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.
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.
Takayanagi-Kichi-Shoten has Established in 1954. It is know as one of the fewest and most famous sewing and indigo dyeing makers which has its own factory in Japan. Because the former president had eight dan of Judo, the company has strength judo as well. We asked about the original products, a new management team. (May, 2017)
President Mr. Takayanagi
Sales representative Eiko Yamashita
Sales representative Makoto Tajikara
-Could please tell us your company?
Miss. Yamashita: Our strength is a dyeing technique and sewing skill. We have our own garment factory in Japan. Originally, we were doing indigo dyeing so there is an indigo factory just back of the headquarters. However, It doesn’t work every day.
-It’s our first time visiting indigo dyeing maker.
Mr. Tajikara: At the time of establishment, we sell indigo dyeing cloths.
—I think your indigo dyeing is a little light in color.
Miss. Yamashita: It called “Enshu Aizome”.
Mr. Tajikara: The name of region is “Enshu”.
-Oh, I took “Enshu Railway” today.
Miss. Yamashita: Yes, same name as that railway, haha. Enshu aizome is one of popular dyeing technic. Another part of Shizuoka prefecture is “Suruga Aizome”. The most popular aizome technic is Bushu in Saitama prefecture.
What is the characteristic of “Enshu aizome”?
Miss. Yamashita: The lightness in color. We think it is true “Ai” color but normally, deep in color seems to be popular.
-There are some ways in Aizome.
Miss. Yamashita:: I think we are the only one who has indigo dyeing factory.
-Can we look around the aizome factory?
Miss. Yamashita: Sure. It is dirty but real aizome factory.
-You are Judo-gi makers as well, right?
Miss. Yamashita: Previous president Kiichi Takayanagi was gone in January 2017. My grandfather also played Judo so we focused not only Kendo equipment but also Judo.
Miss. Yamashita:We made Japanese kendo-gi and hakama in our factory.
Miss. Yamashita: I do not want too many orders, haha. It has good originality. It is all build-to-order manufacturing.
- It’s really unique.
Miss. Yamashita: Auctually, other Kendo makers want it. We had made Kusakizome bogu set as trial before.
-Why did you make it?
Miss. Yamashita: For the people who have allergies. It’s made by NATURAL COLORED MATERIAL.
-I had heard that Kakishibuzome is prevent the smell.
Miss. Yamashita: Aizome has the same effect. For people sweat easily. We made it to lessen the allergic material.
Mr. Tajikara: Most of people buy this kind of unique kendo-gi for gift.
Miss. Yamashita: Sakura kendo-gi and Sax blue kendo-gi are also popular. Because they are original.
Miss. Yamashita: Sakura Kendo-gi is especially popular by Kids.
-It’s really rare color.
Miss. Yamashita:Since colors change as time goes on, we do not keep stock as much as possible. It is not made build-to-order manufacturing, but we try to keep this item’s originality.
Selling for overseas
President Takayanagi: We took International Organization for Standardization.
Miss. Yamashita: Although we are a small company but the previous president want to expand business overseas so we thought it had better to take it We need to grantee safety for European people.
President Takayanagi: In short, we produce items same quality anytime.
Thank for today. It’s really good experience looking around the aizome factory.
Takeshima Budogu was founded in 1954. They have their own shop in Kawasaki and Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture in Japan. Though they are a retailer, they have own products named “BUKOTU”. It’s popular in Japan because of its unique design. What is the characteristic of BUKOTU? Why they developed it?
Mr. Mutsuyoshi Takeshima : President of Takeshima Budogu
Mr. Shoji Takeshima : Senior Managing Director of Takeshima Budogu
Story of founding
-Takeshima Budogu founded in Kagoshima, right?
Shoji:Yes. My grandfather was Kendo bogu craftsman. Then, my father took over the business. When my grandfather died, my father moved to Kanagawa. Originally, my father just focused on repair works but after moving to Kanagawa, we started to sell Kendo equipment.
-Did your grandfather manage Kendo bogu factory?
Shoji:My grandfather and his senior stablemate founded big kendo bogu factory in Kyushu.
The story of developing BUKOTU
-Why did you develop BUKOTU series?
President Takeshima: When I went to kendo factory in China, I talked with the president of factory and the idea has came up. It was like pitched Men.
Make the fabric soft and thick by making space. Simply stitching in 3mm, it is thin and hard, right? I thought that it would be thick and soft as we opened the space. At that time, I think that there was no concept like pitch but I think it is the same idea as pitch.
- You didn’t intend go to China to develop a new product?
President Takeshima: It is factory inspection rather than new product development. How was that factory, What kind of people are there , what kind of things they were doing? They also wanted to invite us.
- Nowadays there is a lot of pitch stitching Bogu but Wasn’t it an innovative product at that time?
President Takeshima:Yes.But I wondered whether I should made it or not about half a year.
- What’s the point?
Shoji: Design. I wonder if such a rugged design can be sold. I thought there were only equivalent ones so far. 3mm is 3 mm, 5mm is 5 mm. I wondered such design would be accepted by Kendo people.
※Unique stitch “BUKOTU”
- Why did you put on naming as BUKOTU?
Shoji: Our president named “BUKOTU” inspired by the appearance of ugly as a rug.
- It is a naming that seems to be loved by professionals.
Shoji: I was relieved that you felt like that.
- What else bothered you before starting to sell it?
Shoji: I gave the national kendo athletes about ten as samples because sometimes high grade dan holders only use hand stitch bogu.
- How’s the reaction?
Shoji: People who want to use something different gave us very good feedbacks. Besides, we came to know that it is not painful by monitor. Rug surface absorbs shock.
-Actually, I use BUKOTU and it’s not painful.
Shoji: Making soft and thicker is important. Compared with other manufacturers that are 3 mm thin and not pitch, shock absorption is good.
- Is the material thicker?
Shoji: We are not making extra thick, because the part that pierces the stitching space does not get narrowed down, so it will become thicker as a result.
Commitment to design
- Have you tried patterns in addition to 3 mm and 6 mm pitch width?
Shoji: 3 mm and 6 mm is the limit pitch. If we spread it, the fabric will be broken.
- Have you tried patterns like 4 mm and 8 mm for the pitch width?
Shoji: It’s not cool, I think. Sharpness is an essential. Design is very important to us.
Which is much more important for BUKOTU customers, design or function?
Shoji: Both. The fact that I heard from my mother who was the partner of the founder said that the form do not change. If it were to change it would be only material.
4 types of BUKOTU Kote
Shoji: I said before, considering about half a year.Because its Rugged design.We were making men futon, then customers want to have kote.
-Beginning from men?
Shoji: Yes. We start from men, then making kote. Kote futon is easy, actually. But kote kashira is difficult. It was really hard time.
-You can take advantage of men futon’s essence.
Shoji: We focused on grip. If the kote kashira part is not unique, it is not fun so I thought and tried many times.
Since the form of the hand grip completely different depending on each persons so I tried to change the material. Even though I think that this is going to be very good, the opinions of customers are pros and cons.
So, I changed the mold and the material to make several kinds.
- Those have different functional?
Shoji: Yes. The needs of customer are defferent from each person. One customer wants uniqe Kote, the other one wants classic one. Making kote is very hard for us. I consider until now.
President Takeshima: There’s no perfect for kote. It’s depend on people. Even if we think that is good, people are different.
-What’s this mold? Kote mold?
Shoji: This is bad when someone copied, so please camouflage. After all, I wanted to stick to it, so I had to make a mold.
-Did you make this mold by yourself?
Shoji: Yes, it was first type.
Did you think it’s impossible making an ideal kote, if you make mold by yourself?
Shoji: When I ask kote craft man, they said “stop it!”. Because it’s really tough to make it.
I think it’s special form of grip.
Shoji: Our kote is making the hand grip is right place.
If we use BUKOTU kote, naturally grip right place.
Thank you for today!
Nishinihon budogu is traditional Shinai and Kendo bogu maker in Kasuga city, Fukuoka prefecture.
It was established about 34 years ago, and since then, it has been providing high-quality kendo equipment throughout the country.is known for its lightweight and easy-to-use armor "Mugen" series and Madake Shinai made by Japanese craftsmen.
Currently there are few Japanese shinai craft workers in Japan. Nishinihon budogu has a passion to protect Japanese craftsmen.
This time, we visited interviewed Nakagawa madake Shinai factory in Fukuoka.
President of Nishinihon budogu Junji Nishi
Passion for Shinai
-When did you start selling shinai as a maker?
Nishi: We sell shinai as a maker over 30 years. Then, we also sell kendo bogu 10 years ago.
-Please tell us your passion for Shinai.
Nishi: Most bamboos which currently circulate are Keichiku cut down in Taiwan.
There are some shinai marked as Madake but I think that it is not so clear whether it is domestic madake or Chinese madake.
It’s important that telling the truth. I think it’s maker’s responsibility. Of course, There are good Chinese madake shinai. Also, Japanese madake shinai has its own unique point.
I think that it is our mission to tell more about the shinai and make them to be used, which can lead not to cease Japanese shinai craftsmanship.
Visiting Nakagawa madake Shinai factory
Managing director of Nishinihon budogu Mr. Sagawa.
Sagawa: Our most popular shinai brand “Josui” bamboo in Bungo and Kunihiro’s bamboo in Kyoto were both cut down by craftsman. Only 50 to 60% of the bamboos can be used for 39 bamboo swords.
-It’s really few.
Sagawa: Yes. Retailers and customers come to see this factory every year. They came very far from here. When we explain materials, manufacturing process, their orders about weight and grip size have changed. If they specify grams and cm first, it changes to rough estimate.
-After seeing the factory, it becomes rough estimate. Why does it change?
Sagawa: I think that it is because they understand the difficulty in the manufacturing process of Shinai and passion of craftsmen. In addition, although it is a craftsman who makes a Shinai, craftsmen who cut down bamboo has a hard time too. I think that it is also important that we tell customers that story to understand such situation. I'd like the people who are doing kendo to visit and see this factory.
-Do uou think that the number of craftsmen are not enough?
Sagawa: Doesn’t your company’s craftsmen go abroad to expand the technique?
Shinai which made in Madake factory, are different from each material, like Kyoto and Bungo bamboo. The technique of how to dry bamboo is also different from each craftsmen. So we can made shinai only here.
-Shamefully, I have used Madake Shinai very few time so I was lacking of understanding.
Sagawa: I didn’t say Shinai made in abroad is not good. Cheaper and more speedy made Shinai expanded Kendo.
- I see.
Sagawa: On the other hand, we should remain important part, protect traditional technique and knowledge and transmit them to posterity.
Shinai craftsman Mr. Ohashi
Ohashi: It is work to harden and strengthen bamboo. It is a basic work of forming Shinai but it is important.
-Is this preprocessing?
Ohashi: Exactlly. It is a work process that craftsmen consider most important. If this process does not go well, it will not work until the end. It takes around 10 to 15 minutes to rectify the four pieces. I will straighten it with 4 pairs. I will work 4 pieces in one set to the end, it is already to the end. ...... This is the oil of bamboo.
- Does it come out naturally?
Ohashi: That's right. This state is called craftsmen's term "bamboo boiled". You can see that steam comes out? Moisture comes out of the fiber. We judge the degree of burning of bamboo by the condition of this moisture and the appearance of bamboo skin oil. We will stretch this and mold it. We should not bake too hard nor have baked not enough.
Training young craftsmen
- Why did you think to become a craftmaker of Shinai?
Tamura: I had never seen making Shinai and there were few such environments, I was just interested in trying to do it. I was originally playing Kendo.
Kusaka: I tried to jump in with curiosity that I wanted to do it myself anyway.
Tamura: When I made it for the first time, I was happy just being Shinai from the state of bamboo.
I'm happy when I can get good feedback from sales staff. And at the time customers are pleased.
I'm looking forward to someday that the two of you will grow upward. Thank you for today!
Anshin Shokai founded in 1955. After the world war II GHQ banned Budo. I was surprised to say that they sold budo supplies in the black market at that time. I will tell you the vision and passion of the company(May 2017)
Anshin shokai Co., Ltd.
President of Anshin shokai Seigo Ando
Hit product brand “Fuji daruma”.
-Speaking of Anshin-Shokai, it is “Daruma” brand.
Ando: Our first president started selling clothes, so our strength is Kendo-gi and Hakama.
-Founder made kendo-gi and hakama?
Ando: Before world war II, Budo was very popular. So we made Judo-gi mostly. At that time, Japanese didn’t know about sports so if people want to get some exercise, they did Kendo, Judo and Karate. There were many people who play martial arts.
-After world war II, GHQ prohibited Budo.
Ando: It seems there are many people who did Budo to hide. For those people, we pull the rear car in the black market and sell Budo products. Under the coat with five or six layers of judo clothes. Our company has been existing from such age.
Warning to disposable culture
Ando: Famous baseball player Ichiro Suzuki is like a samurai, I think.
-He take care of his things.
Ando: He never let people to touch his bat. Samurai's sword is also the same. With that idea, people take care of things and doing Kendo long time.
We also believe Kendo makers should make durable products.
Kendo is an Art
Ando: Standing posture is beautiful even though wearing like an armor. People from overseas say "There is no other sports such like Kendo".
-There is a beauty in Kendo.
Ando: I am glad to hear that opinion from overseas. People from overseas understanding beauty of Kendo.
-Thank you for today!
Eikobudogu is a martial arts equipment manufacturing company founded in Kawaguchi city Saitama prefecture in 1992. Originally founded by Madokoro brother's father, the family business has been passed down to his two sons, and the brothers currently run the company together. This time we had the privilege to hear their story of their factory for the first time. In this interview we introduce to you Eikobudogu, revolutionaries and innovators who have produced numerous hit products.
Mr. Yoshiaki Madokoro, Senior Managing Director
Eikobudogu Co., Ltd.
Eikobudogu’s History & Roots
—Please tell us about the history of Eikobudogu.
Madokoro: “My father founded this company about 25 years ago in 1992 (Heisei 4). He didn’t start out doing Kendo, but his interest in the martial art grew after seeing my brother and I pursue Kendo. Eventually he started Kendo as well.”
—What was the reason or incentive behind manufacturing Kendo equipment as a business?
Madokoro: “When my father would go out to buy Kendo equipment he seemed surprised at how expensive all of the equipment was. At that point he thought about creating Kendo equipment of the same quality as those on the market, but with a more affordable price to make Kendo available for all customers who are passionate about it.”
—Did you have any prior experience in manufacturing Kendo equipment in the past?
Madokoro: “Not at all. Our company president, who is my older brother, practiced Kendo throughout high school but decided to pursue boxing at university. And at that time my father quit his office job and decided to pursue the field of martial arts equipment manufacturing. For someone with no experience or knowledge in Kendo to to start a company like this one sounds pretty reckless, doesn't it! (laughs)”
*The company’s president received 1st place in Japan’s ranking
—Did you find it to be quite a struggle when you were just starting out establishing this company?
Madokoro: “Back then it was customary for people to purchase Kendo armor through advertisements in Kendo magazines, or to get recommendations from your local instructor. Now we have the internet, which is an extremely convenient tool, but at that time my father was just networking through his connections. Since he was selling products at a lower price than the market value we saw this as a new style of approaching the industry.”
—Your customers have probably been very happy with the price and quality of your products.
Madokoro: “I’m happy to say that I think that is the case! While I can’t say how businesses in the same field as us feel about it, back then my father was sure that this was the right approach to take with his business, to put our relationship with customers first. Not just to sell cheaply, but also to create high quality products is very important to us.”
—When did you start working in management with your company?
Madokoro: “My older brother had already been working in the company, and I joined him right after graduating from university at age 22. When I first joined I was working in sales and product development, but my job has been heavily focused on management ever since my father retired 8 years ago and my older brother became the representative of the company.”
—Which store was your company’s first location?
Madokoro: “My father opened his first store in Kawaguchi city, Saitama prefecture. We only had that one store for about 10 years but later opened 2 more stores in Ueno, which is my father’s hometown. After that we also established an office in Koshigaya city in Saitama as our head office and distribution center, but it now functions as our “Koshigaya Shop” and “Repair Center”. Also our original Kawaguchi shop operates as our “Omiya Ekimae Shop”.
A store where the management team and staff themselves are Kendō experts
—Congratulations on your recent promotion to the Seventh Dan of 2017.
Madokoro: “Thank you very much.”
—I heard that your company’s president also participated in the seventh stage of the national and prefectural competitions. As employees who actively practice Kendo, do you think your experience in the field helps your product development?
Madokoro: “It definitely benefits our customers and improves the experience for our users. Oftentimes our customers ask us questions about the product, and I personally think it is difficult to understand our products and help customers with questions about our products if we ourselves haven’t used them. If we get a question like “what are some good features of this particular armor?” we can only give them the specifications of the product, but we can’t tell them about the experience of the product if we don’t use them ourselves. If we can only give them the specs, they will evidently just choose the cheapest options.
We love Kendo and Kendo equipment, so all of our products are dedicated to high quality and ease of use. In addition to the armor, other equipment like the dougi, hakama, shinai-bukuro, and bogu-bukuro are all tested for comfort, which we think is important in the customer’s choices. Our top priority is to talk with the customer at their level and perspective, in order to best understand the customer.
I myself also teach Kendo at the local dojo and can understand the needs and troubles of swordsmen and women of various ages, and I also receive important feedback from the who practice Kendo as well.”
—It seems that other companies communicate a lot with Kendo athletes to listen to their concerns about their equipment in order to improve on their products.
Madokoro: “Of course we do this as well, in addition to communicating with our fellow Kendo acquaintances.
For example, we’ll hear from those people about their hopes and concerns regarding their equipment and armor, but actually figuring out how we can improve it and what we can change is a lot more complicated. While it is pretty easy to improve our product in terms of its ease of use by reducing the volume of the core material in the equipment, and making it lighter, it unfortunately decreases the equipment’s safety, since the protective gear would not have enough padding.
One of the foundational basic functions of Kendo armor is to protect. Rather than focusing on reducing the weight of the armor, if you better fit the armor comfortably around the body it will feel much lighter. concept is that those who wear this armor will overall perform better in their craft.”
Weight is not important
Madokoro: “A long time ago there was a nationally famous craftsman named Hiroyohi Saegusa, and when I first saw his armor I was taken back by how heavy his armor seemed. This was 50 years ago, so the armor was especially heavy with a lot of sheet metal which added a lot to its weight.
The craftsmanship of this expert’s armor was amazing, and I was beyond impressed just by looking at it, and when I actually tried it on I was amazed at how light it felt despite all of the sheet metal making it look heavy for sure. That’s when I realized just how important balance and distribution of weight is when making armor like this.
Personally, I don’t like the idea of lightening the armor by decreasing the core material, or even lightening or softening the armor in general. As my customers have told me, when you soften the armor and lighten the armor by decreasing its weight, you lose the sense of quality and the feeling of good craftsmanship. Thus I think that it is important for armor craftsmen to avoid this process entirely.”
—I understand that the balance of the Shinai changes with the position and thickness of the knot, but what about balance in terms of the armor?
Madokoro: “The weight of one’s head takes up a considerable proportion of the human body. When you put on the and if the Men-futon is light, then the will naturally feel heavy and your center of gravity will go forward. So it is important to find the right balance between the Men-futon and Mengane. While a light Mengane and a light Men-futon are good in terms of balance, the downside is that it won’t have any strength.
Kendo is said to be a lifetime, lifelong competition, so it is important to consider the risks of getting hit in the neck, kicked, made deaf, et cetera. Because it is a lifelong sport, it makes me worried to think that people are using weak and lightweight armor in their life of Kendo.”
—So I take it that you find it important to provide Kendo equipment that combines safety with practicality.
Madokoro: “Absolutely. Strength differs from person to person, but as I have been doing Kendo, I can better determine which aspects are painful and which ones aren’t, and I can apply these observations in the development of our products. Especially since many of our employees practice Kendo themselves, so their experiences and input can help improve our products.”
A look into the Kendo equipment manufacturing factory
—Where is your company currently manufacturing your products?
Madokoro: “Of course there are some things that we order from other manufacturers, and many of our products come from China and Vietnam. However, our original brand products are manufactured mainly in the Philippines. The man who first built the factory that we now use was a famous craftsman who practiced his craft for many years in Japan.
We actually met this craftsman about 20 years ago, and that’s when we began negotiating. At that time every manufacturer in Japan was saying that the best armor came from that factory. The products were so outstanding in technical strength that it was renowned nationwide.”
—Would you say management was being compromised?
Madokoro: “As we had feared, we had actually gone bankrupt. It felt like a lightning bolt from heaven, like a curse for us, as we were just preparing for the Year-End/New Year’s Sale.
Of course we were worried about the sales, but we were more worried about the possibility of losing all of our talented and gifted craftsmen at the factory.
As soon as we heard that our factory craftsmen had stayed along with their factory manager, our president made immediate plans in cooperation with the plant manager to build a new factory.
That time caused a lot of difficulties and hardships for our local employees, and it was especially strenuous for us as well.”
—That sounds like something out of a drama. It seems like you have a strong bond with your employees as well.
Madokoro: “We couldn’t have done it without them. When we were at our worst point there wasn’t a single smile, the air was heavy, and even when hearing the news about our success in opening a new factory, many of our employees were heavy with worry and anxious about the future.
We realized that in order to change this environment it was important for us to visit the factory frequently, and the president and I frequented the factory like every month, attending their Christmas parties and making curry together, gradually building deeper and stronger relationships with all of our employees. It wasn’t long until we began to see their smiles back on their faces. We really owe a lot to the plant manager and his employees for sticking with us even through our hardest times.”
—Do other members of your company other than management visit the factory?
Madokoro: “We feel that it’s important for our employees to understand the various jobs that employees have throughout the company, so we have them take turns visiting different environments. This way our employees who are selling the products will think more about the craftsmen who make the armor.
The amount that we invest in connecting with the factory craftsmen is at a level in which they almost feel that it’s too much! When people hear that we are manufacturing in places outside of Japan, we receive some mixed reactions, but I think this is a mistake. These craftsmen have very good technical skills, and they are very serious about their craft, so all of us take a lot of pride in selling the products made by these great factory workers.”
—I can see how your company is not only united, but also succeeding in selling great reliable products.
Development of the “Tonbo Series”
—You have various product lines like the Tonbo Series, BAK Kendo-gu, TONBO Armor and Armor Bags, and BAK underwear. Could you tell us exactly how you came up with the concepts of these product lines?
Madokoro: “We can make very elaborate and fancy armor, and it was well-known that our products had very high technical capabilities, but we saw that ease of use was one more step that we could take in improving our gear.
That’s when we decided to start our Tonbo series. At the time flashy armor was quite popular, but we started looking into manufacturers that were focusing on the ease of use of martial arts equipment, and we thought that it was these companies that focused on ease of use that would succeed and come out strong in the end. We felt like the era of flashy armor would be short-lived and would decline fast.
However, when it came to the gloves I knew that its three-dimensional characteristics would make it complicated to make, so I ended up going through the many Kote that I already had and breaking them apart!”
—Did you actually break apart your Kote?
Madokoro: “Yes, I realized that when I start making models of a design, I gradually start to understand how it works. I talked recently with craftsmen who make Kote, and they tell me that it’s impossible to make a good template of Kote if you’re not a craftsman in that field. Despite this I decided to go ahead and try. I tried numerous times and there was a lot of trial and error, sending numerous drafts to the factory.
Although the first sample was far from satisfactory, there were a lot of things that we could work off of. We could get a feel of how a completed product feels, and improve things like widening the seam allowance. Then we would recreate our product again and again, until we were satisfied with a Kote that was well-crafted and easy to use.”
—What aspects were the most difficult?
Madokoro: “For example, if we are considering making the Kote smaller, there are other patterns that follow. Whether it be adding more fur inside the Kote, changing the amount of Tenouchi, making the outer head smaller, etc. Figuring out what would change if we tweaked one part of the product was difficult to figure out.
Making the inner hand in Kote A smaller, adding more fur padding in Kote B, enlarging only the head of the glove for Kote C, adjusting both the inner hand and fur padding for Kote D — as I make these different combinations, I start to make out the patterns of the product. When we were finally satisfied with the outcome after endless prototypes, that’s when the Tonbo was born. I believe that our very first ever easy-to-use armor is the Tonbo.”
—So your goal has basically been to design and create Kote that are easy to use.
Madokoro: “I would say so. We started from there and later began to focus on the Futon as well. I know that people aren’t necessarily that interested in the Futon, but I think it’s very important. We studied the Futon, core material and shape carefully, and we were able to create a great product even with the Futon. Once we accomplished the Futon, we figured that we could have a go at making the Men and Tare as well, so in the end we created the whole set.”
—It seems as though you’ve applied the knowledge you obtained from manufacturing the Kote into your other products.
Madokoro: “As of now we have been selling them as a set for about 10 years. Our catchphrase is ‘Very strong and easy to use! But it’s not lightweight.’
Everyone was like “...what?” to that jingle, but as I mentioned earlier we felt it was fitting on a light note. It’s all about balance. It’s an armor that can move with little resistance, without stress, and without any unwanted disturbance for the athlete.
The “Bogu-Bukuro” and “Shinai-Bukuro” that we are currently selling are also easy to use, so we named it ‘TONBO’.”
—I see, it’s very easy to understand!
Madokoro: “We have a variety of items in our Tonbo series, each with their own distinct features, but our concept and motto remains the same. As I mentioned earlier with the Bogu-Bukuro, it was a matter of relentless trial and error. When I would think about the ways in which they would be used, I would think to myself, ‘What about this shape? Would this make it easier?’ and make changes.”
Development of the “BAK Series”
—How did the development of the BAK series come to be?
Madokoro: “The BAK series started out with underwear.”
—How long ago was this?
Madokoro: “About 6 to 7 years ago. My boss contacted Kentaro Takahashi, who was my superior back in high school, and an associate professor at Kanto Gakuin University, as well as the training coach for the Kendo representative of Japan, about wanting to start up an underwear line. Kendo has a tradition of not wearing any undergarments under the armor, but when we started to consider how more body support could prevent certain injuries, more interest grew in terms of designing underwear that would better support the body.
My superior agreed to carry through with manufacturing the product. We realized that Kendo was no different from other sports when it came to innovating to prevent injury.”
—How would you describe how the average Kendo athlete’s muscles develop?
Madokoro: “I would say that Kendo is very different from other sports in terms of muscle development, as Kendo athletes often end up building muscles on their left calves and right thigh. As a result, we designed the BAK series to be purposely asymmetrical in its support design, due to the asymmetrical natures of the sport. We were able to design and create a supporter which allows smooth movement, as the most essential parts of movement for Kendo are reinforced with a power net. On the outerwear we inserted an X-shaped power net on the back area, and when you put it on it feels very natural and form-fitting. The outerwear thereby has the effect of alleviating the fatigue that the spine often carries.
Additionally, by supporting those areas of the body it makes it a lot harder for injuries to happen. Mr. Takahashi told me that he believes that players that don’t get injured are strong, and players that don’t get tired are strong.”
—What does he mean, “players that don’t get injured or tired are strong”?
Madokoro: “In other words, an athlete who repeats and continues the same performance over and over again is strong, and does not get tired easily; he essentially becomes stronger. Even if the athlete is tired, if you yourself don’t get tired then there is a big gap in power between you and your opponent. Additionally if you get injured you lose a lot of time and opportunity having to rest, and the road to recovery takes a very long time. This is why it is important to preemptively prevent injuries in the first place, before they even have the chance to happen.
Mr. Takahashi worked very hard to communicate the importance of this concept to many Kendo specialists. We immediately began to hear a lot of positive results, with many users satisfied with the feeling of security of our product, and many acclaimed how the BAK series prevents fatigue and cramps from continuing through to the next day. With our product, their tiredness from the previous day never lasted the next morning.
Our BAK products are designed and created based on an exercise physiology, called “Biomechanics”. We applied the same concepts to our BAK armor as well, and this product series that Mr. Takahashi and I created together has the fitting name of ‘Boost Ability for Kendo (BAK).’”
The “Kote” Makes all the Difference
—If you don’t mind me going back, you mentioned that stores with easier-to-use Kote products will be stronger from now on. Why specifically is it the Kote?
Madokoro: “The Kote is definitely where you can feel a significant difference in regards to ease of use. For track and field athletes it would be their spikes (shoes). Therefore while we certainly put a lot of research into the development of the whole armor, we started out with the Kote being our foundational research point.
Among these things as well, one thing that I have been particularly interested in researching has been the Tare. I would say that most people aren’t really that interested in the Tare, but my interest in the Tare really grew a lot after I began researching and developing it.
I have been working on researching Tare prototypes and samples recently, and when you try one of these prototypes on, you really feel the power that the Tare gives your body. It almost feels as though someone is holding up your waist and supporting it.”
—So it supports your waist really well?
Madokoro: “Exactly. For example, people who work in grocery stores or fish markets often stand a lot at work, and that’s why they wear those waist aprons. Even when we’re tired, we go like this. We do this because that position is relaxing for the body. Thus by wearing a waist apron, people who stand a lot in their work can continue to stand for a long time because of the support that the waist apron gives.
We applied these concepts to the Tare from the BAK armor series as well, but we are continuing to research even further so that we can improve what we already have. We met with an orthopedic doctor and discussed how bones move and work, and are currently applying that research to the development of our new and improving Tare. Because the Tare has such an impact on the athlete, we believe that it is a very important part of the entire armor.”
—To be honest, I myself really didn’t care much for Tare.
Madokoro: “I think it’s important for people to be able to realize just how much of a difference the Tare can make. It’s no use if they can’t feel that it’s different. The hand has many joints and is a very sensitive part of the body, so when you directly use a Shinai it’s a lot easier to feel. As a result I think that other martial arts stores put a lot of effort in the Kote.”
—I see, so the expectations are raised higher. If there’s one last message you would like to give to everyone, what would it be?
Madokoro: “Since Kendo is a sport that anyone can play regardless of gender or age, it comes with a wide range of requests and accommodations. As a result our company is characterized by the ability to respond to all of the needs of our diverse range of customers. Since it depends on each person’s preference on what they define as good, our company strives to respond flexibly to each customer’s requests and preferences, while still producing high quality equipment in line with our policies and guidelines. We hope to continue to excel in this way.”
—It was a pleasure to have the time to talk with you today, and thank you for letting us take some of your precious time today to learn more about your company.
Madokoro: “Likewise, thank you as well for having me today.”
Click here to see Eikobudogu’s wide range of products!
The kendo maker Matsukan Kogyo which was founded in 111 years. It is a maker which developed a big hit bogu bag "Kanmuri" series. It is also known as the maker of baseball balls, judo, etc. We will deliver interviews not only for kendo but also episodes that started producing baseball balls, how to create new ideas, and the management story.
Matsukan kogyo Co.,Ltd.
President of Matsukan kogyo Shingo Ando
Born in 1974. After graduating from university, he studied in the United States for two years. Then he joined ASICS Corporation and involved in work products development and marketing of shoes. Joined Matsukan in 2003, Inaugurated as the president in 2009.
Why Kendo maker producing baseball?
-Well, why you producing baseball? Even you are famous Kendo maker.
Ando: Yes. Most people do not link kendo and baseball. Our company founded in the 1907 and its history is very long. it is the 111th anniversary in this year. We have been engaging in business before world war II , and in that history we became involved with baseball. Our baseball is called "pine ball" from English meaning "pine" .
After the World War Ⅱ, started producing baseball to protect craftsman.
Ando: Japan was a defeated country after the World War II. At that time, Budo was prohibited by the directive from GHQ. We thought that company craftsmen would get lost the jobs, then we decided to make baseball equipment to protect them.
-You started to make baseball materials to protect company craftsman.
Ando: That's right. At that time, we couldn’t get leather anywhere. Our company became a government-approved specific company, and began making globe and baseball balls. Nowadays, our company's share of the high school baseball of Kanto region is still 70-80 %.
-It is surprising for Kendo people that you making baseball for.
Ando: Actually, we had been a Nike's agency of Kanto area before. There wasn’t NIKE Japan yet at that time and we also produced gloves and spikes. Then, about 20 years ago, we decided to focus on making baseball.
Three major meanings that a kendo maker has directly owned stores
-You have 3 directly owned stores. When you open the stores, is there any opinion from your retailers?
Ando: There are other retail stores in Saitama prefecture. I thought that it was important that we received local evaluation and manage our company, we immediately opened a store. However, we also confirmed that the directly operated store only in Saitama prefecture and we do not have e-commerce business at that time. We have consented and have been doing this business since then.
-What is the advantage that you have own retail stores?
Ando: There are three. Firstly, makers should produce new products so it is important to decide discontinued products. If we don't have direct retail shop, it is not easy to find it. Since we have retail shop, we communicate with customers directly. Which contribute understand customer’s needs.
-It is important to decide what you do not do.
Ando: The second point is to spread our information. It’s like an antenna shop. Third point is when we do a wholesale business, information will only come through retailer. And retailers do not necessarily sell what we want to sell. For this reason, biasing of information is born. So, I wanted to create a place to listen to the opinions of the users directly.
-Is there any effect obtained by directly information from users?
Ando: I think that it is great that the consciousness throughout the entire employee that to catch customer needs.
Ideas rather that small profits and quick returns
Ando: Building relationships with the police people in particular. I will carry out the product offering to them, receive feedback, and make better products.
-It is a best way to develop your own line, it’s good way to build a relationship with top players.
Ando: I wanted to take advantage of the brand image of Matsukan, not the line of selling cheaply. While keeping the image that is not cheap but good quality, I wanted to shift to the place where is have unique, easy to use, then our own line was finished. In the past 10 years that young people also recognized the awareness of <Matsukan> through "Kanmuri", "Katsujin", and "Hirameki" lines.
-I think it’s clear your product’s strength.
Ando: The wholesale price is easy to handle, and the user wants products. It was born in the Hirameki series. The awareness is still low, but in fact one third of the players participating in the All Japan Championship are using it.
Ando:There are many makers which sell cheaply. So we want to develop products more attractive.
ーwe could not listen normally, we got a precious management story of the kendo maker. Thank you for today.