Tsubame - Sanjo Factories Win Worldwide Attention

Tsubame-Sanjo factories win worldwide attention

By Etsuo Kono / Japan News Staff Write Small factories in Niigata Prefecture are attracting attention from around the world for the original technologies they utilize.

The fifth annual Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival was held from Thursday to Sunday in the Tsubame-Sanjo area, a region renowned for producing metal processing technology and materials. Many visitors from home and abroad enjoyed a close-up view of the manufacturing process at about 80 factories this year.

At the Hinoura Hamono factory in Sanjo on Friday, traditional craftsman Tsukasa Hinoura, 61, hammered together iron and steel. His blows sent up bursts of sparks, eliciting surprised gasps from visitors packed into the small facility.

Hinoura Hamano was founded in 1905, and initially focused on making Japanese hatchets. After attending the 2006 Ambiente trade fair in Frankfurt, however, it began focusing on kitchen knives. At present, about 80 percent of kitchen knives produced at the factory are for the European and North American markets. Many foreigners visit the factory to buy its products.

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A worker polishes cutlery at Ohizumibussan Co., Ltd. in Tsubame, Niigata Prefecture, on Friday.

"I think Japanese forging technology is the best in the world. Japanese kitchen knives are also drawing greater attention overseas due to the current Washoku boom," said Hinoura.

At Ohizumibussan Co., Ltd. in Tsubame, visitors took part in the production process for forks. Since 1991, the company has been exclusively licensed to manufacture stainless steel cutlery under the Kay Bojesen brand, which can be found in Danish embassies across the world. Ohizumibussan is renowned for its stainless steel polishing technology; the shapes of all fabric polishers are customized to suit every product. Though it mainly sells to hotels, restaurants and other businesses, it plans to expand sales to individual consumers via the internet.

The festival started in 2013, and has attracted a growing number of visitors every year. Last year’s attendance exceeded 35,000. For this year’s event, organizer’s trained concierges to guide visitors to each factory and explain the venues’ activities.

About 10 companies from the Tsubame-Sanjo area attended the world’s largest design fair in Milan in 2014 and another trade fair held in Taiwan this year, to strengthen the region’s brand power.

"I was impressed [by] how so many people across the area are brought together in a valuable example of successful social enterprise," said Simon Wright, programming director of Japan House London Secretariat, who attended this year’s festival.

There are 12 factories in the area where visitors can view activities on any day. Suwada Blacksmith Works Inc. in Sanjo is one such factory, known for manufacturing well-designed nail clippers and scissors used to trim bonsai. Its products were well received at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in Britain.

The factory has an adjoining tax-free shop. A company official said, "We want visitors to know our products’ real value by looking around our factory."

"We need to get into overseas markets. We want factory owners to communicate with foreign buyers through the festival," Sanjo Mayor Isato Kunisada stressed. The local government plans to create more opportunities to exhibit products such as kitchen knives abroad ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.