Small and medium-sized domestic firms are exporting old-fashioned goods that have been manufactured with tradition and skills.
Although such companies have suffered due to changes in the Japanese lifestyle and a shrinking market, they still aim to overcome adverse business conditions to establish world-class brands.
Fresh hues of Arita porcelain
By Seigo Hara / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
ARITA, Saga - Arita Porcelain Lab is a brand of Japanese tableware from the Yazaemon Kiln, which was established more than 200 years ago in the town of Arita, Saga Prefecture. Inspired by Japanese green tea and cherry blossoms, the brand's pottery comes in shades of transparent green and cherry pink.
"Our foreign customers say they've never seen such colors," said Satoru Matsumoto, 43, the seventh head of the pottery studio.
In taking over the post in 2001, he streamlined the company, which had been heavily burdened with debt. He started development of a new brand, convinced there was no way the firm could survive with ordinary Arita porcelain products.
With the goal of making tableware to complement dining tables in modern times, Matsumoto experimented with new approaches such as the use of an earthen glaze and the creation of pastel tones through trial and error.
In winter 2011, the brand's products were displayed at Isetan department store's flagship shop in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, which resulted in the nationwide recognition. In autumn last year, they were exhibited at a trade show in Paris, where they were well received. Matsumoto was enthusiastic, saying, "I want people around the world to know the beauty of Arita porcelain."
Shakers with superior polish
By Teruaki Yamamoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
TOYODA, Aichi - Yokoyama Kogyo Co. released a cocktail shaker in November 2013 by applying advanced polishing technology the firm had acquired for its main business of manufacturing automobile parts.
The company primarily performs subcontracted work for components makers related to Toyota Motor Corp.
With a shrinking domestic automobile market, the founder's 33-year-old grandson, Tetsuya Yokoyama, who heads the product planning office, proposed the idea of making cocktail shakers.
"Small and midsize businesses can't survive without taking up new challenges," he explained.
The inside of the shaker is finely polished with a grain that has been adjusted down to one ten-thousandth of a millimeter. The company's cocktail shaker, which is known for mixing alcohol and ice smoothly to produce a fragrant and mild drink, has been receiving glowing praise from professional bartenders.
Knowledge of its high quality has spread through word of mouth. A famous British bartender endorsed the product, which has brought in an increasing number of orders from abroad. The cocktail shaker is currently sold in 10 nations including Germany and Greece.
"Japanese automobiles enjoy a great deal of trust, even in foreign countries," Yokoyama said. "Likewise, I hope to create a global brand by taking advantage of sophisticated technology."
Scissors praised in Paris
By Yosuke Higashida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
ONO, Hyogo - A regional business group in a southwestern city of Hyogo Prefecture is working jointly with a product designer to make blades, which are a local traditional craft, into an internationally known brand. The city of Ono and nearby areas, once called the Banshu region, have been reputed to be the manufacturing site of edged tools since about 200 years ago. But the city saw the shipment value of its edged tools drop to about half of what it had been 50 years earlier.
That was why a local wholesalers cooperative decided to boost recognition of its wares in collaboration with Shinya Kobayashi, 27, a product designer who specializes in the revitalisation of local towns.
They targeted overseas markets. In 2013, they displayed products including sewing scissors, which they named Banshu Hamono scissors at a trade show in Paris. The products were commended for their shape, which was seen as embodying a Japanese style, and a variety shop and a stationery store in New York promptly started selling the scissors. The tools have also risen to popularity in Japan, where they are currently sold at major Internet shopping sites. Nobuhiro Tanaka, the 63-year-old chairman of the city's hardware wholesalers cooperative, voiced high hopes. "The enhanced brand awareness is going to lead to more successors," he said.