A Turning Point in Life
Kojima Factory – an old family business specializing in the manufacturing of Buddhist alter fittings since 1900. Assuming the role of the 5th generation president is Dai Kojima. As your eyes scan across the factory floor, you might be forgiven for just seeing a successful business which manufactures metal casting product inferior-to-none; however, it has not always been plain sailing for Dai during his time as president.
It has been four years since Dai decided to return to Takaoka. The reason for his return? Upon the beginning of his fifth year working at a television production company in Tokyo, Dai received the news that his father had become very sick. The news would completely turn his life around, bringing with it a series of changes – marriage, going back to his roots, and entering the family business. Being a young man with almost no knowledge of the craftsmanship involved in metal casting in the beginning, Dai found himself being treated with little respect from the company’s older, more experienced veterans. With the majority of employees aged 60 and over, soon the company found itself with a dwindling number of staff members. Dai even found himself at one point in a situation where he was the only employee working the entire factory floor.
However, stemming from his determined and typically unyielding nature, Dai worked frantically, training new members of staff while studying by himself privately in an effort to perfect his craft. Seeing his great and strenuous efforts, he received an unimaginable amount of support from other local craftsmen and he managed to successfully steady the company back on its feet. It would serve to be a time which would open his eyes to the extent of his father’s large circle of friends and the strength of those relationships; even among business rivals, other local metal casters were always willing to help each other out.
It was in the spring of 2014, after the passing of his father that Dai would find himself as the president of the family business. Now, he is working alongside a team of three young workers, trying new and interesting challenges every day.
Made in Japan – A nonnegotiable Pride
Takaoka – Thriving as a town of metal casting since 400 years ago. Among those is Kojima Factory who specializes in the manufacturing of tabletop incense burners (a receptacle filled with ash used to place incense sticks in placed in family Buddhist Alters found inside Japanese homes). Alongside the flower vase and candle-stand, the incense burner is considered to be one of the three highly demanded implements for worship in Buddhist alter fittings –However, due to its complex shape and left-right asymmetry, this is a highly time-consuming job. It is because of this that the numbers of incense burner casters are declining every year, and in 2015, Kojima Factory became the last manufacturer of small household incense burners with a diameter of less than 12 cm wide.
Against the predominance of low-cost products manufactured in other Asian countries, it is now that a certain pride as a representative of Japan has been born, and that Dai feels like he is carrying Takaoka’s long 400 year history in metal casting. Kojima Factory is currently working hard to produce the highest quality of products made from years of experience and carefully refined skills.
The Desire to Keep Pushing the Limits
Not only is he placing his time and efforts into the manufacture of existing products, Dai is also looking into the development of new, never-seen-before products. Stemming from his roots in the television production industry, thinking up and creating new, unseen ideas is one of Dai fortes. One particular venture that he is keen on pursuing is the development of tin products. Tin is a truly impressive metal– it is a material which removes impurities from water and Sake (Japanese rice wine) creating a softer, milder flavor. It is a material which can also easily be bent, twisted and manipulated. In recent years, many products using tin have been manufactured in Takaoka, gaining both national and international precedence. A project which requires little investing in terms of equipment, and is suitable for small businesses similar to the factory that Dai and his select team work at.
In 2015, Dai was one of the board members of the Traditional Crafts Industry Youths Association and was successful in overseeing an exhibition held in Tokyo. The biggest factor of his success is due to being able to maximize his experience, approaching things from a different perspective, much like the days when he would cast different television personalities and create a variety of eye-catching and informative signboards. However this is not the limit of his ventures. This is an artisan who each time I meet is always concocting new and interesting business ventures, and always wanting to push the boundaries.