In 2011, Isetan Mitsukoshi launched the project “Japan Senses” as a means to communicate the charms and beauty of Japanese culture. Since, the group has collaborated with a variety of famous brands and product designers to create high quality and innovative made in Japan items.

On Mar 30, Isetan Mitsukoshi started its latest Japan Senses event focusing on the Setouchi area in Japan. The Japanese city is known for its vast nature and beautiful islands, as well as for hosting the Setouchi Triennale since 2010.

Last October, buyers in charge of the women’s and children’s collection designed under Isetan Mitsukoshi’s private brands made a trip to Setouchi. By exploring the craftsmanship established in the area, the buyers were looking for ideas that would help them create new products in collaboration with Setouchi and its surrounding areas. They visited factories producing pile fabric in Imabari, Ehime as well as denim factories in Hiroshima and Okayama. “There were times when buyers of each department would visit cities as part of the business or for research, but it was the first time for ten or so buyers to go to the same place at the same time”, explained one of the managers. The buyers came together in preparation of the fifth year of the Japan Senses project, wanting to make sure that it would be a great success.

■Kaihara, Japan’s Top Denim Mill

Fukuyama, Hiroshima, where Fukuyama Castle is situated and the largest city in the Bingo region since the Edo period, is the home of Japan’s top denim mill, Kaihara. Here, Isetan Mitsukoshi buyers visited to examine the dyeing and weaving process of denim textiles. The spacious mill is filled with hundreds of looms emitting deafening sounds throughout in order to create the denim textiles. Mass-produced textiles are created using the latest machinery, while vintage-like fabrics are created using classic shuttle looms handled by talented artisans. Each year, Kaihara produces over 800 types of denim fabrics, but the company actually started off as a manufacturer of bingo kasuri cotton fabrics. Wanting to make the most of its technologies, Kaihara switched to the manufacturing of denim textiles in the 1960s. Half a century later, the textiles produced by the company are popular among top brands from around the world.

■A Visit to Kurashiki, Okayama, Boasting the Highest Production of Japanese Denim

The Kojima district located in Kurashiki, Okayama is known for the highest production of made in Japan jeans. The train station of Kojima is decorated with illustrations of jeans and once outside, installation art introducing hundreds of pairs of jeans welcome visitors. The visitors will find the famous Jeans Street close by, with over ten shops lining up denim products. Kojima is also the location of over 200 factories/ateliers involved in the creation of denim textiles or sewing processes.

After visiting a company specializing in laser and washing techniques, the buyers visited YUtoRi18, an atelier run by young staffs. The atelier’s special crush processing creates a range of unique denim textiles. “For the spring/summer collections, destroyed textiles were popular, while for fall/winter, one wash textiles were the trend”, explained one of the employees.

Next, the buyers visited the denim factory 241 CO., which also manages its own brands, and learned about the process of making the patterns and finishing off the end products. The factory has orders to create high quality denim from renowned brands; the products which are created using laser cutting, special sewing machines and washing techniques.

The buyers commented at a later time that their visits to the different factories not only taught them about the technical aspects of denim manufacturing, but that they were also inspired by the beautiful blue color of the sea outlining the Setouchi area. One of the buyers explained that most of the products designed for the event as well as the decorations of the event spaces were imaged after the blue sea.

More in Part 2.