Opening the Factories
2013 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival: 2-6 October
The first annual festival presented a new opportunity to open the factories of Tsubame-Sanjo to the public. We wanted to show people the world of manufacturing and have them see the craftspeople, the workshops, and the techniques behind the products. We wanted them to understand the value of hand processes and craft production. This motivation has been at the heart of the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival from the start. As we considered how the festival should evolve, we created a guiding concept with five precepts―our own “charter oath.”
Connecting people through KOUBA
KOUBA are the making-spaces where we engage in our crafts. Our KOUBA are the crystallization of our pride, the places where we can fulfill our potential. We will open our KOUBA to the world and invite people to experience craftsmanship. In our KOUBA, we will pursue our crafts and tell the story of our processes and products. The people who visit our KOUBA and see our passion are sure to feel their interest grow and see our products in a new light. If we work with pride and all our hearts, surely it will be so.
Among those interested in the making of things and those who want to hear our stories, the next generation of craftspeople may be hiding. Some may even come in search of romance. By experiencing our tours, demonstrations, and stories, surely people will come to love Tsubame-Sanjo. Let us step forth to fulfill the potential of our KOUBA and make Tsubame-Sanjo a mecca of craft.
The Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival Charter Oath
1. We will be proud and give our all in everything we do at our KOUBA
2. We will help people experience true craftsmanship at our KOUBA
3. We will contribute to local employment by revitalizing KOUBA
4. We will make KOUBA-work something that children dream of and respect
5. We will make Tsubame-Sanjo’s KOUBA a mecca for craftsmanship
The Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival began as a fumble in the dark. However, when the festival started and the factories were opened, more than 10,000 people came, far exceeding our expectations. Tsubame-Sanjo’s usually quiet craftsmen explained their work and were shocked to find visitors captivated. None were more surprised by the overwhelming response than us. The surprises continued when people interested in working in Tsubame-Sanjo appeared from among the factory visitors. The trend has continued, and every year after the Factory Festival, people from other regions come looking for work. As a result, women craftspeople have appeared in workshops previously operated only by men, and English and other languages can be heard in workshops where only Japanese was spoken. Although the crafts may stay the same, Tsubame-Sanjo is changing into a new city of craftsmanship with greater diversity.
Another unchanging aspect of the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival is the iconic pink stripe pattern that decorates participating factories every year. Inspired by the 45-degree yellow-and-black hazard stripes found in many factories, the festival’s key colors represent the bright shades of pink seen in forging furnaces and the silver of metal and machinery. The Factory Festival is a part of our city, and we place great importance on hand-decorating for the festival. Each factory uses pink tape and boxes to make guide signs around town and decorate the entrance and inside of their workshops. Each factory shows originality in how they decorate familiar spaces. With each year, workshops express their individuality, and the different uses of the key visual pattern has itself become one of the appeals of the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival.
No. of Factories: 54
Total Attendance: 10,708 people (38.6% from outside Niigata)
2014 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival: 2-5 October
Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival Exhibit at Sharing Design by Milano Makers (Milan): 8 -30 April
Good Design Award 2014
After the first year, we decided to create a series of paid official tours to help visitors see factories more efficiently. The official tours, which have been held every year since, have become a popular attraction that sells out immediately upon release. We expanded the free tabloid-sized festival map into an official booklet and boosted the festival’s accessibility by hiring shuttle buses to connect rent-a-cycle locations and information kiosks. Some participating factories began constructing or renovating their facilities to welcome more guests.
From the second year, limited factories began holding nighttime events. A total of six factories held reception parties and projection mapping events―now an annual favorite―also appeared this year. The receptions offered visitors the unique opportunity to interact with Tsubame-Sanjo’s craftspeople away from their workstations. Factory receptions have since become a standard festival event.
In addition to the main festival in October, the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival committee began organizing appearances in a number of fairs and events. The first of these was the Milan Furniture Fair―the world’s largest trade fair of its kind, held every April in Milan, Italy. The Factory Festival also participated in domestic events such as the 2014 Setouchi Craft Festival held in Takamatsu, Kagawa. The Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival was also awarded a Furusato Event Special Jury Award, the METI Industrial Tourism Town Revitalization Award, and a Good Design Award for its activities from the previous year.
No. of Factories: 59
No. of Factories: 12,661people (40.7% from outside Niigata)
Lighting Up The Night
2015 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival: 1-4 October
Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival Exhibition (Tokyo): 15-23 September
For the third annual Factory Festival, the festival committee hosted its first official nighttime reception. The reception was held near downtown Sanjo at the Sanjo Betsuin Temple, which dates back to 1690. The reception brought together the craftspeople from the festival’s participating factories and also featured nine craft-themed stalls as well as food and drink stalls. In addition to talk events and musical performances, the Factory Festival also hosted its first “work-wear fashion runway”―a hit event in which craftspeople take to the catwalk in their fatigues, overalls, and other work clothes.
In April, the Factory Festival made an appearance at the Isetan Shinjuku department store. In September, the committee held a special exhibition at the Roppongi Axis Gallery titled, “Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival: The Process of a Manufacturing Region.” This event marked the festival’s first large-scale gallery exhibit and became a model for the exhibits that the festival would later host overseas and elsewhere in Japan. At the same time, the festival committee became increasingly aware of the importance of promoting the festival outside of the factories. The exhibition introduced Tsubame-Sanjo’s history and featured live craft demonstrations to encourage visitors to attend the main festival. Meanwhile, Shinko Scissors, a workshop that had participated in the festival from the start, extinguished its forges for good. Toyama Shinko Scissors was a distinguished workshop and one of the country’s last producers of traditional Japanese scissors. The closure left a deep sense of loss. It pushed us to seriously address the many problems facing the craft and manufacturing industries today, including shifts in demand, lifestyle changes, and the lack of successors.
No. of Factories: 68
Total Attendance: 19,312 people (37.1% from outside Niigata)
Three Types of “KOUBA”
2016 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival: 6-9 October
Takaoka Crafts Tourism VS Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival (Tokyo): 9-11 September
From the fourth year, the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival extended its scale beyond factories (工場 “KOUBA”) to include farms (耕場 “KOUBA”) and markets (購場 “KOUBA”). By including farms and markets, we hoped to better promote the appeal of Tsubame-Sanjo as a region. The festival logomark was also renewed to reflect this change in awareness. This same year, the Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten from Nara celebrated their 300th anniversary with a craft fair titled the Dainippon-ichi (“Great Japan Fair”), and the Sanjo Monozukuri School was chosen as one of the five exhibition sites. The fair coincided with the annual Factory Festival, allowing us to connect with other craft regions throughout Japan.
In March, the City of Sanjo opened the community plaza Stage Engawa. In September, the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival participated in a joint event with Takaoka Craft Tourism (a factory tour event out of Takaoka, Toyama) at Tokyo’s Daikanyama T-site Garden Gallery. The same month, we held a talk event at the Takaoka Craft Tourism main event. In return, they held a talk event at our festival and made a guest appearance at “work-wear fashion runway”. In previous years, our events had been held the same month (October), making collaboration difficult. However, starting in 2016, Takaoka Craft Tourism moved to September, and as a result, visitors could be seen attending both events. Still more important were the new connections participating craftspeople were able to form. This same year, we also participated in the 2016 Tokyo Art Book Fair with a newly published photo collection by Ooki Jingu titled Hōchō no Mukōgawa (“On the Other Side of the Knife”) and a mystery novel by Kazuma Shibuya titled Hōchō no Uragawa (“Behind the Knife”). This same year, the Factory Festival was awarded the 64th Japan Tourism Poster Competition’s MIC Minister Award.
No. of Factories: 96 (78 Factories, 13 Farms, 5 Markets)
Total Attendance: 35,143 people (39.1% from outside Niigata)
2017 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival: 5-8 October
工藝現場 Crafts LIVE (Taipei): 19-23 April
Tabisuru Shintora Market 2017 Summer (Tokyo): 5 July - 1 October
Red Dot Award: Communication Design 2017
Starting in 2017, operational responsibilities for the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival were handed from local government to the private sector. A sub-event titled the Festival of Regions was created to introduce craft regions from outside of Tsubame-Sanjo at the Factory Festival’s main venue, the Sanjo Monozukuri School. In addition to domestic regions such as Arita (Saga) and Hasami (Nagasaki), which are known for ceramics, and Sabae (Fukui), which is known for forged knives, lacquerware, Japanese paper, and eyeglasses, the event also featured regions from overseas such as Taiwan and India for a total of eleven booths. We felt that the value of hand processes and craft production, which we had worked to promote since the first festival, was beginning to gain traction. This year, we promoted the festival by wrapping the trains on the JR Yahiko Line connecting Sanjo, Tsubame, and Yahiko as well as the Genbi Shinkansen connecting Echigo Yuzawa and Niigata. We also began our collaboration with students of the Nagaoka Institute of Design (Niigata).
In April, we held an event titled “Crafts Live” at Taipei’s Huashan 1914 Creative Park for Creative Expo Taiwan. In July, the Factory Festival made an appearance in the 2017 Summer Shintora Tabisuru (“Travelling”) Market in Toranomon (Tokyo), and in August we held an event at Niigata Isetan. This year, the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival was awarded the German international design prize Red Dot Award 2017 Communication Award, as well as the 8th Regional Revitalization Award.
No. of Factories: 103 (83 Factories, 11 Farms, 9 Markets)
Total Attendance: 53,294 people (36.1% from outside Niigata)
Taking KOUBA to London
2018 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival: 4-7 October
Biology of Metal: Metal Craftsmanship in Tsubame-Sanjo (London): 6 September - 28 October: 6 September - 28 Octorber
2018 Designers’ Saturday (Langenthal): 2-4 November
Showcasing the hidden lives of craftspeople is at the heart of the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival. For the sixth annual festival, we focused on responding to the festival’s repeat visitors. The total number of participating factories and businesses, which had been growing each year, had finally doubled. The festival was spread over a wider area than ever, and we decided to establish area leaders. From 2018, participating KOUBA began to take more initiative, engaging in various original projects and activities. This year also marked the reopening of the Sanjo Blacksmith Dojo, which had undergone renovations.
In September, the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival collaborated with Japan House London in the UK for its first original exhibition, titled Biology of Metal: Metal Craftsmanship in Tsubame-Sanjo. Japan House London’s Director of Programming, Simon Wright, had attended the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival. He was reminded of the words of Gustav Mahler, “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” These words would come to hold deep meaning for us. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, attended the event’s grand opening, and the exhibition was a great success. In November of this same year, the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival participated in Designers’ Saturday 2018 in Langenthal, Switzerland, and we witnessed the extent of international interest in Tsubame-Sanjo.
No. of Factories: 109 (93 Factories, 8 Farms, 8 Markets)
Total Attendance: 53,345 people (27% from outside Niigata)
The Other 361 Days
2019 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival: 3-6 October
2019 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival Official Book
A Slice of Niigata Food Culture: Experience Gastronomy with Tsubame Sanjo (Singapore): 15-20 November
German Design Award 2019: Excellent Communication Design - Winner
In 2019, we reviewed the festival’s existing free booklet and transformed it into a for-sale official book. The official book was designed to promote Tsubame-Sanjo year-round and connect with new segments of potential fans. We conducted original interviews and added guide maps and articles about the city and its history. We published the book ahead of the festival and worked to connect with new audiences by holding talk events and book exhibits in Tokyo at the Morioka Shoten in Ginza and T-site in Daikanyama. This same year, we saw the results of the Japan House London exhibition. Students, professional metalworkers, and tourists from London attended the main festival. Sales offers connected KOUBA to the London market. We acquired the cooperation of JR East and held Factory Front Station inside of the JR Tsubame-Sanjo Station, which acts as the primary travel gateway to Tsubame-Sanjo. Additionally, a photo exhibit featuring the works of Ooki Jingu garnered glowing reviews. The Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival had begun to bear fruit.
Increasing numbers of factories had built on their experiences, opening their doors to the public year-round. The four days of the festival should not be out of the ordinary. To reach more people and show them what happens behind the scenes of everyday manufacturing and craft, we need to think about the remaining 361 days of the year. We are already working towards this next goal.
In April, the Tsubame Industrial Materials Museum reopened after renovations and was chosen as the site of the 2019 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival Opening Ceremony. In November, the Factory Festival participated in the 2019 Taiwan Regional Regeneration Expo held at the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park in Taipei, Taiwan. The Factory Festival also participated in “A Slice of Niigata Food Culture: Experience Gastronomy with Tsubame-Sanjo” in Singapore. The Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival was awarded the 2019 German Design Award for Excellent Communication Design.
No. of Factories: 113 (90 Factories, 11 Farms, 12 Markets)
Total Attendance: 56,272 people (27% from outside Niigata)
STAY SAFE. STAY STRONG, KOUBA
LIVE! KOUBA TSUBAME-SANJO – VIDEO & LIVE STREAMS: 1-31 October
ROOTS OF METALCRAFT: Tsubame-Sanjo, Niigata, Japan (Singapore): 21 Feburary - 22 March
German Design Award 2020: Excellent Communication Design - GOLD
The Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival has been steadily gaining attention overseas. In February 2020, we held an exhibition titled Roots of Metalcraft: Tsubame-Sanjo, Niigata, at Singapore’s Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Located downtown, the exhibition not only successfully introduced Tsubame-Sanjo’s culture of craftsmanship to academy students, but people from all walks of life. As we prepared for the eighth annual factory festival scheduled for October, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world. Japan was no exception, and we made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival. At the same time, we decided to send a positive message of encouragement for the future of manufacturing and craft: “Stay Safe, Stay Strong.” We ran the message on a full-page spread in the Sanjo Newspaper and printed original posters. The one hundred plus KOUBA scheduled to participate in the eighth annual festival displayed the posters at their businesses. Each KOUBA taped over their poster with bright pink 45-degree stripes. In this way, we announced the festival’s cancellation and urged people to shelter in place over the Golden Week holiday.
The pandemic had made it all but impossible for visitors to come and see Tsubame-Sanjo’s workshops in person. In an effort to explore new ways of sharing the world of KOUBA, we decided to host an online event under the title “Live! Kouba: Tsubame-Sanjo Video and Streams.” For one month, we released videos and live streams, giving viewers an up-close look at the dynamic feats of manufacturing and intense moments of creation from KOUBA throughout Tsubame-Sanjo. We also created an official website featuring an outline of the Factory Festival’s activities, a searchable KOUBA index, and the festival’s iconic timeline detailing the several-hundred-year evolution of metalworking in Tsubame-Sanjo. We will continue to explore new mediums to promote the fascinating world of craftsmanship and KOUBA.