Connecting people through KOUBA

Tsubame-Sanjo is a manufacturing region that specializes in metalworking. However,
mechanization, declining prices, and changes in distribution have contributed to decreased demand. As a result, the industry faces a variety of problems, including shortages of new workers and undesirable work conditions. To improve this situation, we founded the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival in 2013, opening factories to the public and inviting people to come and experience the world of manufacturing first-hand. Organized like an art festival, visitors can travel, map-in-hand, to whichever KOUBA strikes their interest.

Initially consisting of 54 participating businesses, today that number has doubled. In 2019, the number of visitors climbed to 56,000 people, and visitors have contributed to factory sales. However, participation and sales numbers are not the only measures of success. Young people from other parts of Japan have started to show up in Tsubame-Sanjo wanting to become artisans and craftsmen. The festival has also helped educate Tsubame-Sanjo’s youngest generations. It has provided opportunities for artisans and craftsmen to welcome people into their workshops, and the number of factories open to the public outside of the Factory Festival has slowly started to increase. Tsubame-Sanjo is benefitting from many changes we never predicted.

In 2018, a two-month exhibit dedicated to the history of Tsubame-Sanjo was held at Japan House London under the title “Biology of Metal: Craftmanship in Tsubame-Sanjo.” This exhibit brought us in contact with the words of the composer
Gustav Mahler:
“Tradition is not the worship of the ashes, but the preservation of the flame.” The history of metalworking in Tsubame-Sanjo is in part a history of evolving products---a history shaped by responses to evolving market demands. Tsubame-Sanjo’s history wasn’t created by a small handful of influential artisans. It was forged by countless craftsmen, the names of whom may never be included in records or find their way into our conversations. To pass the flame of tradition on to the next generation, we each have to play our part to make the most of the present. We must remember the countless numbers of nameless craftsmen who came before us. We hope that by welcoming people into factories to witness the depths of our craftsmanship, we might preserve it for the future.

We will continue to carry the flame of Tsubame-Sanjo’s KOUBA.

Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival

Event Direction: method
Art Direction & Design: SPREAD
Photography: Ooki Jingu, Kazuhiro Kodaira
Projection: Tomoya Kishimoto
Editing: Yoshinao Yamada
Translation: Zackary Kaplan
Web: Smile Farm Inc.
Press: How Inc.


Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival Committee
Tsubame-Sanjo Brand Development Dept., Tsubame-Sanjo Regional Industries Promotion Center 1-17 Sugoro, Sanjo, Niigata, Japan
Tel: 0256-35-7811