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Saturday, June 19, 1999

Making the case for quality

Staff writer

They say, "The clothes make the man," but a briefcase is just as important for a salaryman. It is not only a symbol of his profession but also an indispensable part of his accouterments, something he can't leave home without.

Ginza Tanizawa, located on Tokyo's famous main street, sells everything from travel bags to ladies' casual bags, but their original briefcases, the Dulles bags, are perhaps their most famous item. "We don't like to compete with European brands," says Hiroshi Takahashi, managing director of Tanizawa. "I think that the European tradition is also great, but we have an obligation to keep our own tradition."

The Dulles bags are synonymous with Tanizawa. The bags, which the store has dubbed the "Symbol of Peace," are a Tanizawa original, which they've made since 1951. That's the year when U.S. President Truman's Secretary of State, John F. Dulles, came to Japan on a peace mission. He inspired the bag's style and slogan since he was often seen carrying a similar briefcase during his stay.

The majority of Dulles bags are machine-made with only a few components being handmade. There are, however, a few that are fully handmade. These bags, which cost about 80,000 yen, feature durable bull leather for the bag's exterior, pigskin lining and clasps imported from Europe.

Takeshi Kuroda, one of the four craftsmen at Tanizawa who make the Dulles bags, has been doing it for over 45 years. Kuroda makes the bag from start to finish, including cutting the leather, sewing it and adding the clasp. When the bag needs repair, the maker does it himself.

"It's important that we take these kinds of measures [when making the bags]," Takahashi says. "Some may think it's old-fashioned [to make it by hand], but we're proud to carry on the Tanizawa tradition."

The word kaban (bag/briefcase) did not exist in Japan until around the Meiji Period. Before then, bags were exported from European countries such as Italy, Germany and France. The word is said to have been coined by Teizo Tanizawa, owner of the first Ginza Tanizawa which opened in 1874. The literal meaning of the kanji is "wrapped in leather," however, the origin of the word is not clear. It is said that Tanizawa, a skilled kaban-maker himself, might have taken the word from the Spanish word cabas.

Although the fourth-generation shop owner, Shinichi Tanizawa, doesn't make bags himself, he is always in the shop selling the bags. In order to sell bags well, one needs to read the customers, says Takahashi.

One of the techniques he employs is to ask the customer's profession, because people buy bags that suit their jobs and they have different needs. Also, he knows that businessmen, professors and judicial officers are more likely to buy a Dulles bag than people in other professions.

Some like to change bags according to the fashion, but others want a timeless, classic design. For those kinds of people, the Dulles bags definitely fit the bill. The style of the Dulles bag hasn't changed for years; it is what distinguishes Tanizawa's bags from others. Takahashi says that customers who only buy this style are not uncommon.

"One customer who is a lawyer has bought four of the same style over the years," Takahashi says proudly. "He says that after he saw this style, he didn't care about any others."

Ginza Tanizawa: 1-7-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, (03) 3567-7551

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