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Meet Japan's Excellent Shokunin in Kyoto
Perfection achieved through outstanding handwork techniques, tradition and spirit

Shokunin is a Japanese word which is often translated as "craftsman" or "artisan." However, shokunin includes not only the person who creates something by hand utilizing their skill and knowledge but also their attitude and consciousness toward their work. Shokunin's works are beautiful, thoughtful, and functional. Works by true shokunin reflect their pride in perfection. This month in Kyoto we met just a handful of the shokunin from around Japan.

Hokkaido's "Uncompromising" Leather Bags
The founder of Itagaki, Eizo Itagaki, started his apprenticeship with a bag craftsman in Tokyo. It was here that he learned the primary skills required to produce bags, becoming an experienced craftsman blending traditional techniques with new technology to produce products of the highest quality. Surrounded and taught by many excellent craftsmen through his different careers, Eizo also understood what it means to live as a shokunin: Be independent, don't be influenced by trends and trust your skills and yourself. In 1982, he started his leather bag studio in Hokkaido.

Itagaki's signature Kura series bag symbolized by their original saddle design.

Itagaki exclusively uses vegetable tanned leather, a technique which has an incredibly long history. Tannin is an astringent extracted from the bark of plants such as the mimosa and chestnut. Raw hides are immersed in different intensities of these tannin solutions. The tanning process takes about two months and produces beautiful results. Although this process requires time and labor, leather tanned by this method causes less shrinkage and adds "depth" and "taste" as time goes by.

At Itagaki, creating a bag starts by cutting a large piece of tanned leather. A craftsman must think and calculate carefully before cutting the large piece to exacting standards, cutting out as many pieces as possible while minimizing waste. Even small left over pieces are used to produce small accessories and in the end, little remains.

Once the materials are ready, sewing follows. Five to six craftsmen work under one leader and divide the labor to complete one bag. Producing one bag consists of a number of processes, most of which are done by the shokunin's hand. Even tiny errors, however unnoticeable, are not overlooked. A shokunin must employ his or her full concentration at every point in order to create the finest bag. Not simply content with producing quality leather bags with care, Itagaki endeavors to produce bags which can "connect" the craftsman and the customer.

Eizo Itagaki is still pursuing his way of life as a shokunin

In 2010, Itagaki opened their independent store in the center of Kyoto City. They believed that Kyoto is the best place to share Itagaki's meticulous shokunin spirit, through their carefully made leather bags, with the people who use them. Kyoto is the city where they can witness how their bags will win years of prolonged admiration and where they can meet a number of locals and tourists from around Japan and the world who love the shokunin spirit.

Open: 10:00-19:00; Closed Tuesdays.

Cooking knives with the soul of a sword maker from Gifu
"Zwilling," German for twin, adopts a red logo of twins steadily holding each other's shoulders. The white ZWILLING symbol on a red background is today an expression of a sophisticated lifestyle and a sign of trustworthy kitchen utensils. ZWILLING J.A. HENCKELS is both a manufacturer and distributor of premium cooking products which are market leaders in quality, innovation and service.

Graceful, precise and sophisticated are words best describing Japanese culture. They also perfectly describe the MIYABI series, one of ZWILLING's internationally-acclaimed brands which has already attracted a wide reputation and a number of fans around the world.

However, not many know that such superior knives are crafted in Seki City, Gifu Prefecture in Japan. Seki has been known as a capital of samurai sword making since the 14th century and even today, about 50% of Japanese knives are produced in this city. Over 300 different kinds of knives are produced in ZWILLING's Seki factory.

The blades (steel) are heated to extreme temperatures and cooled at extreme temperatures; this process makes the steel harder

Unlike most other ZWILLING's factories where many processes are operated by machines, here in Seki, 80% of the entire process is done by shokunin's hands, which still follow almost the same techniques of samurai sword making that the shokunin in the 14th century used to pour their soul into their products.

Shinichi Kato, the shokunin at Seki Factory, checking the condition of the blade thoroughly

Their exquisite sharpness results from a combination of German engineering and fine Japanese craftsmanship. Prominent Japanese sword-making techniques in Seki achieve incredibly sharp blades and possess an artistically beautiful appearance.

Shokunin play a vital role in the crafting of ZWILLING's knives. Since kitchen knives are a tool which have such a direct connection to a person's hand, the knife must be delicate and attractive enough to evoke the person's sensitivity for food. Only true shokunin can create such a tool with their own hands. Keeping tradition and respect for the shokunin, ZWILLING doesn't hesitate to develop their knives even further; they are always on the look-out for new materials, more sophisticated designs and sharper blades that achieve the very best results when cooking.

Their Kyoto store, newly opened in the heart of the city in March 2018, offers a wide variety of 120 products including, of course, the MIYABI series, and outstanding works by the prominent knife maker, Bob Kramer, whose knives are praised as the sharpest in the world. Come and visit the store and try your own hand to see how sharp and beautiful their knives truly are.

ZWILLING Kyoto "Made in Japan" Store
Open: 10:00-17:00

Heavenly soft Fude brushes from Hiroshima
Hakuhoudo is based in Kumano Town of Hiroshima Prefecture which has had a long history in the production of fude (brushes) for around 200 years. Although translated as "brushes" in English, Hakuhodo makes a clear distinction between fude and brushes. Fude are special brushes in which the hair tips are carefully crafted by hand one by one in a three-dimensional finish, while brushes in general have their hair tips cut to the same length. The three-dimensional hair tips of fude make a significant difference.

Hakuhodo's knowledgeable staff are always happy to assist you to choose right ones for you.

Approximately 500,000 brushes are produced in their main factory every month. It is a fact that quite a high number of the world's high quality makeup brushes are delivered from Hakuhodo's factory. Only the combination of their systematic and efficient production method and the traditional techniques utilizing the hands and eyes of truly skilled craftsmen can achieve such high production numbers without allowing for even the tiniest compromise in quality.

The fude will not define one's makeup skills, but for professional makeup artists, their fude let them achieve lines, colors, and finishes no matter how sensitive and delicate they are. For the everyday user, the fude will ease and enhance the application of makeup creating a beautiful final look.

A Standard Fude Set (4 brushes) is recommended for the basic use: 15,768 yen with a pouch

Feeling one of Hakuhodo's fude on your skin tells you all you need to know of their quality. At their Flagship Store on Teramachi in Kyoto more than 1,000 kinds of makeup brushes are available for you. Just ask their knowledgeable and friendly staff for advice on buying the best brushes for your needs.

Open: 10:00-18:00

Face Code
Beautifully bespoke glasses for you from Fukui
In this small glasses studio and store, it is almost impossible to find an ordinary pair of glasses. Face Code produces "only one" pair of glasses for every person. Shoichi Tomita, an eyewear creator, designer, and shokunin, who fell in love with glasses and then decided to learn how to create them in Sabae, the capital of eyewear making in Japan, sits at the back of the store and never tires of contemplating how he can perfect each pair of glasses.

You can meet "one-of-akind" glasses only.

The eyewear industry of Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture has a history reaching back over 100 years. Originally, making eyewear in Fukui began as a side job for farmers during long severe winters of heavy snow fall. After over a century, glasses produced in Fukui in general, and Sabae in particular, have been acknowledged not only for their incredible innovation but also for their high quality.

At Face Code, people can purchase a pair of their exceptionally unique glasses in the store, but for those who really wish to enjoy Face Code's shokunin perfection, why not have a pair made from scratch? Based on reliable knowledge and experience, plus his artistic sense as an eyewear designer, Tomita suggests perfectly balanced glasses depending on your face size and features, ensuring the light frames and design mean that you feel minimal pressure on your face.

Tomita (on the left) and his staffs at Face Code

First, he embarks in conversation with the customer, ascertaining what kind of look and feel will be suitable for each person. Not only does he produce glasses that will be wellsuited to each individual, he introduces some playfulness and spice that are sure to elevate the look. Unique and distinctive, Tomita perfectly and creatively calculates his designs which never fail to make wearers excited and proud to have a pair of beautifully bespoke glasses made 'only for you'.

Face Code
Open: 10:00-21:00