As a freelance photographer in Japan, most of my clients contact me for portrait photography in Tokyo. On occasion however, publications will reach out to me for editorial photography throughout Asia. I was recently contacted by the Japan National Tourism Organization to shoot a series of photos in Ishikawa and Fukui Prefecture about the area’s many manufacturing industries. Having never been to Japan’s west coast and not knowing much about Japanese manufacturing in general, I was happy to take them up on the offer.
I was surprised to find out that just over 90% of the country’s eyeglasses come from one small city in Fukui named Sabae. They have been producing eyeglasses for over 100 years now and have gained global recognition as one of the industry leaders.
What fascinated me even more was learning that rather than one large factory churning out these glasses, every aspect of the production is handled by a different factory. There is one factory for cutting frame shapes out of resin, another for polishing, another for assembly, and so forth. In essence, the entire city has been transformed into one massive factory with many moving pieces.
Not only did this succeed in creating more jobs, it allowed workers to develop highly specialized skills which ultimately speeds up production and ensures more consistent quality. As an outsider looking in, all I could think was how tedious it must be to perform the same task day in and day out, but I was assured that Sabae residents have a reputation for their patience and high level of focus.
In the nearby city of Kanazawa, we visited a workshop that specializes in the production of tin goods. Here, everything from flatware, to wind chimes, to cellphone holders are made out of the pliable, bendable metal. The workshop offers a tin making course to the public as well, so I am now the proud owner of a handmade sake cup.
Afterwards, we toured the factory floor where the retail goods are made by professionals. There’s something surreal about seeing people pour molten metal and react no differently than I would while watering my plants.
All in all, it was a fascinating trip and gave me a new appreciation for the work that goes into creating the everyday products we often take for granted. It’s easy to write off everything as being mass produced by machines these days, but at least in some places, there is still a human face behind these industries.
If you’re in need of photos, be it portrait photography in Tokyo or editorial photos in Asia, be sure to contact me for rates and availability!