Hello! My name is Melanie, and I am a new shop staff and English advisor at Meri! Not many locally-owned shops have a strong presence on the English web, so I am writing this new blog series with the hopes that English speakers can learn more about this side of Japan.
Being from Canada, something that I am frequently surprised about is the number of items that are handmade on a small scale in Japan. When I imagine manufacturing, I picture large factories such as the Hershey’s chocolate factory that I toured several time in my youth. This massive factory was an hour outside of town and my only direct interaction with manufacturing when I was growing up. I was always happy to make the trip there because that meant buying chocolate from the discounted gift shop, but this experience also shaped my image of manufacturing – an assembly line with countless workers in a grey environment, constantly repeating the same task.
When I moved to Tokyo, noticed that many items that were made in Japan, and some items even claimed to be made in Tokyo. Where, I thought, could they possibly have the space do this? Certainly not anywhere in the 23 special wards, a space filled with businesses and living spaces.
I have been working in the Sumida area of Tokyo, one of the aforementioned 23 special wards, as an English language advisor at various companies for over three years. Sumida is known for its manufacturing tradition, and I have had the chance to see more small-scale manufacturing up close. Teams of under ten people work hard to produce goods that will be sold all over the country and overseas. It’s hard for these companies to compete with massive corporations, as they simply can’t lower their costs the way large-scale manufacturers can. However, thanks to the relatively low volume, the quality control is unrivaled.
This brings me back to Merikoti. The majority of the items sold are made in Japan, not only in Sumida but other localities around the country. The zori (Japanese-style slippers) are made at small factories all across the country, with one craftsperson only able to make two or three pairs a day. Each craftsperson undergoes training for about two years before they are able to make the zori without supervision.
If you come to Tokyo, don’t miss the chance to come to Sumida and take a walk around this small-scale manufacturing area. You are sure to see something special. Of course, don’t forget to stop by Merikoti as well!