Mr.Hiroshi Kojima, a Lantern Artisan
“A lot of people kindly cooperate with us.”
First, tell me the reason why you started to revive the name of Kojima Chube.
Yes. I work with my brother, and both of us started working as an artisan at the age of eighteen. There are eight people working together here now. What we mostly did until now was the subcontract work; producing lanterns and selling them to other shops. But considering a slump in demand, we agreed that we can’t keep doing the same thing. This was why we started working on a new project.
What did you feel when you started Kobishiya Chube?
Well, when we just started, a lot of people kindly cooperated with us. Thanks to them, we got a lot of orders from various places. We really feel the support of many people. About public relations, our workshop participants spread their experience to the public on their own, by uploading pictures on Instagram.
Instagram! That’s great!
I was surprised, too. We started our workshop two years ago. Most guests are around twenty years old, and we got much better response from the participants than we had expected. Our workshop is particularly popular among ladies.
“I want people to see Japanese lanterns carefully.”
Why did you decide to raise Japanese lantern’s brand awareness?
It was because many people don’t know much about Japanese lanterns. They were not so interested in, either. We wanted to attract more people by producing wonderful lanterns.
To be honest, I haven’t looked at lanterns carefully, either.
For example, when people look for potteries, they become very conscious of its production area, as where it was made is directly connected to the pottery’s value. But when it comes to lanterns, nobody doesn’t see it closely because lanterns are just hanged. We hope that people become more conscious of the brand of lanterns, and they will look at lanterns more carefully, too. It would be nice if people say in excitement that “I stayed at a room with the Kobishiya Chubei lantern!”
What do you think is needed to realize it?
I think we should tell our traditional production process to the customers. We split bamboo to make lanterns. It is quite natural for us, artisans. However, natural things for artisans cannot be always natural for customers. They can be very special for customers. We need to tell these things to our guests, otherwise they don’t understand what is so good about our lanterns.
Importance of the Story Telling
So do you mean that the special point of your lanterns is the traditional production process?
Yes, and our lanterns also have special stories. Important things are our traditional production process and the story. Sometimes, people intentionally purchase high-quality goods in special occasion. Do you understand this feeling?
Yes, I do. During the New Year, for example.
In such occasions, people will be particularly happy to hear our lantern’s story. We explain our traditional process, and express that we made this lantern only for that person. I think it is important to tell this kind of stories to each customer.
People must be very happy when they understand that the lantern was specially made for them.
Yes. Each person has a different interest though, such as history and artisan’s personality. When we talk about our story, we express that we made the lantern only for the person in front of us. By doing so, the person can understand that the lantern is special. Then, he will purchase it and come back to our shop someday. After all, the important thing is telling the lantern’s story to each customer.
The story would remain in their memory, too. They could think that they want to share the story to others.
We hope so, too. Actually, there are some people who came to our shop because they heard that our workshop is a lot of fun. We don’t know how our customer told their story to others, but that is fine with us since it means that our guest also made another story. Not only us, but also our customer will tell their stories on their own. I believe this cycle of story-telling will keep around our shop.
Pass the Brand to the Next Generation
What is your next aim?
Hopefully, people are gradually recognizing that Japanese lanterns are worth looking at. My last goal is soundly passing this work to the next generation. If we just look for the short-term sales, we can sell lanterns at a low price and get through this situation. But if we do so, the next generation will spend a difficult time to run the business. We have to keep the good image of Kojima Shoten and Kobishiya Chube.
What kind of image is it?
The image that our shop is sound and solid, producing neat lanterns and working better than the client had expected. If the image of our company is like this, orders must come in. People in the future generation need to improve their own skill, too. We can’t keep our business just by doing the subcontract work at a low price.
Are you planning to do anything special to build such images?
We currently do every process of making Japanese lanterns, from splitting bamboo to colouring. In addition to this, I feel that we should run the retail business somewhere, too. This is what I want to work on at this point.
Kojima Shoten,Kobishiya Chube
11-24, Imagumano Naginomoricho, Higashiyama-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 605-0971, Japan
Kojima Shoten official website
Kobishiya Chube official website
about the writer
editing・construction：Writer Mana Nishino