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.