sato Seni to lower their prices. Sales figures dwindled to just a third of what they had been during the company’s peak. In 1991, Sato Seni had no other choice but to cut its staff of 130 by almost half.

    The president of the company, SATO Masaki himself scrambled this way and that to get commissions. Still no sales were made. In the midst of this, an Italian company from whom Sato Seni purchased yarns invited Sato to their factory. The owner took Sato around the factory, showing him how yarns were processed for high-end and specialty materials.

    “Even first-rate designers cannot make yarn. That is why factories like us have to motivate fashion designers,” said the Italian factory owner, holding himself with pride. “I felt embarrassed that we only created things that we were ordered to make. It was also shocking to find that the specialty yarns were made with the same machinery we used,” says Sato.

    Sato returned to Japan determined to start afresh. “To meet the orders we received we had been copying Italian products and technology, but from here on there would be no more copying. Rather than blindly creating yarns, we had to copy the spirit of Italian manufacturing and create our own one-of-a-kind yarns.” This is how development began to create specialty yarns. It was very difficult to alter the mindset of the craftsmen, but through brainpower, guesswork and hard graft, Sato Seni succeeded in developing unique yarns. The next task was to find a way to have people appreciate the quality of these products.

    Sato reasoned that if the product’s value could be approved by internationally acclaimed figures, the brand value would soar. With that thought, Sato proactively took the most unique yarns to various international exhibitions. At one of these major exhibitions, namely the Italian Pitti Immagine Filati, the designers for Nina Ricci took notice of them.

    Sato Seni provided Nina Ricci with what is generally called “mohair yarn.” The knitted cardigan that Mrs. Obama wore was made from the finest mohair in the world. Mohair yarn is made from the rare natural hair of Angora goats. It has a very soft feel to the skin. The designers of Nina Ricci gasped in surprise at the fineness of the yarns created by Sato Seni.

    Sato Seni grew into a successful company that provides over 1,500 kinds of specialty yarns, busily receiving orders from internationally famous fashion brands including Chanel. They have strengthened their brand identity brand in Japan as well as throughout the world. Their net income has successfully grown six fold in the past five years.

    Sato Seni Co., Ltd.

    Text: TAKAHASHI Yoshinori













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  • 高級品のイメージを変える、日用品としての漆器


    Have you ever heard the word “urushi”? Urushi (lacquer) is natural paint made of sap extracted from lacquer trees. Wooden objects coated with lacquer are called lacquerware. The fact that in written English some people refer to lacquerware as “japan,” demonstrates lacquerware’s importance as one of Japan’s most treasured artifacts. Lacquerware “wajima-nuri” produced in Ishikawa Prefecture is well-known.

    Born into a family of kijiya (craftspeople who construct the wooden bases) for wajima lacquerware, KIRIMOTO Taiichi, went on to study design at college after graduating from high school. Soon after entering college, Kirimoto was deeply moved by the words of a teacher he held in high regard: “designing is the act of enhancing the quality of people’s lives and making them feel more comfortable.”

    Many people still believe that wajima lacquerware is a luxury item. During the bubble years (the economic bubble of late ‘80s Japan), pieces of makie (a technique for drawing a picture or a pattern in lacquer, sprinkling it with gold and silver powder and then polishing it) furniture that were worth over 10 million yen were sold one after another. “Such a situation is not going to last for long, so we should seize the day,” Kirimoto said to his father. But after his father advised him to devote himself to the work at hand, he instead focused on putting the business on a firm footing.

    Before long, the bubble economy burst and orders for artistic lacquerware plunged. This prompted Kirimoto to start making lacquerware for everyday use as an “urushi design producer.” But in the traditional world of wajima lacquerware, the general practice is that nushiya (those who produce and sell lacquerware) take orders from customers first, and then pass on those orders to kijiya. Some of the nushiya weren’t pleased with Kirimoto’s innovative methods and stopped ordering wooden bases from him. Kirimoto, however, persisted in his belief that, “urushi can make life more comfortable and convenient.”

    Some people say that lacquerware cannot hold hot food and is a pain to take care of. But as long as you don’t pour boiling hot soup into lacquerware or put it in a microwave, there is no problem. All you have to do to take care of lacquerware is wash it in cold or warm water using a sponge with mild detergent. After rinsing it, dry it with a towel. If you discover scratches on your lacquerware after repeated use, you can have it recoated.

    One after another, Kirimoto has been coming up with pieces of lacquerware which go beyond the conventional wajima-nuri, including anti-scratch pasta plates, cell phone straps and business card holders. Under the brand name of Wajima Kirimoto, he opened a shop in Kanazawa in addition to the one in Wajima, and also established an online store. There are shops dealing in Kirimoto’s products throughout Japan, including well-established department stores in Tokyo.

    In 2007, Kirimoto designed and supervised the production of a small hexagonal box (called Boîte Laquée Wajima) for Louis Vuitton. Further proof that Kirimoto’s products have been gaining a global reputation came when the chairman of a global entertainment company, who has a fondness for Japanese food, ordered a variety of anti-scratch lacquerware from the workshop.

    “Since I’m doing things a bit differently, I sometimes find myself isolated within the production area of Wajima,” says Kirimoto. “But when customers embrace my product ideas, it makes me feel so happy and energized.” How can he combine the skills of craftsmen and create lacquerware that consumers will find “necessary in daily life?” Since hearing his mentor’s advice in college, this has been the key issue for Kirimoto.

    Wajimakirimoto・Kirimoto Wooden Studio

    Text: MATSUMOTO Seiya












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  • がんと闘う日本のトップジャーナリスト

    [From September Issue 2011]

    TORIGOE Shuntaro

    TORIGOE Shuntaro is one of Japan’s best known journalists. He’s also known for his work as a TV anchor and commentator. Torigoe, who’s been called an “artisan of news,” was diagnosed with colorectal cancer five years ago. Though shocked, his journalistic spirit made him decide to leave an objective record of his experiences a cancer patient behind.

    Torigoe recalls that period. “Up until then, books on cancer were written by either doctors as specialists or by patients describing their feelings. After I was diagnosed with cancer, I became curious about what goes through people’s minds when they find out they have cancer, what kind of problems they face during treatment and what members of their family think.”

    Torigoe was born in Fukuoka Prefecture. He joined the Mainichi Newspapers Co. Ltd. after graduating from the Kyoto University. After working in the Social Affairs Department and doing a stint in Tehran as a correspondent, he became editor in chief of the weekly magazine “Sunday Mainichi.” He left the company in 1989 to work for TV.

    He encountered all kinds of dangers while reporting. In 1984, at the height of the Iran-Iraq War, there were rumors that Iraq was using chemical weapons on the frontlines. One day, the Tehran bureau of Mainichi Newspapers received an invitation to enter the war zone from the Ministry of Islamic Clerics. Other media companies shrank from such a dangerous assignment. In the end, Torigoe was the only Japanese journalist who accepted the invitation.

    The place was quite literally a frontline where Iraqi fighters often came and dropped bombs. Torigoe says he thought, “I shouldn’t have come. My curiosity is going to get me in trouble after all.” He met with danger numerous times on other war fronts, too, but he always came out unscathed. So he used to consider himself a man with luck on his side.

    In the summer of 2005, something unexpected happened. He suddenly lost his taste for beer, a drink he had previously liked so much. He then found blood in the toilet bowl. He consulted a doctor at a hospital. He saw his own cancer on the endoscope’s monitor. It was the beginning of his fight with cancer.

    In the last five years, Torigoe – a stage IV patient – has gone through treatment, experienced metastasis (the spread of cancer) and was operated on four times. But he’s got a positive outlook. He’s a member of an athletic club. Even though he’s 70 and a cancer patient, his work output has tripled.

    The book “Cancer Patient,” about his cancer and life, was recently published. The tale, which is an account of his mood swings during the cancer’s progress, his family, work, hopes and “will to live” despite being a cornered man, has struck a chord with readers.

    TORIGOE Shuntaro Official site












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  • 中洲に造られた「生」の文字

    [From August Issue 2011]

    At Takarazuka City, Hyogo Prefecture, on the sandbank of the Muko River, the kanji character for life (sei) has been created using piles of stones. ARIKAWA Hiro, a novelist living in the city, says that this art installation inspired her to write the novel, “Hankyu Densha” (the Hankyu Line). The beginning of the novel contains a description of how this kanji character comes into view just as the train is crossing a bridge over the Muko River.

    This kanji character was created in 2005 by modern artist OHNO Ryohei, who was born and still lives in Takarazuka City. Ohno says, “On the tenth anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, I was planning an art exhibition on the theme of “reproduction,” and I was wondering if there was any place outside the venue where I could express this concept. It was then that I thought of this place. The fact that there was a big river with a beautiful sandbank flowing through the middle of the city really made an impression on me and I decided to create the character “sei” in order to offer up prayers for the dead.

    In 2006, the river swelled and the installation disappeared. But in 2010, when “Hankyu Densha” was made into a movie, it was decided that the artwork would be reproduced in cooperation with volunteers, including students from Takarazuka University (Ohno’s alma mater), local residents and children. UEOKA Hidehiro, assistant professor at the art and design department of Takarazuka University, who also participated in the effort along with the students, says: “The sandbank was overgrown with grass that reached the tops of our heads, so it was really hard work to cut it back. The students were all working silently, carrying the cut grass across the river in high boots. Since they had already developed mental and physical strength through creating their own works of art, I think they were able to toil away without too much difficulty.

    Ueoka says that, starting with the largest, he put his heart and soul into piling up stones one by one. “At the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, I was buried alive for three to four hours under the beam of a Japanese-style house,” he says. “Because of this experience, as I added each stone, I thought about those who had died.” The huge art installation, measuring about 20 meters long and 10 meters wide, was restored in December 2010 with the help of a total of 100 volunteers.

    This art installation was much talked about after it was shown at the ending of the film, and was also featured in “Masashi to Yuki no Monogatari” (The Story of Masashi and Yuki), a spin-off TV drama taking the theme of the letter “sei.” The installation was also featured in various media, including newspapers and TV. Having received a lot of attention as a new tourist attraction in Takarazuka City, the big character vanished again last April, when the water rose.

    Ohno continues, “It was sad, but it makes us want to cherish moments that have disappeared. From the outset, rather than using concrete, I decided to use materials that would harmonize with nature. Every tangible thing disappears eventually, but I think the feelings of those who piled up the stones will surely remain. This time, the installation was filled with so many people’s emotions that it became a piece of art that captivated the hearts of even more people than the last one.”

    By popular demand, a movement to reproduce the character “sei” has begun again. Ohno says, “From Takarazuka, which has recovered from a disaster, we would like to send the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake the message that it is possible to reproduce what has been washed away.

    Photos courtesy of the Project to Reproduce the Character “Live”

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko











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  • 「絵心なしでもマンガが描ける」ソフトの可能性

    [From July Issue 2011]

    TANAKA Keiichi

    For those who’d love to draw manga, but aren’t very good at it, the software package “Comipo!,” released in December 2010, is a dream come true. More and more books related to this topic are being published. In April, the software won the Excellent New Technology/New Product Award for Small and Medium-sized Businesses for its innovation. It’s the talk of the town.

    Web Technology Corp’s TANAKA Keiichi who planned and produced this software, is also a professional cartoonist who’s created five manga series for magazines. These days more and more cartoonists produce their work on computers. But Tanaka is a member of the old school and prefers to draw manga by hand.

    The reason why Tanaka created Comipo! was that he saw that images and speech bubbles are the basic components of manga. “What cannot be communicated with words alone can be understood immediately with images and speech bubbles. Until now, only those who had talent for drawing had that option.” So they developed software with built-in images and frames allowing the user the freedom to create the rest.

    Comipo! is very simple to use. First you choose a layout and put characters in it. That’s all. Then you make them pose, change their facial expressions and type in the speech bubbles. The main characters are good-looking girls, but you can “transform” them into, say, old women by changing their hair-do and adding wrinkles. Since the characters are 3D models, you have the freedom to change the point of view; it’s fun to feel as if you are choosing a camera angle for a movie shoot.

    When this software was released, other cartoonists gave it a chilly reception. They were afraid of the increased competition and they thought cartoonists should create their own characters. Editors at manga publications believe that someday Comipo! manga will be submitted to their magazines. But they worry whether these easy to create images can be called manga.

    However, Tanaka feels this type of reaction is similar to when digital music first came on the scene. Some complained that sounds made without real musical instruments couldn’t be considered music. “Hand-drawn manga and those created by Comipo! have completely different merits. Hand-drawn manga will still be around even if Comipo! becomes the norm in the future.”

    Because of its capacity to illustrate points visually along with speech bubbles, Comipo! is used for business applications such as presentations and product explanations. To revitalize the local economy, the city of Miyoshi in Hiroshima Prefecture used this software on its yuzu-ponzu (citrus-based sauce) packaging. Based on the philosophy that Comipo! is just a tool. Each work will have a personal touch despite the similarity of images and the copyright of the images created using Comipo! belongs to the creator entirely.

    The scenes are limited basically to schools and the characters are mainly good-looking girls, so so far, users are mostly male. The software still has many challenges to meet, such as attracting more female users by offering a wider variety of images. But there are already some user communities who exchange 3D creations or image data. An English version will be launched this summer. How will the tool be utilized by overseas users who are only used to reading manga? New developments are expected.


    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo













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  • 日本中に眠る品質のいい雑貨を発掘したい

    [From June Issue 2011]


    Opened in October 2010 and located in Jiyugaoka, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, “katakana” is the name of a “souvenir shop that sells everything cool from across Japan.” “We call it a souvenir shop because we want our customers to shop lightheartedly for their friends and for themselves, even if it’s for something simple like a pen,” explains KAWANO Junichi, a store representative, who adds that katakana is really more of a sundries shop that offers quality Japanese items than it is a real souvenir shop.

    The shop was named katakana after a part of Japan’s mixed writing system. The connection is that katakana is “a type of character made by arranging existing kanji, which originally came from China,” and which symbolizes the modern Japanese lifestyle of continuously adopting parts of other, foreign cultures. In fact, every item the shop sells is something used daily in Japan. However, katakana forgoes stocking other typical stylish Japanese sundry items such as washi (high quality Japanese paper) and traditional lacquer ware.

    On display are items ranging from a 60-yen erasers to jackets costing tens of thousands of yen. Kawano chose each store item himself using the simple criteria of, “Is it worth the price?” and “Will it still be usable after ten years?” Having previously worked in the apparel industry, he doubted the tendency to quickly rotate items at low prices just to follow seasonal trends. So instead, at katakana he decided to have stock that carried “constant value,” choosing items with importance, at reasonable prices and with enduring design appeal.

    Of course, they do also sell traditional crafts, but only on the condition that such items fit with modern Japanese life and can be comfortably used. For instance, Kawano stocks “mage-wappa,” an old-style lunch box made by bending thin cedar boards from trees grown in Akita Prefecture, because of the good taste it brings to rice once placed inside. Although rather expensively priced at 9,450 yen, he decided to sell it because he judged its overall value to be worth it.

    The shop doesn’t overtly advertise selling items “collected from around Japan,” but Kawano says that “I would be thoroughly glad if our customers just think that our shop is selling attractive items.” He adds, “If they happen to notice that everything is conceptualized here and end up feeling that Japanese goods are of quality, then that’s fine too.”

    Items sold at the shop are also well-received by non-Japanese who are looking for quality indigenous goods. Although Kawano has ideas about opening shops overseas sometime in the future, his first goal is to make katakana the hub of Japan’s sundries community. With Tokyo being the city where most people from around Japan gather, he wants to use his advantageous location to fulfill his dream of “Making our shop a place where people from around the country can introduce their local items, a place where good things from around Japan meet.”


    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo











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  • 伝統工芸を手頃な素材とデザインで海外にも広めたい

    [From April Issue 2011]

    Japanese Hairpin Artistry, ARAKAWA Toshio

    ARAKAWA Toshio runs Hanakobo, an ornamental hairpin and hair accessory manufacturing and sales company located in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward. These are Japanese-style accessories all hand made by Arakawa himself, that are worn by young girls and women in kimono on such occasions as the Seven-Five-Three Festival celebrating children’s growth, the coming-of-age ceremony and for school graduations, as well as weddings and Japanese dance recitals.

    From the age of 18 Arakawa studied accessory design for two years at a technical college, and after graduating, he trained at his father’s studio. “Technically, I was training there, but my father didn’t really teach me anything, so I learned the skills by closely watching and copying the way he did it,” he recalls. Going independent in 1992, Arakawa began to work with hairpins and hair accessories made of plastic materials.

    While expensive materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell are often used for hairpins, Arakawa uses plastic, which is easier to obtain and helps reduce each item’s retail price. He thinks that “the most important thing is to establish the trade as a business and continue to grow it, rather than merely pursuing artistic beauty.” “Although acrylic and acetate are both plastic, their wholesale prices are different and one is easier to process than the other,” explains Arakawa, who chooses different types of plastic depending on the item’s design and its production budget.

    “Basically, my works features the beauty of nature throughout the seasons, such as chrysanthemums in autumn or snow in winter,” explains Arakawa, who draws all the designs himself. He mostly deals with other businesses and the distributed items are then sold at kimono stores, beauty parlors and variety shops. Arakawa, who sometimes get requests to create items for foreign brands, says, “I design the items so that they can also match Western-style clothing. That’s why they are also so well received by young people who don’t wear kimono.”

    In recent years, he has also unexpectedly expanded his “business overseas.” “When my niece studied in Britain, she took my hairpins as souvenirs for local people and they liked them more than expected,” he recounts. “Then, on my nephew’s recommendation, I started showing my work for some years at an exhibition in Los Angeles where traditional Japanese culture was being introduced and that led to our items being sold in the Singapore Changi International Airport.”

    Furthermore, last September special hairpins commemorating the 35th anniversary of the birth of Hello Kitty, a world-famous, original Japanese character, started to sell. “When I was asked to incorporate Hello Kitty into my traditional craft, I tried to create a design which would appeal to people from a wider age group, a design most suitable for a character loved by all generations,” he says.

    Arakawa’s plan is simple. “I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to actively spread the charm of my handmade hairpins and hair accessories overseas,” he says. “More and more individuals are buying our items over the Internet, so I would like to further enhance our product line and services.” Presently, Arakawa is hard at work creating new hairpins and hair accessories that feature seasonal plum and cherry blossoms.



    かんざし職人 荒川 敏雄さん









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