A loud and strong kiai is important not just for intimidation, but for raising one's morale!
Hit with your body, not your hands. Use your footwork to reach your target.
Beware of your ma-ai. A ma-ai that's too close or too far will result in a hit that's too deep or too light respectively.
Find your bad habits and weaknesses during keiko. Being aware is the first step towards change!
Avoid tensing your arms and shoulders. Grip with correct tenouchi and focus on snapping your wrists for sped and power.
Kyoto Tozando, makers of the overwhelmingly popular「A-1α」series, is one of the most successful budogu company that has emerged in recent years. In 2015 they acquired Mitsuboshi Ltd., another well established bogu company, in order to push new innovations within the industry. Today we will be interviewing Tozando’s CEO, Mr. Kimura, the man responsible for the success of the company. Mr. Kimura’s motivation to start his business was born out of his desire to help out a group of Italian kenshi. I found his personality overall to be very charismatic and I was delighted by his sense of humor. Please enjoy this interview!
1958 (born) Travelled abroad after graduation and joined a well known company after
returning to Japan
1989 Created Tozando Ltd.
2002 Opened Tozando’s first showroom in Kyoto city, Kamigyo-Ku
2009 Created “Tozando Biwako Logistics Center”
2010 Created “Nippon Bogu Manufacturing Plant” in Kuji city, Iwate-ken
2014 Merged with Mitsuboshi
2015 Opened a second showroom in Tokyo city, Shinjuku-ku
2017 Created a holding company for “Nippon Bogu Ltd.”
2017 Created “Hiei Logistics Center”
2018 Opened a third showroom in Sapporo city, Hokkaido
The Reason for Starting Tozando
This is Mr. Kimura, founding CEO of Tozando, please tell us what your reasons were for starting this company.
Kimura Takahiko: I was actually motivated to start Tozando by the enthusiasm of a certain group of Italian kenshi. An acquaintance of mine from Saitama asked me to translate for the Italian national team, so I ended up visited their dojo.
Are you also fluent in Italian as well?
Kimura Takahiko: I told them that I could only speak in English, but they replied, “It doesn’t matter if it’s English, or whatever language it is, please just come” (chuckles). Around twenty-five Italians showed up, they were quite different than how I imagined them to be.
How were they different?
Kimura Takahiko: I had always imagined Italians as a whole to be a merry and playful bunch. However, they were very engaged and listened intently to what their sensei had to teach, even after keiko. I think they were more serious than myself.
They must have been very passionate about kendo.
Kimura Takahiko: They were extremely passionate. However, after talking with them, I realized that they weren’t satisfied with the bogu situation in Italy. Bogu was expensive to buy and there were no places that offered repairing services. There were people getting hurt because the palm of their kote was so damaged.Gradually, I began to feel that I wanted to do something to help these people.
Were you aiming for a foreign market?
Kimura Takahiko: Not at all, I just wanted to help these Italian kenshi and that was the main why I started Tozando. I didn’t even know if it was going to work, but I wanted to keep my promise to them.
This story really gets the blood pumping. How did you start your business?
Kimura Takahiko: When I started, the internet had not been developed yet. I had to go to JETRO to get consultation for my business plans. I learned there that mail ordering through catalogues were a popular way to shop, so I decided to make a catalogue to start.
Were there any companies back then that made catalogues targeted at the West?
Kimura Takahiko: There wasn’t, they probably didn’t even exist. Photo editing had a negative reputation at the time so it was very expensive. Editing even one page of the catalogue would have costed around $100. The first catalogue I made costed $2,500. I wanted to add colours to my catalogue but the cost was too high, so I ended up printed it in black and white.
Was it hard starting your company without any reputation overseas? How did you earn the trust of your customers?
Kimura Takahiko: It was very hard starting completely from a blank slate and we worked hard to procure French kenshi’s interest in our bogu. The man who started kendo in France, Todo Tadao-sensei, helped to advocate my company. It’s was thanks to him that I was able to earn the trust of kenshi overseas.
Growth of the Company
Kimura Takahiko: There was many complaints regarding the payment method in the beginning, as it was quite cumbersome. Foreigners wanted to pay with their credit cards, but at the time, companies without a physical store will usually fail their credit card screenings. Companies that pass the credit card screenings are mostly publicly listed companies with capital stock of one-hundred-million yen or more. I had lost all hope back then.
The lack in flexibility in payment methods must have been quite an obstacle.
Kimura Takahiko: Sumimoto VISA was the only company that even took my company into consideration, all the other credit card companies refused to even listen to my request. I pleaded staff many times until I was let to speak with the board of directors. The staff I was speaking to even told me, “If this doesn’t work, please give up” (chuckles). I was being quite tenacious with my negotiations. To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to go through. But one night, I got a call saying that my business passed the screening (chuckles).
It seems like the staff you were speaking to gave up halfway (laughs).
Kimura Takahiko: To be honest, I gave up halfway myself, that’s why I was so surprised to hear the news. I later learned that there was another staff at that bank who also did kendo. The staff had apparently told his superiors that, “These types of companies are essential for spreading kendo around the world. People who do kendo can’t be bad people, so please let this company pass the screening.”
That sounds like a miracle!
Kimura Takahiko: Tozando only had one million yen in capital stock back then, we were an anomaly for even passing that screening. The news was very well-received by foreign kenshi, now that credit card payments were an option, orders came in one after another. I truly felt the importance of payment methods.
Were you worried about starting your company during a time when there were only a small number of foreigners doing kendo overseas?
Kimura Takahiko: There were many times where I thought that I was going to go bankrupt. But whenever the company reached a danger zone, we would be saved by a large order. England, Belgium, and Hawaii comes to mind. After surviving through many hardships, the anxiety of failing also started to disappear.
The company sounded like it’s had a tough start. What made you decide to start selling products other than kendo bogu?
Kimura Takahiko: Tozando grew as a company by adapting to our customer’s needs. Our customers overseas do other budo besides kendo as well. We started by adding Iaido goods to our collection, then we expanded towards other budo related products.
Was it part of your initial plan to include other budo equipments as well?
Kimura Takahiko: Not at all, we simply adapted to the needs of our customers and ended up including other budo products to our line as a result.
The Meaning of “Japanese Quality”
Kimura Takahiko: Is domestically made bogu really all that great? I call that sentiment, “The temperment of quality-conscious-Japanese-people”, I will explain more about what that means later. To be honest, at first glance, domestic bogu and bogu made overseas doesn’t look all that different. That’s how well foreign bogu are being made nowadays.
I feel that it’s quite difficult to tell the difference just by looking.
Kimura Takahiko: Well then, what is the difference exactly? In my opinion, Japanese craftsmen will focus even on details that can’t be seen with the naked eye, while foreign craftsmen feel that not as much attention is needed on details that can’t be seen. This difference makes a big impact on the quality; for example, the stitching in foreign made kote are not done properly sometimes. This can make the process of fixing that kote in the future extremely difficult. “Japanese Quality” is the awareness to these types of small details. If foreign craftsmen simply copy what the Japanese craftsmens do on s superficial level, there is not much meaning to it.
I think it’s rather hard to change a person’s mentality to those of a Japanese person’s mentality.
Kimura Takahiko: It’s difficult, but we have craftsmen from Kuji that visits our factory in China periodically. We instruct them on skills relating to bogu making, but we also stress the Japanese mindset on focusing on the details.
Would say that your factory overseas hold itself to a high standard?
Kimura Takahiko: I would say so. We might not be “Made in Japan”, but I would like to say that we are “Made by Japan”. For example, the stitching in the strings. The width of the strings in our men is on the thinner side, so we order special strings and bind them tightly so that our men will last through years of keiko. Our company is especially picky regarding these types of details.
10,000 Units of Kote (“Michi” Line) Sold for 10,000 Yen. Zero Profit. That is Fine.
Kimura Takahiko: Last year, Mitsuboshi came out with a line of kote called the “Michi”.
The price is quite startling
Kimura Takahiko: We made ten thousand units and sold them for ten thousand yen each. To be very honest, we made no profit at all. But that is fine, because in return we earned the trust of both customers and bogu craftsmen. Many of our repeating customers are bogu shops with their own existing craftsmen. Many of these craftsmen were skeptical at first thinking that good bogu cannot be made at this kind of price, but many were surprised by the quality of the final product. Creating a cheap yet good kote is a very difficult thing.
You really don’t cut corners in terms of quality.
Kimura Takahiko: There are people who quit kendo because of reasons such as “it hurts to get hit” or “bogu breaks easily”. I hope that by providing bogu with good protection at a good value, I can increase the number of people doing kendo even by a little. That was the reason I started this business in the first place.
I’m impressed at how Tozando is able to preserve quality while selling it at such a low price. There are many companies that are solely focused on selling cheap bogu.
Kimura Takahiko: Our company is able to provide bogu at low prices because we have confidence in what we do. If a company does not have confidence, they will always be worrying about customer dissatisfaction. As a result, they will set the price of their products slightly higher to compensate for returned products. We will not create a product that our customers will be dissatisfied in, in fact, we’ve had no complaints so far. We are confident, and that is why we sell at such a cheap price.
This also applies to our line of gi and hakama, we only sell what we have confidence in. We are in an exclusive contract with a factory in China that uses real aizome dyes. They do a fantastic job and not a single drop of artificial colouring is used. As such, this factory is respected even by Japanese budogu makers. The only downfall is that they are on the expensive side, but even if that is the case, I want to make sure that our products are of good quality. When I made a contract with them, I had told them that if the quality of the goods were to fall short, I will immediately terminate the contract. We have been been with the same contractor for six years and created good relations. Even if we earn little profit, I want to sell only good quality products. I feel like that is the secret to our business’ success.
Gaining the customer’s trust is indeed the secret to a long and successful business. I also noticed that Tozando created its own online shop.
Kimura Takahiko: It’s the same even for our shinai, we don’t make our shinai at an Indonesian factory called “Hirotatsu” as most other bogu shops do. While a profit can be made through cheap shinai that breaks easily, the company will in return lose their customer’s trust. The trust our customers place in us is extremely important and we would like to cherish that trust by providing items of the best quality.
The companies, contractors, and customers who all value quality can all benefit from this three-way partnership! To conclude, please tell us your vision of Tozando in the future.
Kimura Takahiko: I want our company to be loved by our customers for a long time to come. When I hear kenshi say, “Both my grandfather and father bought bogu from Tozando, so I am going to do the same”, it makes me very happy. As of now, resources that can help consumers differentiate between good and low quality kendogu are few and far in between. We here at Tozando want to show the world what good quality means, and as a result, I hope that in the future companies that hold themselves to a higher standard will remain in the market. I see this as paying our respects to the kendo world.
Thoughts from BUSHIZO
As of now, Tozando is the leading bogu company in Japan in terms of sales. The secret to the company’s success lies in the commitment of its founding CEO, Mr. Kimura. The way his leadership brought about Tozando’s growth reminded me of the story of Mr. Suzuki Toshinomi, founder of Seven & i Holdings Co., Ltd. Even as the head of his company, Mr. Suzuki would demand quality even from a single rice ball and would give instructions himself to individual stores. Selling products of quality at a low price is in fact a very difficult accomplishment. As a shop with a variety of brands and goods, BUSHIZO is prepared to uphold our quality in the products we select. We are proud to introduce bogu from our partner Tozando!
Mitsuboshi, created in 1953, is a brand known far and wide in the kendo circle. Their Bogu lines, “Mine” and “Ten”, have been a staple for all levels of Kendoka for many years. In 2015 Mitsuboshi merged with the Kyoto・Tozando group in order to push new innovations while preserving tradition. We would like to hear what Mr. Kimura has to say about his vision for the future.
2008 Completed Graduate Studies Entered a Well-Known Designer Company
2015 Employed by Tozando Ltd.
2016 Promoted to CEO of Mitsuboshi Ltd.
2017 Judo Uniform Line “Reigear” Released
Released a Domestically Made Bogu Line “Mine”, Renewed Kendo Bogu Line “Ten”
History of Mitsuboshi
Kimura Toshihide: Mitsuboshi was founded in 1953, we will be celebrating our 66th birthday this year. We have been part of the Tozando Group as of 2015.
-Mitsuboshi is a company with quite a long history, every Kendoka knows about it!
Kimura Toshihide: When Mitsuboshi was first established, we were mainly focused with making Judo Gi. After the war, there was even a period where we sold Judo Gi out of the back of a van. Our shops in Tokyo have been in operation for over ten years and our main factory is located in Kuji City of Iwate Prefecture.
-Was the factory in Kuji City also mainly concerned with making Judo Gi as well?
Kimura Toshihide: That is correct. It was a time when outsourcing didn’t exist, so we had to make everything in Japan. As the Judo population grew, out company grew alongside it.
The Creation of “Mine” and “Ten”
-When did Mitsuboshi start manufacturing Kendo Bogu?
Kimura Toshihide: I would say around 40 years ago or so; our “Mine” line was created around 30 years ago.
-The “Mine” line has been produced for more than 30 years! There are many people who are still fans of the line, what was the story behind its creation?
Kimura Toshihide: I wanted to deliver Bogu at an affordable in cost. The concept behind the “Mine” Kote was a thinner and lighter one. During the time of its creation, most Kote were hand made, which made them both bulky and expensive. In order for Kendo to spread, I felt that affordable Bogu was necessary.
-The name “Mine” gives off a very high-end vibe.
Kimura Toshihide: I was trying to keep up with the times and we ended up with a high-end-brand vibe.
Was the first batch ever to be released also machine stitched?
Kimura Toshihide: That’s right, I would consider ourselves to be a pioneer of machine stitched bogu. To make our products even more similar to traditional hand stitched Bogu, we developed the pitch stitch.
-Can you tell me more about what the Bogu making market was like when the company was still young?
Kimura Toshihide: At the time many Bogu stores got their stock from a third party produce called OEM; it was rather rare for a company to both produce and sell their own products. The founders of this company placed a large emphasis on Mitsuboshi being a manufacturing company and we respect those choices even today.
-Is that so! Mitsuboshi sure has become a reliable brand.
Kimura Toshihide: That’s true! I have made deep emotional connections with long-time employees at our company. I think as long as an item has the Mitsuboshi tag on it, there will definitely be a customer who will say “I want that!”
-It’s only natural for us consumers to want something with the Mitsuboshi branding. It seems like the company is held together by these emotional connections that you say of! Can you give us more information on “Ten”, your other largely popular Bogu line?
Kimura Toshihide: Continuing with the theme of a luxurious branding, we released a second line of Bogu named “Ten”. In addition to having the same quality as “Mine”, it’s a Bogu offered at an even more affordable pricing.
-Can you tell me the concept behind its creation?
Kimura Toshihide: Unlike many Jissen-Gata Bogu nowadays, we are more focused on the functionality of “Ten” rather than just it’s performance in Shiai. These include factors such as protection, quality, and aesthetics. Our attitudes towards Bogu-making is consistent across all lines.
-Mitsuboshi seems very focused on quality without being superfluous.
Kimura Toshihide: We’ve paid a lot of attention on how the shape of the Bogu would look when being worn. Even though our “Ten” line is very flexible, the core materials retain a certain degree of firmness so that it doesn’t lose its shape.
The Merits of Domestic Production
-The shape of the Men and Tare do indeed look especially well made!
Kimura Toshihide: All the parts from our “Mine” line are made exclusively in our factory in Kuji City, Iwate Prefecture. We are most likely not the only company that is contracted to them, they also make many Judo, Aikido, and Karate related equipments.
-This means everything is made in that factory. Please tell me more about the merits of domestically producing Bogu.
Kimura Toshihide: There are two main points, the first being the abundance of materials. There are certain materials that are more easily obtained in Japan compared to abroad. The second is the speed of communication.
-Can you elaborate on what you mean by the “speed of communication”?
Kimura Toshihide: Our main customers are small local stores spread across Japan. The salesman at those stores can direct our customers’ opinions directly to our factories. The feedback from our factories also come rather quickly and they can then implement any changes directly into the product.
-That means the speed of upgrading a product is also very fast!
Kimura Toshihide: We’ve actually recently came out with an upgraded version of “Ten” called the “Ten Kinsei”. Some adjustments we’ve made include elongating the part of the Kote where the finger rests. People used to prefer shorter and thicker Kote, but nowadays, people prefer longer thinner ones. Naturally, the shape of the Kote will also change along with these adjustments, but these changes are not limited to Kendo, the same things are happening to other martial arts including Aikido and Judo.
I now see the merits of producing bogu domestically. How often do you visit the factory at Kuji?
Kimura Toshihide: I go once every month, even though Kuji is very far away from where I live (laughs).
Listening to the Voices of Our Customers
-What are some positive changes that has come with merging with the Tozando Group?
Kimura Toshihide: The Tozando Group has many smaller retail stores that operate very efficiently, we get to hear our customer’s voices directly from them. They also plan and develop products at an astonishing speed. Witht hese two factors combined, Tozando has created an ideal environment for innovation which has benefited Mitsuboshi greatly.
-As a maker yourself, how was Mitsuboshi and Tozando able to combine their strengths?
Kimura Toshihide: From Tozando’s standpoint, Mitsuboshi was a very profitable brand. But Mitsuboshi’s strength as an individual brand also shouldn’t be overlooked. The exchange of opinions that have been taking place has opened the doors to many new possibilites.
-Both companies have been learning from each other, what a great connection!
Kimura Toshihide: I imagine our relationship as Pixar is to Disney. When a company with a long history like Disney (Mitsuboshi) partners with Pixar (Tozando) the possibilities become endless.
-I see, that’s another way of putting it! Can you tell me your vision about the future of Mitsuboshi?
Kimura Toshihide: I want our company to be an “all inclusive Budogu company” that sells Budo equipments of all kind. We already have “Mine” and “Ten” in our Kendo lineup, but in the future I want to make something similar for other martial arts like Judo, Aikido, and Karate. I want those products to be received favourably by our customers, and when that vision comes true, that’s when we can truly call ourselves an “all inclusive Budogu company”
Thoughts from BUSHIZO
After interviewing Mr. Kimura, Mitsuboshi’s CEO, I felt that the partnership between Mitsuboshi and Tozando was a smart business decision that brought many benefits to both parties equally. Personally, I was very interested when Mr. Kimura said, “From here on out, ‘Mine’ and ‘Ten’ will continue to evolve”. I look forward to what Mitsuboshi has planned for the future.
Nabeyama Takahiro-sensei is a highly respected kendoka who boasts both a successful shiai and teaching career. He has also been actively teaching kendo overseas; today we will be interviewing him on his thoughts towards the spread of kendo.
Nabeyama Takahiro Sensei
-Born in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture
-Osaka PL Gakuin: Gyokuryuki 1st Place, Interhigh Individuals 1st Place, Interhigh Team Match 1st Place
-Tsukuba University: All Japan University Championships Two Time Team Match 1st Place
- After graduation: All Japan Kendo Championships Best 8, World Kendo Championships Two Time Delegate
Teaching kendo in the Netherlands
-Please tell us why you decided to start teaching kendo in the Netherlands.
Nabeyama: I began teaching there twenty years ago. Everything started forty years ago when Edo Koukichi sensei had the chance to live in the Netherlands for an year. After him, Iijima Akira sensei took over and continued teaching of kendo there. I was asked to help out with the teaching and accepted the request.
-Had Iijima sensei also been teaching kendo for a long time?
Nabeyama: Iijima sensei has probably been teaching for around forty years or so. He went to Chukyo University and became acquainted with Edo sensei during his time there.
-How often do you frequent the Netherlands?
Nabeyama: I go there every year. The Netherland Kendo federation sponsors a “Summer Seminar” every year, so I usually go during that time.
-How many people go to that seminar?
Nabeyama: Around one-hundred-and-twenty people participate over a three day period, ending with a dan-exam on the last day. It appears that participants are on the rise every year. An increase in the number of participants must mean that the people are finding something of value at this seminar, I see this as a positive sign. One thing I cherish the most from these experiences is when someone says to me, “I’m looking forward to next year”.
I treat every match as a serious fight. I’ll give advice that will help them be judged favorably. Anybody, regardless of their nationality, can participate in this seminar as long as they apply. Please consider applying if you are interested, the next session is planned in August.
Contents of the Seminar
-What are some concrete examples of what you teach at the seminar?
Nabeyama: The most important thing is knowing what the participants want. After establishing their interests, I will then try my best to answer their questions in detail.
In many cases, people outside of Japan tend to start kendo later as an adult. Many of these people are intelligent individuals who have achieved great things in their field of work. Their way of thinking and ability to comprehend kendo is in no way inferior to Japanese people.
-What do foreign kenshi usually seek to learn from this seminar?
Nabeyama: Questions involving, “how to move one’s body”, are quite common. I noticed that there are many people who know a lot about kendo theory. But because they don’t get enough keiko, theories such as “suburi” becomes hard to apply practically.
-Does that mean the standard we use to teach in Japan won’t work overseas?
Nabeyama: It would be easy if we could start from the basics, but time is very limited. Due to the three day limit, I usually have a hearing to see what people are interested before the seminar starts. My approach is to provide what is being sought. Of course, I also prepare beforehand so I can answer on the spot.
-There seems to be a lot of “logical” people around.
Nabeyama: That’s true, but you also have to change your logic to adapt to your audience. Take the difference between university students and elementary students as an example. Elementary student’s brains are still developing, so it's more important to make their bodies remember what it is they are doing. On the other hand, university students should be made to think and comprehend concepts in kendo. My policy is to avoid using onomatopoeia when I teach.
-That’s quite rare among kendo sensei.
Nabeyama: I don’t teach using words such as “Seme in like GU*“ or “Hit with a PAN*”, it’s quite difficult. I try to concepts such as the balance distribution and the way our joints bend. I don’t, however, see onomatopoeia as a bad thing.
-Is there a difference in the skill overseas?
Nabeyama: People are motivated by different reasons to do kendo. There are people who want to learn more about Japanese culture while others do it as a form of sports, it really varies a lot. One thing I can say is that everyone is interested in Japanese etiquette and culture to some extent.
-Is there anything you need to be especially careful of?
Nabeyama: I take care not to completely negate their way of thinking, nor force our way of doing things onto them. I respect their way of doing things. For example, in Japan the person leading suburi will shout the repetitions while everyone will respond with “men”. However, overseas everyone counts “Ichi, ni, san, ect.” together. It seems that they are self conscious of their pronunciation (chuckles).
The Spread of Kendo Overseas
-I heard you have been visiting America as well.
Nabeyama: I went last year, and luckily, I was requested to go this year as well. Chris Yang from team USA studied abroad at Tsukuba University for a year, and his younger brother, Danny Yang, did the same. I was requested to go based on those connections. He is a lawyer who works for Toyota. I think he is a wonderful person with an individualistic way of thinking. He went to Hong Kong this June and is planning another trip to Bangkok at the end of this year with his wife.
※We did this interview in 2017.
-Do you make it a point to make connections overseas?
Nabeyama: It’s not like that at all. I think of each match as a one-time life or death match.
-What do you think is needed for Southeast Asia and Europe to fight on the same level as Japan, Korea, and America in the near future?
Nabeyama: I think the first step is to create a suitable environment. For example, Japanese police are provided with an environment where they can focus on kendo everyday. I feel that countries where one can focus solely on kendo is very limited. Korea is probably the only country other than Japan where making a living out of kendo is possible.
-It seems like making a living out of kendo in other countries is almost impossible.
Nabeyama: I know of people from America who were willing to quit their jobs for the world tournament. Their will to win was truly amazing. I’m not necessarily talking about their techniques, but more so that their heart is in the right place. During the world tournament hosted by Taiwan, Japan lost to America. I had a chance to keiko with the Americans before the tournament, and I’m going to be rather blunt here, but their technical prowess did not match up to the Japanese. Despite that, the Americans won; techniques aside it was a victory of the heart.
-America’s commitment to kendo can be felt clearly. Do you think America has a well established kendo environment?
Nabeyama: I can definitely feel the national team putting more effort in. Chris Yang even went to train with the Tokyo police force a month before the tournament started.
-How do you think the kendo in Europe compares?
Nabeyama: I got the impression that there is a large kendo population in France and that many of their national team members have good sense. In Hungary, there is a man teaching there named Mr. Abe. He studied at the International Budo University and pursued his graduate studies at Tsukuba University. They are well trained and have clean kendo.
-What is the impression you have of kendo in Southeast Asia?
Nabeyama: There are many countries in South Asia that haven’t been registered with the world kendo federation yet. However, many Japanese companies are operating in places like Thailand. Some of these company workers usually end up teaching kendo during their stay there.
Message to Foreign Kenshi
-Please give one last message to the foreign kenshi reading this interview
Nabeyama: I think it’s important to focus on immersing yourself in kendo. Try to find the right Japanese environment that can help you achieve that. There are many exchange students who have come to Tsukuba and improved their kendo through the process. I would like to see more people coming to Japan, tasting delicious food, and immersing themselves in kendo. There is an impression that natural disasters are common Japan, but in reality, it’s very safe. Please come to Japan at least once if you have the chance and try doing kendo with the people here.
Left Side: Hatakaya Craftsman, Mr. Toshiaki of Tesshin-Ryu
Hatakaya Budougu came into prominence as a kendo supplier around Heisei 10th. While most suppliers nowadays have a tendency to cut business costs by move their manufacturing process overseas, Hatakaya Budougu has insisted on operating domestically. Their passion for quality bogu makes them stand out as what I believe to be a "treasure of the kendo world".
Mr. Toshiaki entered the bogu manufacturing industry as an apprentice under Nishioka Tomeizou (Tesshun-Ryu). During his 9 years of apprenticeship, Mr. Toshiaki mastered the arts of making men, do, kote, and various other bogu parts.
Received an award of excellence for his craftsmanship from the governor of Nagasaki prefecture.
Received a second award of excellence for his craftsmanship from the ministry of labour. (This award was the first of its kind to be awarded to a bogu manufacturer within Japan)
Mr. Toshiaki received a yellow medal of honor during the fall selections for his diligence and hard work over the years. (This was again the first award of its kind to be awarded to a bogu manufacturer within Japan)
“Modern Day Master Craftsman”
Masaomi: Our shop specializes in custom-made bogu. Every piece of our customer’s order is carefully crafted by hand.
While our shop is small in size we have had the chance to collaborate with distributors small and big; from local stores to large chains that operate on a national scale. Along with the help of a few kendo magazine features, we able to proudly present quality equipment to an even wider audience.
-We have received many inquiries from customers in the past requesting Bushizo to partner with Hatakaya Budougu.
Masaomi: Since starting our business during Heisei 10th, we have had the honour of receiving both an award of excellence from the ministry of labour and a yellow medal of honour from from the government for our work. These are the first awards of their kind to be handed to a bogu maker in Japan.
-Most bogu makers have outsourced their manufacturing overseas but Hatakaya Budougu remains an exception, why is that?
Masaomi: Every kendoka has a different body structure and style of kendo, so in response our shop wanted to make our products personal and suited for that individual. We wanted to incorporate our customer’s preferences and opinions into the bogu-making process, and to ensure that we deliver products of the highest quality, we have decided that we needed to keep the manufacturing process domestic.
-Are all the materials used also sourced within the country?
Masaomi: All the materials used in our “Takeaki” line have been hand picked by myself. I went to each factory individually to ensure the quality of the materials we will be using.
Materials from Hatakaya Budogu’s “Takeaki” Line
Brown Deer Leather, Navy Deer Leather, White Deer Leather
Masaomi: Deer leather could be said to be the most important material in the bogu making. The harvested deer leather is processed into three types of leathers: brown deer leather, navy deer leather, and white deer leather. The leather we use for our “Takeaki” line is taken from the deer’s back, which also happens to be the best part. (One sheet of deer skin can only produce one set of kote)
Masaomi: Brown deer leather is used for the palms of the kote. We look for durability and flexibility in the leather when picking out the leather. While the consistency of quality is not much of problem, processing the leather is very time consuming. It takes at least one week to prepare a single sheet of deer leather for bogu making (sheets are processed in batches of tens).
Masaomi: Materials aside, the skills and experience of a bogu craftsman just as important. But due to an aging population and a declining number of people in the industry, quality bogu is becomes harder and harder to come by.
-Are the numbers of suppliers also affected by the aging problem in Japan?
Masaomi: Yes. Bogu makers can’t survive without their suppliers. I think we should work fast while we still have the chance.
Deer fur in the kote
Masaomi: The fur that’s been delicately harvested are put into pipe shapes in order to increase breathability and shock absorption. As the kote is being used, the deer fur will mould to the hands of its user, making the fit even better. We used authentic deer fur in every one of our kote.
Comments from Bushizo
The bogu produced from these craftsmen are like works of art. In addition, I was able to learn a lot about the material selection process. There have also been a lot of requests overseas for quality Japanese bogu recently. As such, Bushizo is proud to present Hatakaya Budougu products to kenshi around the world. Thank you very much for reading this article.
BUSHIZO is an online select shop of kendo supplies.
From the rich lineup selected carefully by the BUSHIZO staff, you can purchase the product at a reasonable price.
1. Good Deal
Since we are purchasing directly from manufacturers, we can offer quality goods at a reasonable price by not adding intermediate costs.
2. Easy to select
We are attracting elaborate products from more than 15 manufacturers nationwide in Japan. You can find the best product by comparing the price, durability, ease of use, etc.
Items are carefully selected by BUSHIZO staffs who have more than 25 years kendo experience. Visiting each manufacturers.
Born in 1987 in Sendai City. Studied kendo under Mr. Mitsunobu Sato who is 2nd place of 49th all japan kendo championship. Ueshima participated in a inter-high school competition and made it to quarter finals.
After graduating from college, Ueshima experienced business development manager of a restaurant chain store, sales manager of digital advertisement agency.
Established Bushizo, inc. in January 2017.
In 1984, born in Hokkaido. Began kendo since when 6 years old.
Graduated Rikkyo University in law degree. Joined Yahoo Japan Corporation in 2008 in the sales position. Established Bushizo Co., Ltd. in January 2017.
This time, we interviewed Mr. Kazuki Kawashima of the sword artist who is a Japanese craftworker.
It was a very impressed interview with Mr. Kawashima.
The reason why Mr. Kawashima became craftsman
ーWhy did you want to become a sword craftsman?
Kawashima: Since my family work was making a knife. When I was a kid, I wanted to make a sword for king.
ーMaking sword was familiar to you. As a sword maker, what is your motivation?
Kawashima: A sword becomes a guardian. I will be pleased if I make a beautiful sword, and customers gladly receive it, and customers will be happy they have it.
ーWhat is most important point making sword?
Kawashima: I keep in mind that I do a careful work, because polite work put in my soul into swords.
ーWhat is your goal?
Kawashima: I want to make swords as much as possible. I want to make beautiful swords as much as possible.
Thank you for today!
Hello! I'm Mariko Sato in charge of BUSHIZO in Europe.
I participated in the Japan Festival 2017 held in Amstelveen on Sunday, October 8th.
In this Festival, you can enjoy Japanese cuisine and workshops. Such as Ramen, udon, beef bowl and curry....etc, are introduced as Japanese traditional food.
At the workshop you can experience calligraphy and flower arrangements.
You can also enjoy demonstrations such as karate, kendo, Japanese drum, chorus etc were also carried out.
In the Netherlands I belong to a dojo called Renshinjuku, and participated in demonstrations with dojo members.
The content is a demonstration of basic practice with elementary and junior high school students.
I would be pleased if someone was interested in kendo through this demonstration.
BUSHIZO also has expanded overseas version and I would like to continue to devote not only to EC sales but also to the spread of overseas kendo.
Born in Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture, he has commented on fashion, culture, gourmet, travel, and luxury lifestyle in magazines, newspapers, and on TV. In 2007, he received the title of Chevalier (knighthood) in Champagne, France. In 2010, he also received knighthood in Cava, Spain, which is famous for its sparkling wine. In 2013, Nakamura became the chairperson of the Japanese council for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. He is a 7th-dan kendo instructor, and is also an instructor for the Japan Tea Ceremony Association. (May 2017)
A New Challenge as a Gourmand
ーTo begin, could you describe your work?
Mr. Nakamura: I mostly write columns, and while I do write essays, I often write for magazines as a columnist. Recently I have been writing for the Nikkei regularly.
ーCould you talk about your work for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants?
Mr. Nakamura: Originally, I was only writing, however, once I became a regular on NHK BS1’s El Mundo (a program that focuses on international topics), I started to be invited to talks and also gave lectures. Recently, I starred in an international commercial for InterContinental Hotels Group as a gourmand, and I think that I will have similar opportunities in the future.
“Sophistication: A Sensory Experience” (Featuring Culinary Connoisseur Takanori Nakamura)
ーWhat kind of genre would you say culinary criticism falls into?
Mr. Nakamura: It is a critique, so I would consider it a literary art. I think that the quality of expression is required.
ーWhat is the difference between cuisine and gastronomy?
Mr. Nakamura: Recently, the term “gastronomy” is becoming frequently used around the world. This directly translates to bishoku-gaku (美食学) in Japanese. However, in the case of bishokugaku, it is not only the food on the plate that is considered, but also the culture and aesthetic elements that surround the dish. For example, the historical background of a recipe, the artistic experience, dishes, the spatial and architectural elements of the restaurant are taken into account, along with other decisions such as wine, drink, and cigar pairing. Although this approach of gastronomy has a rather short history, I believe that the study of bishoku will eventually mature and be well recognized, just as the automobile reviewing has matured 150 years past the invention of the automobile, and likewise with critique of photography. Also, because food, clothing, and shelter are essential to humans, understanding gastronomy is important for people’s daily life.
ーSo it’s a job that requires extensive knowledge. What drew you to this field?
Mr. Nakamura: It was really just an outcome of the circumstances. Whether I can continue to be recognized as a credible critic will depend on my future performance. Although I enjoy eating the food, I actually wasn’t very interested in this job at first. Gastronomy is a very specialized art with a lot of history corresponding to it. Evaluating and criticizing the food is a lot of work both physically and financially.Even when the offer came for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, I knew it would be a lot of work, but I couldn’t turn down such an interesting offer, and I am generally up for the challenge for things like that. Although I’m sure there are other easier ways to make a living, it’s in my nature to prioritize the things that interest me the most.
Kendo is Neither a Hobby nor a Job
ーWhat is kendo to you?
Mr. Nakamura: People often assume that kendo is something that I do as a hobby or just for fun, but to me, it feels like something more than just a hobby. It’s not my job, it’s not my hobby, and it’s also not something I do just for fun. Although I wouldn’t tell this to my clients, I sometimes prioritize kendo over my job, and in some cases, even over dates! My job is important of course, but I treat kendo with the same level of seriousness as I do my job.
ーHave your kendo and tea ceremony experiences been useful in your job?
Mr. Nakamura: My job is to convey things to people. When you think about it, even salesmen have to communicate to customers what the products are, and in the same way, engineers have to communicate their ideas as well. In my case, although I am just putting words and sentences together, the aspect of moving people emotionally with my words is similar to the arts of kendo and tea ceremony.
ーFor example, the way you take pauses in conversation?
Mr. Nakamura: 「Yes, and also the pace of communication. I think that’s the point of kendo and tea ceremony. For example, foreigners and Japanese people have different ways of communicating. Westerners may hug or shake hands with those they are close to. If you adjust yourself according to the person you are engaging, it will become easier for us to relate to each other and work together. In kendo, depending on whether you are up against a child, or an eighth-dan instructor, you will pace yourself differently. Recently, I’ve begun to realize just how important it is to have a sense of the relationship both when doing kendo and my job.
Why Do Kendo?
Mr. Nakamura: Just as I’ve experienced, since kendo becomes really helpful later in life, I’ve always wanted children to do kendo.
ーPeople don’t seem to be aware of how useful kendo can be.
Mr. Nakamura: Although paradoxical, doing kendo because you think it will be useful isn’t necessarily a good idea. As with many kendo athletes, I didn’t realize how helpful it was until later. The same thing is true for tea ceremony—if you do it because you think it will help you in the future, your motivation to continue will not last. You need to be able to enjoy what you are doing—be it kendo or tea ceremony—if you want to continue it for a long time and gain the intuition for the art.
ーDo you think it is not good to stick too much to form?
Mr. Nakamura: In both kendo and tea ceremony, it is very important to pay attention to form. Form has been sophisticated over many years, and is a rational thing. However, if you focus too much on style and following every rule, you may end up neglecting the essence of the art. Even in the case of tea ceremony, its style has changed from before Sen no Rikyu’s influence. He thought seriously about how supplies and flowers should be arranged in order to best entertain the guests. I think that tea ceremony is essentially about entertaining the guest you are serving. If you are too focused on style and following all the rules, you will not be able to produce good tea. Of course, the easiest way to learn tea ceremony is to study all of the techniques developed by the tea ceremony masters in history. However, I believe that it is important to go beyond that at times.
ーSo you have to let go of your defenses like shuhari (守破離)?
Mr. Nakamura: 「I think you have to aim to own what you are doing, whether it is tea ceremony or kendo. Then you can go beyond the basics that you’ve learned, as long as you have a good awareness of what you’re doing.
What do you mean by owning it?
Mr. Nakamura: You know, even with different kendo athletes, you get a different image of each athlete’s form of kendo. They have kendo in their nature. I think that it’s important to perfect that ability that they have within them. Each kendo athlete needs to perfect their own skill.
ーThis is a really simple question, but why do you choose to continue kendo?
Mr. Nakamura: Because I enjoy it.
Mr. Nakamura: It is really important to enjoy it. There’s nothing like that feeling of time stopping that I get when I’m doing kendo. I do get a similar feeling when I start working on one of my reviews, or serve tea, but when I do kendo, I feel something really exceptional.
ーWhere do you think that feeling comes from?
Mr. Nakamura: I guess it’s because kendo is about confronting death. Even though we’re using bamboo swords, it’s essentially about combating and killing the opponent. We face our own karma through kendo. You have to face the fear of death, and at that moment, it is the so-called katsujinken (活人剣) that makes the best use of both the opponent and yourself. Although I have never been in such a position, I get to experience something like this in kendo, and this is why combat sports are an artform. An art like kendo is really unique, and I think it should be recognized as a world heritage.
ーWhat does it mean to explore an artform?
Mr. Nakamura: 「I think it’s to see beauty in the techniques themselves, and to overcome one’s cowardice. That’s what martial arts are about. That’s where the beauty lies. It’s rare in the world to find a culture that finds beauty in combat, but that’s what we see in Japan in the form of kendo. I want the world to become more aware of this beauty.
ーIt truly is uniquely Japanese to see beauty in combat. Thanks for sharing these invaluable thoughts with us today.
Go Ueshima, CEO
Born in 1987 in Sendai. When he was in high school, he studied under Mitsunobu Sato. Selected eighth-best of inter-high school kendo team competition.
After graduating high school, he became a business development manager for a restaruant chain with 200 stores in the United States. Afterward, he worked as a salesperson at a foreign internet advertising firm, and later worked in the sales department and in the executive office leadership position of Inova. In January 2017, he founded Bushizo.
Yusuke Kodo, Director
Born in 1984 in Hokkaido, Kodo graduated from the Rikkyo University Faculty of Law. While he was in university, he helped publish the first issue of an independent magazine, and also helped with the marketing of an apparel brand. In 2008, he started working for Yahoo Inc, where he helped with the marketing of products using search-linked and display advertising. In January 2017, he founded Bushizo. He has been doing kendo since he was six, and continues it to this day.