Fly ! Small Companies from Japan: OIGEN
Company in Pursuit of True Organic Pan with the Fusion of Traditional Techniques and New Ideas
OIGEN Foundry is a Nambu-Tekki (traditional ironware) production company based in Mizusawa, Iwate Prefecture, which was founded in 1852. President Kuniko Oikawa, the fifth generation owner, manages 68 staff. While claiming that she can’t speak English at all, Oikawa vigorously flies to exhibits in Germany, meets with foreign sales partners and negotiates with a tea store in Shanghai. As a result, OIGEN has a high reputation for their beautiful iron teapots, which have been sold in Europe for the past few years, and their designed pan “Sharakumono” has been in a catalogue at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Even at this moment, a new cooking ware series titled “Naked Pan” is crossing the ocean to the UK and USA.
The secret of OIGEN’s success lies in their designing ability and exporting network. The former is realized by the highly skilled traditional craftsmen and open-minded corporate culture that invites new ideas and supporters. On the other hand, Oikawa herself plays an important role in building the overseas export network. Her strong attitude lets her fly overseas to gather market information and re-brand traditional products. She is open to offers from overseas distributors, and flexibly enters markets with small lots as a method of market research.
In case of the Naked Pan series, a British woman they met at an expo booth in Germany pointed out two areas where the pans are highly environmentally friendly. The iron pans are made of 75% recycled iron by-products and chemical free. Instead of coating with anticorrosive chemicals, the pan is baked in a traditional way for protection against rust. The woman is now one of their overseas sales partners. Naked Pan will cook food crispy on the outside and juicy inside, making it popular with restaurant chefs.
Many traditional craft producers tend to be inward-looking, thinking that foreigners cannot understand the tradition, or afraid of cheaper imported products. The brave challenge of OIGEN Foundry is a bright light for many of us.