Kita-boshi Pencil Co., Ltd. (Katsushika City)
Pencil manufacturing is one of Tokyo's regional industries. Kita-boshi Pencil Co., Ltd., a manufacturer of pencils and drawing equipment located in Katsushika, attracts attention for its unique development of recycled sawdust products. The company, supporting community education, welcomes school field trips to the factory. The following are excerpts of an interview with President Kazutoshi Sugitani about his company and philosophy. He also talked about his community, Katsushika, which is expecting an economic boost with the construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree.
During the Edo period, the Sugitani family served the Tokugawa clan in the Ise area (today's Mie prefecture) as secretaries. After the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Meiji period, the family migrated to Hokkaido and started a lumber business there. Later, when Tsukiboshi Pencil, one of the lumber customers, bankrupted, the family shouldered the debt, bought the facilities in Tokyo, and entered the pencil-making business. The company name Kita-boshi came from Hokkaido [in Japanese, Hok and Kita are represented by the same character read and pronounced differently].
Pencil demand peaked in 1955-65, and today has diminished down to one-third of peak demand. Decreased sales often motive good ideas. To try to sustain the business and to address the wasteful disposal of sawdust which accounts for 40% of our manufacturing material, Kita-boshi Pencil started a joint research study with academia to try to develop a method of recycling sawdust to make new products.
After much trial and error, the company finally succeeded to deliver Mokunensan, clay made from a sawdust mix. Mokunensan became a hit because it did not stick to hands, was light and rigid after drying naturally, and was easy to form toys and accessories that were limited only by an artist's imagination. In addition, Mokunensan could be sold to the company's existing client network. Later, the company developed and commercialized another product, Wood Paint, paint made from wood materials, in cooperation with the Tamagawa University College of Arts. The company hopes to create a new field of art called wood coloring to be comparable to water coloring and oil painting in the future.
Out of the 36 total members of the pencil manufacturing cooperatives, Tokyo is home to 26 pencil manufacturers. About half of them are concentrated in Arakawa and Katsushika Cities. Drive for volume production, and thus the need for better technology and logistic location, drew many pencil manufacturers alongside the Arakawa River, making the pencil industry one of Tokyo's regional industries.
Kita-boshi Pencil has always welcomed field trips from local schools to strengthen its relationship with the community. Recently, the company was certified for the Key Technology Industry Group Support Program. Taking this opportunity, the company renovated the factory to better show the pencil manufacturing process, and installed a study facility, the Tokyo Pencil Laboratory, that opened on March 20, to promote the idea of a sight-seeing pencil factory.
Although demands diminished, pupils up to the third grade will always use pencils. Kita-boshi has survived by focusing on this demographic with its timely product development. President Sugitani thinks a manufacturing company needs two perspectives for its product development in line with the times: one of an ant to be able to look at small details closely like materials, and the other of a bird to be able to see the whole picture.
Mr. Sugitani believes that a company needs a credo. When his family started pencil manufacturing, his great-grandfather said: "A pencil sacrifices itself to serve people. Both humans and pencils need cores. It is important that our family stays in this business." Mr. Sugitani has taken over the business following these words at each step. Each may seem insignificant, but your plan and decision when you take each step may make a big difference in the long run. He said his company credo would be reflected at every small step.
Address: 1-23-11 Yotsuki, Katsushika City, Tokyo