Japanese Leather Culture Continues from the Asuka Period
Leather crafts and other leather products have a strong image of having come from overseas, but it is said that a unique leather culture was born in Japan as far back as the Asuka Period. Since large amounts of salt and water are used in the tanning process, craftsmen were born in various parts of Japan, which is surrounded by the sea, and the industry has a history of development mainly in seaside areas throughout the country, such as Himeji. In Tokyo, the production of "Fukuromono," or bags, was popular as items for Japanese clothing, and many wallets and small purses were produced even after leather became the mainstream. Leather materials were purchased from all over the country at that time, but as far as Tokyo was concerned, there were many leather production factories around the Sumida River and Arakawa River, and pigskin production was mainly active in the area. The history of this industry has been handed down from generation to generation, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Leather Technology Center in Sumida-ku, Tokyo.
The price of the skins and the land was the same.
It was after World War II that leather goods became commonplace in Japan. Leather crafts such as shoes and belts developed in the Asakusa area.
The roots of this company go back to 1885. My great-grandfather founded Tatematsu Shoten in that year, and Fumishichi Murakami, whose family name was formerly Fumishichi Tatematsu, founded Murakami Shoten. Asakusa has always had many craftsmen making geta and zori sandals, and even after World War II, the area was known as a "shoe town. In 1917, my grandfather moved the head office to Seitenmachi, and the history of Tatematsu Co. I heard that at that time, the price of a piece of leather was the same as the size of a piece of land in Tokyo, and everyone was pulling leather together (laugh). (Laughs) Regardless of the truth, leather must have been that valuable. Our company has purchasing routes all over the world, but domestically we mainly purchase cowhide from Himeji, enamel from Wakayama, and goat and sheep leather from Tokyo and Saitama," he says.
Leathers for your manufacturing needs
Tatematsu Co., Ltd. has been focusing on leather suitable for leather shoes due to its location in Asakusa. Especially for women's shoes, thin and soft leather is preferred, so we have a large selection of 1.2mm leather. This thickness is suitable for hand-sewing, and many of them can be sewn by hand or with a home sewing machine, making them suitable for handcraft. Another feature is the wide variety of colors available, with "more than 30 colors available at any given time," Tatematsu says proudly. Tatematsu is also surprised to learn that almost all types of leather are available, including smooth leather, colored leather, stamped leather, enamel, etc. When we asked him about his thoughts on this, he replied, "We have a wide variety of colors. When asked about his thoughts on this, he replied, "Our job as a trading company is to increase the number of choices for our customers. Because we don't make things directly, we can function as a lubricant between the maker and the user," he told us.
Establishing "Leather Sommeliers" for the Future
Mr. Tatematsu's activities are not limited to leather distribution. As president of the Japan Leather Goods Wholesalers Cooperative Association, he has established an organization to administer the Leather Sommelier examination. We asked him about the background behind the establishment of the certification examination.
The leather wholesale business has developed its own way of thinking, as each company has its own established ways of doing things. We have a background of providing training for sales staff at men's accessory departments of department stores, etc., and have also provided sales support by teaching the characteristics of leather and its finishing. Later, I was also asked by educational institutions such as design schools and clothing colleges to teach courses, and it was necessary to systematize the courses because it was not good for everyone to be teaching different things. Therefore, we have developed a qualification system called "Leather Sommelier," which anyone can take. By creating a qualification test that measures everything from the characteristics and differences of leather materials to specialized knowledge and skills, we hope that people will gain knowledge about the mechanism of the circulation of living things from agriculture to animal husbandry and then to the leather industry.
What is good leather in manufacturing?
Beginning with the "world's oldest leather shoes" discovered in a cave in Armenia in 3500 B.C., leather products have been used in Japan in accordance with daily life and culture, such as armor during the Warring States period and firefighter's coats during the Edo period. Today, more and more people are making handcrafted leather goods as a hobby. There are many kinds of leather goods on the market, but what is so-called "good leather"?
I am often asked this question in my work, and the short answer is: "No." If there was a certain type of leather that was good, everyone would make it. If there is a certain type of leather that is good, everyone should make that type of leather. For example, in the case of computers, the faster the processing speed, the better. But in the case of natural leather, the quality will vary depending on the application, fashion, and trends. When I was 27 years old, I studied shoemaking at Cordwainers College (now part of the University of the Arts London) in England. It was in Hackney, a town with many artisans like Asakusa, and I was impressed by the fact that everyone was adopting what they thought was good and trendy. I think it would be more interesting if I could have my own criteria for "good leather" by actually seeing and touching things, rather than just knowing what to buy. If you try making something yourself, even something small, you may learn what makes good leather.
It was impressive to hear him say at the end, "I wish Japanese men would use colored leather more for their sex appeal (laugh). This is an idea that is very typical of Mr. Tatematsu, who knows all about the charms of leather. In the future, Tatematsu is considering offering leather crafts in a variety of sizes and selling samples to hobbyists, so the fun of choosing the right one is sure to increase. At TEEMA, you will find a wide selection of "Asakusa Leather" selected by Mr. Tatematsu. Please try to find your favorite one.