Japan has always been a nation synonymous with perfection and her quest for mastery. However, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, the greatest masters of this perfection hide within many little parts of the country not often traveled by tourists. For ZZUMA & Co.'s first collection, featuring premium fencing gloves modeled after the stories of world-class athletes, we had the chance to uncover the genius of one particular master.
Join our Founder, T.K. Wong, as he recounts the journey he took to a small town in Japan to seek inspiration, and eventually create the first ever ZZUMA glove.
"I was once told of a glove maker, living in the south of the small island of Japan called Kagawa, who made gloves of superior quality that the Olympic fencer Yuki Ota and his team mates used.
This glove maker's name is Mr. Hosokawa. He resides in the town of Higashi-Kagawa (formerly called Shirotori, or "white swan" in English) where his studio is also located. Back in 2008, Ota's father first sought him out to customize a high performance glove for his son's campaign for the Beijing Olympics that year, of which Ota won an Individual Silver medal. The acclaim of Mr. Hosokawa handcrafted gloves then extended to the fencer's team mates as well.
When I first saw and felt the glove myself, I could feel the level of quality, care and precision that went into the making of this glove. I was curious indeed, and made up my mind that I would go see for myself this glove maker on this island in the south of Japan and understand what made these gloves so special.
And so, my story begins.
Mr. Hosokawa and I first met at Tokushima Awaodori Airport in Tokushima, Japan. I think we were both filled with anticipation of what's to come, to finally meet the kindred spirit we probably are to each other -- him, excited at the prospect of someone traveling all the way to where he was to witness his craft, and i, curious as to how such perfection could be born in this area called Higashi Kagawa.
Together, we took a drive towards the direction of his humble studio and abode, only stopping halfway to dine at a quaint roadside udon place along the coast. That marked the first meal of my trip, and it was also there where I had one of the best udon noodles I have ever tasted. I didn't realize it at that time, but that unassuming little store was well-known across the country for its udon.
My stomach filled with good food, we continued on our journey through the mountain passages to Higashi Kagawa.
My host next brought me into their main town, to this building called the “Glove Museum”. It was to be my first clue to what this town’s heritage was all about.
Inside the museum, there were all kinds of gloves, both for casual, as well as sporting purposes, placed neatly in glass displays. Accompanying them were labels of the names of famous people or teams whom the gloves had been made for -- prestige that has been accumulated from over the years.
It came as no surprise that Mr. Hosokawa would show me the two fencing gloves on display there, even less so when he did just that with much pride. One of them was a glove made for an elite women fencer, and the other was the first original glove customized for Yuki Ota, the very one that inspired my journey to Higashi-Kagawa. I could feel the pride and joy he had showing me this, and I shared in his feeling and marvel.
During the drive around with Mr. Hosokawa, I also saw a few other glove maker signboards, as well as some larger factories that made commercial gloves for the larger ski, baseball and casual wear markets.
He then took me back to his home, where in an attached studio, was where he and his wife, made fencing gloves to be used all across Japan. Many citizens of the country had, by now, heard of the quality and uniqueness of his gloves and were as eager as I was to try them on. Within his workspace, there were suede, leather, and textile materials tiled around, as well as many pictures of some of the famous fencers who wore his glove.
He later brought me to meet a friend, who also had an attached studio, in which he made another kind of glove. The gloves Mr. Takeshita made were used by firemen and factories requiring gloves that could withstand high heat. There were laser cutting machines, and a material that Mr. Hosokawa used from them -- that was anti-cut fabric, in his fencing glove. Mr Takeshita and family were most welcoming of me and we had such a jovial time “just joking” around.
Slowly I began to realize this was indeed a glove town or glove city as they were known. In earlier days, they supplied most of the gloves made in Japan for both domestic and export. But alas in the last two decades, lost a lot of their orders and factories to China to remain competitive. I understood over 60% or more of their production was lost and many factories shifted overseas to China.
It saddened me to hear this, and I wondered how we could revive again this great craft here and keep it going? Clearly this heritage and skill should not be lost.
On my final night before we left, we had a wonderful dinner hosted by Mr Hosokawa, and all the people whom I met, as well as two interpreters that had helped us.
Their warmth and their curiosity touched me. They asked a lot of questions about Singapore. We touched also on education and they wanted to know how a little island like Singapore became such an amazing city of the future. As the sake turned the night into a wonderful sweet memory, I made a note that we had to play our part to help this little glove town become its once vibrant self again..."
(A special note of gratitude to Chieko Sekine, our dear friend, who helped make this ZZUMA x SCHERMA glove project a reality, and to Yusuke Aoki, and Oleg Matseichuk of Japan Fencing & JISS for all their support)
...TO BE CONTINUED ...//The Making of a ZZUMA x SCHERMA glove