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City of bags pursues novel product development plan

Jiji Press

Bag making is taught at Toyooka Kaban Artisan School in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, on Feb. 18.

Jiji PressTOYOOKA, Hyogo (Jiji Press) — The city of Toyooka in Hyogo Prefecture, the nation’s top municipality in terms of bag shipments, is coming into the limelight for its moves to develop unique items using specialties from other parts of the country as materials.

In an effort to make their products widely known, local bag manufacturers are also looking at the possibility of selling their products overseas.

Bag production in the city is believed to have its origin in yanagi-gori wicker trunks in the Nara period (710-784). One such trunk is preserved in the Shoso-in repository housing important ancient artifacts. The treasure house is in Nara, Japan’s capital during the period.

Despite its long history of bag production, however, Toyooka has suffered from low name recognition as a major location of such business, partly because producers in recent years are making bags for sale under clients’ brands.

After Toyooka bags were certified as a “regional brand” by the Japan Patent Office in 2006, local producers began to actively explore new sales channels, such as department stores and the internet, to get many people to know how good they are.

In a novel effort, vending machines for bags were set up in the city. Last year, a shop for Toyooka bags was opened in the Marunouchi business district in Tokyo.

To give a new taste to their products, local bag manufacturers have started using major products from other municipalities as materials, on top of conventional materials, such as cattle and horse leather.

Among the new materials is denim. Gaining cooperation from the city of Ibara in Okayama Prefecture, adjacent to Hyogo, they released bags made of denim. Ibara, where sewing is a major industry, has know-how on doing business abroad.

News of the tie-up reached the city of Sabae, Fukui Prefecture, opening the way for a new partnership that led to production of bags using titanium, a material used in eyeglass frames. Sabae almost dominates the domestic market of eyeglass frames.

Bags using titanium will be showcased at a leather goods trade fair to be held in Hong Kong later this month.

“Whether we can grab opportunities abroad will be tested from now,” said Shozaburo Yuri, 54, an executive of the Hyogo Prefecture Bag Industry Association.

Toyooka is also enthusiastic about growing the next generation of workers for bag production.

Toyooka Kaban Artisan School, which fosters experts in making bags, has many students from prefectures other than Hyogo, such as Hokkaido, Miyagi and Fukuoka.

Many graduates find jobs in Toyooka. Kazuma Ueminami, 28, from Nara Prefecture, is one such graduate. “I want to learn as much expertise as possible and acquire skills,” Ueminami said.

Bags makers in Toyooka are united to grow further.Speech

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