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‘Bringing Spirit to Japanese Kogei’: Masashichi Nakagawa

“The shops will be able to survive,” says Nakagawa. “It comes down to the same things: management and branding. And we can help with that.”

Serena Landers

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Screenshot from the website of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten, bringing hemp textiles made products for the modern era.

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(Third in a series)

The city of Kanazawa, capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, hosted the International Hokuriku Kogei Summit on August 14, focused on presenting the living tradition of kogei from Japan to the world. The summit highlighted the uniqueness of Ishikawa’s kogei heritage and featured leaders in the regional movement to strengthen this traditional culture while sharing it with others both in Japan and abroad. 

On the day of the summit some of the regional leaders in kogei shared their stories of family traditions and international marketing success. 

One was Masashichi Nakagawa, head of the Masashichi Nakagawa Shoten, a business founded in 1716 selling hemp textiles. He is the 13th head of his family line, and has established the motto “bringing spirit to Japanese kogei” for the company. 

He also works in consulting, helping traditional kogei (Japanese crafts) shops stay viable with modern business strategies. 

In an interview with JAPAN Forward, Nakagawa shared the story of how he got involved in this work. 

Helping Traditional Businesses Adapt

“For a long time, I myself worked with textiles and made many things. There are hundreds of studios and craftsmen in the background that are increasingly starting to close,” he said, “I started to feel the danger that, if this continues, we wouldn’t be able to conduct business anymore.” 

Indeed, he said that the number of kogei businesses in Japan have been reduced to less than one-fifth of their number at the peak. 

Instead of expressing dejection over these prospects, Nakagawa instead said, “We work with hemp textiles, but whether it’s bamboo or ceramics, the shops will be able to survive. It comes down to the same things: management and branding. And we can help with that.”

While working with businesses that are often rooted in tradition, Nakagawa says that “we’re not trying to digitize. When we are making things and delivering them to customers in this age, it is a given that we are using technology. In this way, we are naturally adapting to the times.” 

Kogei in Today’s International Marketplace

“Kogei has different categories, fine arts and those used in daily life,” Nakagawa explained when asked about kogei’s use internationally. “The food culture and climate unique to Japan, for example, is present within the lifestyle kogei. So, taking that to places like Europe isn’t right.”

Following this belief, he works to build back lifestyle kogei in its native regions. “After the war, there was rapid Westernization and many Western products, even those used for daily life, came in. This is one of the reasons that Japanese kogei faded out. For lifestyle kogei, I believe the best thing is for the products of a region to be used there.” 

As for kogei as art, “It is a matter of technological or artistic value, and it goes beyond lifestyle habits or climates. In this respect, Japan has a high potential, and it will be good for that to be seen around the world.”

Stay with us as JAPAN Forward continues delving deeper into the ideas of each panelist on the future of kogei, and the ways in which Ishikawa is showcasing Japanese culture in articles already published and yet to follow. RELATED: 

Author: Serena Landers

Serena Landers is a young reporter for JAPAN Forward in Tokyo and a student at Wesleyan University in the United States.