Gloves are a part of our everyday life, being used for protection against the cold in winter, and against harmful UV rays in the summer. Did you know that there is a city in Japan that is a major producer of gloves?
It is Higashikagawa City in Kagawa prefecture, that manufactures 90% of domestically-made gloves alone! The city’s long 130-year history in glove making and high craftsmanship are praised not only in Japan but also world-wide.
To discover more about Kagawa’s gloves, I investigated the the history of the city’s development of a glove industry, at the Kagawa Gloves Museum located in Higashikagawa. I also toured a long-established glove maker factory and watched the glove-making process. What I discovered was a spirit of craftsmanship and determination that has supported the long-time production of high-quality gloves.
The history of Higashikagawa, where 90% of domestic gloves are made
In the first place, why did the glove industry become so prosperous in a place as warm as Kagawa Prefecture? To learn its secret, I visited the Kagawa Gloves Museum in Higashikagawa City.
The history and gloves made in Higashikagawa are on exhibition
The history of glove industry started with a monk’s elopement
The pioneers who developed the glove industry
The history of the glove industry in Higashikagawa City started in the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
In 1888, Shunrei Futago, a monk in Matsubara Village (now known as Matsubara in Higashikagawa City) eloped with his neighbour, Takeno Miyoshi, and together they moved to Osaka. To make a living, Shunrei took up a sewing job at their neighbor’s business. When Shunrei later shifted his entire focus to glove-making, is the root of Kagawa’s glove-making industry.
In 1891, he went back to his hometown, Matsubara Village, for his late father’s Buddhist memorial services. After that, he persuaded his cousin, Tatsukichi Tanatsugu and two other relatives to come back with him to Osaka, and they helped expand his business there. However, he passed away from cerebral disease in June of the same year, and sadly passed away at the young age of 39.
Tatsukichi Tanatsugu, using a sewing machine invented by himself
Tatsukichi Tanatsugu, who was brought to Osaka by Shunrei, took over the business after Shunrei’s sudden death, and became very successful. In 1899, he returned to Matsubara Village and established the Shakuzen Shokai Company. This new business secured jobs for many unemployed workers of the salt industry, an industry in serious decline at the time.
This triggered a flourishing glove business in Higashikagawa City.
The sewing department of Osaka Gloves Co., Ltd. in the Taisho Era（1912～1926）
Glove manufacturing began to flourish in 1914 when WW1 broke out and created a huge demand. A large volume of glove orders were sent to Japan, since the European center of global glove-making became a battleground. In order to fulfill these demands, more glove companies were established throughout Japan, including Higashikagawa City. Since then, the glove-making industry has been a familiar one to Japanese people, and especially to the locals of Higashikagawa.
Work gloves, made with attention to functionality
Even after these demands decreased, the manufacturer of Higashikagawa City expanded their business by developing gloves made of vinyl, gloves for skiing, gloves for work and many others. By continuously developing gloves to fulfill the needs of the era, the glove-making business of Kagawa Prefecture has survived through the generations to this day.
The valuable exhibitions at Kagawa Glove Museum
The Kagawa Glove Museum was built to commemorate 120 years of the local glove-making industry. Exhibits include historical documentation of the industry, as well as gloves used by famous sports players, rare gloves manufactured in the past, and sewing equipment that has been used since the Taisho Era.
The gloves used by Mr. Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, the soccer player
Gloves for ladies made by Kanzaki Shoten Company
This pair of lady’s gloves was made around 1930. The fluid curves of its decorative straps show an aesthetic novelty, that makes it hard to believe it came from 80 years ago.
A manually-operated single chain stitch sewing machine
When the glove industry started in the middle of the Meiji Era, a manually-operated single-chain-stitch sewing machine was used for the crafting process. Although its single-thread stitching gave it the disadvantage of getting easily frayed, it was the mainstream model due to its simple structure until 1916, and was popular up to the 1970’s.
I, your reporter, am from Kagawa Prefecture, but had no idea that the history of glove-making in Kagawa started with an elopement of a monk. It made me feel happy to know that Kagawa Prefecture not only produced everyday gloves, but also sports gloves for professional sports players.
Fukuda Glove’s craftsmanship: orders flooding in even from overseas!
Gloves by Fukuda Glove Co, Ltd. are highly praised, even overseas
After learning the history of the glove-making industry, I visited Fukuda Glove Co, Ltd. to learn about the craftsmanship techniques. This company is a traditional glove-maker in Higashikagawa established over a century ago. Their gloves are highly praised in exhibitions in Europe, as well as major domestic department stores. What kind of secrets do they have? Their director, Ms. Atsuko Fukuda gave me a guided tour of the manufacturing process.
Cutting the materials using a 60-year old machine
The room for cutting materials
The process of glove-making starts with cutting the materials. The cutting room is filled and lined up with many materials and tools.
Images from left, cutter for the thumb, the main component, and the gusset
In order to make a pair of gloves, three cutters, for the thumb, main component, and gusset are used.
The cutting machine, Ponsu, has been used for a long time
After the material has been cut to a similar size to the final glove, it is placed in the cutting machine called Ponsu. The machine goes down with a loud crashing noise, and the material will be cut. After that, the cutter is hammered lightly to remove the glove shape cleanly from the material.
This machine, Ponsu has been used since the 1960’s. Not only Ponsu, but most of the other machines used in the factory are from the same time period, and amazingly enough, they have been used for over 60 years! The machines used for over half a century are still supporting the glove-making industry.
The cutting machine with a high-speed spinning blade
After being removed from the cutting machine, smaller trims are made on another machine. Atsuko, the director, tells me that “many rules exist in order to continue making high-quality products.”
“By-the-millimeter” tolerances in glove-making, and the machines that support it
The bright sunlight pours into the sewing room’s big window
Next, we moved to the sewing room, where the sewing machines sound their rhythmical beat.
Bobbin thread is double-stitched with a double stitch sewing machine
There is a little secret in the sewing machine used at Fukuda Glove for a long time.
An ordinary sewing machine sews by crossing the needle thread and bobbin thread once at each stitch. This machine, however, is a double stitch sewing machine which crosses the bobbin thread twice at each stitch. The back thread will be doubled, meaning there is going to be more room and durability for stretching and contracting of the gloves.
An expert sewing staff of with a 50-year career
The wide age range of women actively working as sewing staff is wide, from 20’s to 70’s
The crafting tolerance of the gloves is as little as between 1.5mm and 2mm. The sewing staff send the material forward, using a small, pointed scissors, almost like thread nippers. They don’t use marking pins or guidelines. They accurately and swiftly utilize a number of sewing techniques, based on the shape of the gloves. How long did it take to acquire such meticulous technique? I was awe-inspired by the skillful and efficient way that they moved their hands in.
Sewing within tiny tolerances
Moreover, at the root of the thumb, only 1mm from the original stitch, they sew with their sewing machine one more time. This process is called “Nui-osae” (“sewing down”), and its purpose is to improve the aesthetic and durability of the glove.
As artisans contribute their skills to every step, beautiful pieces are born
Manually trimming off the excess of the stitching margin
After sewing the hem, the artisans trim off the excess of the stitching margin with a pairs of scissors. Since the excess margin will cause discomfort in wearing, they trim off each part very carefully.
”Kaeshibo” (turning stick), used to make the gloves turn
Until this process, the glove has been inside-out. The tool used to make it right-side-out is called a “Kaeshibo”, or turning stick.
The artisans skillfully finish this step in less than a minute
Because each finger needs to be turned, I assumed that this process takes time. This wasn’t the case. These artisans do it in no time at all! The Kaeshibo is now made of stainless steel, but in old times, it was made of bamboo, and thus it used to be called Kaeshitake (turning bamboo).
Carefully inserting the “Kurigane” mold into the glove
From here, we move to the finishing process. The gloves are placed onto the finishing mold called a Kurigane, and the glove is then steamed to finish the shaping process.
Steaming the gloves to mold them
This machine is made of two parts. The upper part is for steaming and the lower part is for drying the gloves afterwards.
The final inspection before the shipment
Finally, a detailed inspection is conducted, and the glove is done! At Fukuda Glove Co., Ltd, the entire process, from the beginning to the end, is manually done until each pair is completed.
A determination to “make in Japan”: from materials to manufacturing
Colorful materials are also dyed in Japan
The gloves of l’apero, Fukuda Glove’s own brand, are entirely made in Japan, all the way from the materials to the dyeing process, not to mention manufacturing.
“Although the domestic material is certainly more costly, Japanese material and dyeing technique are what we can proudly proclaim to the world. Some people may think, ‘Why is a small thing like this more expensive than much bigger clothes?’ However, they will recognize the pricing is reasonable once they actually see our gloves and the process of craftsmanship. I have absolute confidence in our glove craftsmanship” said Atsuko, the director.
The secret of Fukuda Glove, the company lasting for over a century
Fukuda Glove exhibits at the exhibitions in Tokyo and Paris
Lastly, I interviewed Mr. Yoichi Fukuda, CEO of Fukuda Glove Co., Ltd.
――There are not many companies that can last over a century. Are there any secrets behind it?
We did not try to, or do anything to keep our company alive for a century. It is simply that our work over time has now accumulated to over 100 years. By the time we gave it any thought, we had passed that landmark. We have no idea if we can keep our company, just like nobody knows what is going to happen to Japan and the rest of the world in the future.
That being said, our policy is not to be conservative. I always try to be progressive in terms of to whom and how we sell, the way we do promotions, and the way of our craftsmanship. I am always trying to look forwards, rather than be satisfied with the status quo.
――What kind of company would you like to shape into for the future?
I would like my company to be one that has a shining trait that cannot be found in other companies. However, that kind of charm is not something you can create intentionally, so I would like to continue to do what I believe in, without being arrogant or conceited.
Find your favorite gloves in Kagawa!
Fukuda Glove’s original brand gloves are not sold at their factory, but sold at department stores in major cities in Japan. Within Kagawa Prefecture, they are sold at Mitsukoshi in Takamatsu, but it is possible that they are all sold out. Thus, it is suggested that you check with the store before visiting!
The glove outlet store
The glove outlet store
Other than Fukuda Glove Co., Ltd., there are many glove companies in Higashikagawa. There is a store where you can actually take a look, try on, and purchase these gloves at a reasonable price. That is the Gloves Outlet Store within the Kagawa Glove Museum, where you can not only find gloves, but also leather bags and wallets, made by the 30 glove-makers belonging of the Japan Gloves Industrial Association.
Sanshu Izutsu Yashiki
Sanshu Izutsu Yashiki
You can also purchase these gloves at Higashikagawa Gloves Gallery or Sanshu Izutsu Yashiki, close to Hiketa Station, JR Kotoku Line. This is a sightseeing facility transformed from its former self as an Edo-era merchant home (1603-1868).
What I feel now after experiencing Kagawa’s long-lasting gloves firsthand
The fact that gloves are a specialty of Kagawa Prefecture is not well-known to many of the people living in Kagawa. Although Kagawa gloves may be little-known, their quality is superb. The high quality gloves by Kagawa, including the gloves by Fukuda Glove Co., Ltd., are sure to give us more value than their price.
In Higashikagawa City, there are plenty of notable place to visit, such as Kamebishiya, a soy sauce factory with 260 years of history, and The Shirotori Zoo, famous for letting you interact with little animals up-close. When the chance arrives, I greatly recommend stopping by them.