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#069 Takekobo ONCE Co., Ltd. Bamboo Crafts (Oita)2018/03/06

A Challenge of Bamboo Craftsmen Attracted to “Beppu Bamboo Crafts”; To Pass the Traditional Crafts Down to the Next Generation

A craftsman is also a manager
- a preparation for preserving the “Beppu bamboo crafts” tradition.

Takekobo ONCE Co., Ltd., located in a small village among mountains near Beppu city, has been creating beautiful and pliant bamboo crafts. The founder Masato TAKAE left a food service company when he was 29 and moved into there. He said that he longed for a self-sufficient life and started building his house by himself.

His log house. This house as well as his company building and bamboo storage warehouse are all handmade.

There are a number of bamboos before processing in a warehouse.

This is inside of a workshop. Here, new products are created everyday.

While he planned to run an organic farm at first, he got attracted to bamboo crafts, which he started creating as a side job. His experience at the bamboo crafts course of Beppu Advance Vocational School and winning the minister of labor award at the national vocational training exhibition led him to become a bamboo craftsman. “When I was a company employee, I worked for ‘a part’ of the whole job. However, I can do everything of bamboo crafts with my own responsibility. This is what I felt interesting. And above all, I really enjoyed crafting,” said he.

The President Masato TAKAE is a “traditional craftsman” of Beppu bamboo crafts.

Around the time of bubble economy, business was lively, bamboo crafts sold a lot, and even new graduates didn’t have a trouble to find jobs. It was when he became independent from the company and founded Takekobo ONCE in 1993, 4 years after his graduation. At that time, craftsmen of “Beppu bamboo crafts” had never experienced the absence of orders from wholesalers selling products using catalogs to department stores, specialty stores, retail stores and so on.

Products are stored by hanging on the second floor of the workshop. It can also exclude moisture.

However, Mr. Takae gradually started doubting how to do the work. “Craftsmen worked at producer price and didn’t know the selling price of each product. People generally compare products when purchasing. So, I decided to create and sell our products at 20% increased price by researching retail prices of other products. I thought this was the way to survive in the industry.”
It is said that when we sell a vase which is worth 10,000 yen and one which is worth 12,000 yen at the same price, the latter clearly sells more and 80% of people can tell the difference. Actually, Mr. Takae aimed crafting his products at that and sold a lot. “His products sell well.” Such reputation spread quickly, and Takekobo ONCE was inundated with orders.

A bamboo lighting cover makes a beautiful light that shines through a crack.

In the post-bubble era, the orders from wholesalers dropped sharply. While the whole industry had problems, Mr. Takae tried to develop his own sales channels. He went to exhibitions held by department stores and galleries displaying traditional crafts and negotiated so that his products would be exhibited there. That resulted in the request for the next exhibition from a new department store. Since the success of the exhibition, he has been flooded with requests from buyers at department stores around Japan. Now, products of ONCE are lined up at galleries and retail stores around Japan.
“If I hadn’t made a move at that time, the company must have been out of business. In the past, all craftsmen have to do was crafting. Today, we have to sell our products by ourselves. A craftsman is also a manager. It’s important to survive reflecting the times,” told Mr. Takae, seeming to show what craftsmen in a new age should be.

Reliable technique and responsibility
- there is a reason people cherish for a long time.

ONCE does not adopt a division of labor and 8 craftsmen including Mr. Takae create each product responsibly by hand. “We have absolute confidence in our products,” said Mr. Takae. The secret of high quality is three steps of inspection. First, craftsmen themselves inspect the products and submit only satisfactory ones. Then, the president inspects them and checks the entire shapes and colors. And finally, the person in charge of inspection checks the usability strictly from the point of view of customers. With these inspection steps, products of the ONCE have been attracting a number of department stores and retail stores.

Inside the office. Inspection, sewing, packing, and delivering work are done here.

Shaping bamboo sticks with the machine.

Young craftsmen improve their skills under Mr. Takae.

A representative product of the ONCE is “bamboo wicker handbags.” Bamboo sticks 0.3mm thick are woven one by one carefully to make them. Graceful curves formed by a network look like a wave. This bamboo handbag is beautiful and graceful as well as light and tough, and many of women like it.

Bamboo wicker handbags have beautiful and delicate networks.

Lacquer-painting work is also done inside the workshop.

Once, a customer whose house suffered a fire consulted the ONCE for repairing a burned bag. She felt sad for her burned bag rather than her burned house. With their thoughts of “we want to be responsible for our products to the very end,” the ONCE guarantees the quality of the products for 5 years after purchase. Even if the products are broken by a customer’s fault, they will be repaired for free. It shows their responsibility and pride over their products as well as the consideration for the customers.

Disturbance-knitting bamboo bags. They were made hoping for young people to use them freely for daily use.

Preference as a “bamboo craftsman”
- to continue creating products requested in times.

Bamboo crafting can be divided into 3 major fields; “green bamboo craftsmen (aomono-shi)” making mainly livingware like baskets with green bamboos, “bamboo artists (take-kogeika)” making objects and rich arts and crafts, and “bamboo craftsmen (take-shokunin)” making traditional crafts. Mr. Takae, who has been working as a “bamboo craftsman” for 32 years, told “I am not a creator, but a bamboo craftsman. And I believe I can’t live if I don’t create something by myself. If you order 1000 of 1000 yen baskets I’ll make them, and if you order a 1 million yen basket I’ll make it too. What is important is to be focused on and seriously deal with the things at hand.”

The bamboo basket named “shikainami” has been made since 400 years before.

Having 16 bamboo sticks woven into “yotsume-ami.”

We saw him creating “shikainami” in front of us and it took only 10 minutes. Speed is vital to make a lot of products.

“We do not take time making one craft like a creator. Instead, we make products coping with budgets and delivery terms requested from customers. That is our job. To fulfil our duty, it’s important how we create a lot without reducing the quality. A craftsman’s growth depends on his environment for creating a certain number of crafts and for improving through friendly competition. Thus, we first have to create a products which could be valued in the market. We continue thinking what kind of products sell a lot, without slipping into self‐complacency,” said Mr. Takae.

These pin cushions are made by putting cushions into “shikainami.”

Takekobo ONCE approaches young people, who has few chances to see bamboo crafts ever, by collaborating with an apparel brand and selling their products at “GINZA SIX,” a new landmark in Ginza. They are developing sales channels without adhering to the existing ways.
It is necessary to keep creating what customers require for passing traditional crafts down. We believe that attractive products required in the current time will be produced by Mr. Takae, who has a view of both craftsman and manager.

Even in the same products, a different way of looking at them, they are two different things.

Takekobo ONCE Co., Ltd.

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