The forerunner of Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu, Ichizawa Hanpu, was founded in the Meiji period by Shinzaburo’s great-grandfather, Kihee, who first made a tool bag or a dress shirt using a sewing machine.
Later, his son, Tsunejiro, began making canvas bags in earnest, laying the foundation of the business. Later still, Tsunejiro’s son, Nobuo, brought Ichizawa Hanpu to the attention of young people as well as tourists by making mountaineering rucksacks and tents. The love and passion for the creation of canvas bags and items did not stop here. It found seed in Nobuo’s son, Shinzaburo, who brought to the business fresh and uniquely creative ideas, while continuing to make use of the skills of craftspeople, some of whom had started as apprentices in his grandfather’s and father’s time.
We are sure that you will feel some sense of this continuity when you visit our shop.
Kihee was born in 1853 and was known to be a bit of an eccentric, loving new things and being at the forefront of fashion. Perhaps this had to do with his being born in the year that Captain Perry’s ship arrived at Japanese shores opening up the country to western culture and civilization, ending Isolationism in Japan. Although Japan was opened to foreign trading, many people still wore kimono. Be that as it may, Kihee wore western clothing and hats, which were unusual for the time, and started a western-style laundry. He also organized a band called Kyoto Band in which the musicians played trumpets and clarinets. He simply adored anything that was western. However, although he was energetic and had an insatiable curiosity, he was somewhat lacking in business sense. As a result, and perhaps because he was born too early for his time, all that remained of his fabulous start was one sewing machine.
Kihee’s son, Tsunejiro, was very different from his father. He was an earnest and dedicated craftsperson. He was good at the laundry business and sewing. His favorite words seem to have been, “We must do good work. We must make sturdy products.” He thus began making bags out of canvas material for craftspeople. The oldest bag we have from this time dates back to the Taisho period (1912-1926) and is the prototype of our tote bags.
In the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989), he purchased the latest industrial sewing machine from Singer company in the USA. It was very expensive and cost 400 yen at a time when a house could be built for 1,000 yen. However, thanks to this exorbitant expenditure, thick material could now be sewn and the resulting bags were favored by workmen such as carpenters, plasterers, and plumbers to carry their tools as well as by pharmacists, liquor shop errand boys, and milkmen. The bags also functioned as free advertisement because the shop’s name was printed on them. Thus when they were in use or hanging from the handlebars of bicycles as the workmen went to and fro from their homes to their workplace, they even functioned as moving advertisements making the shop’s name widely known among the public.
Tsunejiro’s son, Nobuo, who survived the tumultuous aftermath of World War II, was a mischievous and creative person with a keen sense of aesthetics. He listened to jazz and classical music and loved antiques, the arts, and fashion. He was more like his grandfather Kihee than his serious-minded father. Although Nobuo managed to keep Ichizawa Hanpu going, he was not a really good businessman as exemplified by his retaining the old fashioned way of paying the employees on a daily basis. During World War II, orders came in from the navy for cannon covers, hammocks and bags for the crew member of the Zero fighter plane, while right after the war, the interest was mainly for backpacks. In the years after 1945, Ichizawa Hanpu made a name for itself with its Kissling rucksacks, which were big rucksacks made from canvas, and became the top brand for mountaineering goods. Nobuo, however, did not narrow his inventory to just rucksacks. In this he showed great foresight for after the advent of synthetic fiber such as nylon, the need for mountaineering products made from canvas decreased. At around this time, the number of young people showing an interest in canvas bags as fashion statements began to increase. Nobuo, ever on the look out for quality products, often traveled around the world to places such as the USA, Europe, Egypt, Turkey and Northern Europe. And this, at a time when the exchange rate was 360 yen to the dollar!
Born as the second son of three in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto in 1949, he grew up hearing the sound of sewing machines and the smell of canvas as the living quarters of the family and the workshop were located in the same place. Although he sometimes helped in the family business as a student, upon graduating from university, he wished to spread his wings and see something of the world. He therefore began work at a newspaper company in Osaka where he remained for about 10 years. Then in 1980, he returned to help in the family business, modernizing the management and creating a worker-friendly environment.
When he took over the business, it was a small one of about 10 employees. Shinzaburo, however, was determined to make user-friendly, sturdy bags for people across the ages. He threw himself into making his dream come true by designed new bags, introducing bags of different colors so that in 20 years, the number of employees increased to 70.
At Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu, superior quality canvas bags continue to be made as usual against the background clatter of sewing machines. There are no subcontractors or affiliated companies; through direct manufacturing and selling, our style of commerce is still maintained. Three lines of products are available: Shinzaburo Hanpu, which are simple, cotton canvas bags; Shinzaburo Kaban which are linen products as well as some cotton canvas products with original patterns; and last, but not least, Ichizawa Hanpu, which are the original workmen bags. While some of the bags will remind you of the good old days, others will give you a sense of new esprit. Whichever your choice, we are sure that you will enjoy your Ichizawa experience.