Hallmark of high quality

Hallmark of high quality

The Sumida area is home to one of Tokyo's tallest attractions, the Tokyo Skytree, but the area is also known for its long history of supporting modern light industries.

The Economic Development Section, Industry and Tourism Department, Sumida City Office is on a mission to promote businesses in the area, to help raise the brand value of industries there and also as a way to promote Sumida.

To do this, it introduced the Sumida Brand Certification to recognise products of high quality.

Many of the companies in the Sumida area are over six decades old, but still they are finding ways of keeping traditional production methods alive while innovating at the same time.

"Many companies in the Sumida area are strong practitioners of the monozukuri philosophy," says Katsunari Sawada, chief executive officer of JAPANPAGE, a media platform that promotes Japanese brands by highlighting the stories behind each product.

Mr Sawada explains that monozukuri simply means "making things", but is infused with a deeper impression of skilled craftsmen pouring heart and soul into their work, striving for perfection regardless of time or cost.

Here's a look at some products that have been given the Sumida Modern brand certification.

Kawa-Origami and Leather Furoshiki We all know origami as the Japanese art of folding objects from a single sheet of paper.

But can you make a wallet using a single sheet of leather?

Shinichi Ninomiya, the second-generation owner of leather goods manufacturing company Ninomiya Gorow Shoten, which was started in 1946, is doing that with his range of Kawa-Origami.

Just like in origami, but in place of paper, a single sheet of calf leather is folded and then stitched, but only minimally, to form wallets, coin purses and namecard cases.

The collection's outer layer in jet black with inner vermillion lining is reminiscent of Japanese lacquer bowls with the same distinctive palette.

Mr Ninomiya's other key product is his leather furoshiki.

Traditionally, the furoshiki is a colourful Japanese fabric used to wrap clothes, gifts or other items.

The leather furoshiki is made from calf skin, measuring 90cm by 90cm. "As with other leather goods, the furoshiki ages well with time and use, and is definitely a conversation piece when carried around," says Mr Ninomiya.

Tenohira Tongs

Unlike conventional gripping tools with long arms, the Tenohira Tongs are shaped more like a pair of clamshells.

The Tenohira, meaning "palm of the hand", is the brainchild of Katsuyuki Kasahara.

His family business, Kasahara Spring Seisakusho, has been around since 1929, and started production of springs for use as motor parts or in sewing machines.

The Tenohira Tongs took two years to develop, and because it fits snugly into the palm, it is easy to use not only by adults but children as well.

It can not only pick up salad greens but can also be used to scoop up olive oil or salad dressing.

Innocent Scissors

It seems amusing that a pair of scissors is called "Innocent", but the name is most appropriate.

These stainless-steel scissors (right) are made by Isihiro Seisakusho, a 44-year-old company that specialises in making medical scissors.

The Innocent Scissors are for daily use, but are made of the same quality of stainless steel as those for medical use.

While the blades may look like conventional ones, they are not.

Run a finger along the blade and it feels blunt.

But when used to cut paper or fabric, the scissors have the same sharpness as that of medical-grade scissors.

Shoubi Coat and Monyou Handkerchief

Yuji Ishiyama is the 13th-generation CEO of Ishiyamasenko, a 300-year-old family-run company that specialises in hand-dyeing kabuki costumes.

Mr Ishiyama is continuing that tradition but with a twist. The company still produces kabuki costumes but it has also branched out into more modern items.

One of which is the Shoubi Coat, a modern coat made using traditional dyeing methods.

"We have added modern touches to the coat, such as adding a collar, but by adding the family crest on the back, it can still look traditional," says Mr Ishiyama.

Similarly, its line of Monyou Handkerchiefs are also hand-dyed, and they come with printed motifs that are found on kimonos.

J-Period

Omotesando Hills B2F, 4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan

For more traditionally made Japanese items, head to J-Period at Omotesando Hills.

The shop prides itself on carrying a wide range of traditional items that have been made to suit modern consumers.

Take its range of tin products.

Tin has traditionally been used in Japanese history in the form of sake and tea ware, because the malleable material is said to remove excessive bitterness from sake, thereby producing a better taste.

At J-Period, the range of tin products include sake cups and flasks, as well as the Kago series of baskets, which initially come as a flat piece of tin, which can be shaped as needed.

The Kago baskets are made by Nousaku - a 400-year-old tin-casting company famed for making Buddhist altar fittings and other formal ornaments, but which has now turned to designing for modern living.

Paperweights get a modern and magical touch, through artist Yuko Kubo, who scrapes a chunk of glass and adds colours to it.

Her paperweights have a miniature world feel, such as one which depicts a pond, that looks amazingly real. All the paper weights are made by hand, so no two shape or design are the same.


This article was first published on December 6, 2014.
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