Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Japanese Landsape: City of Bags - Toyooka

Toyooka Station 豊岡駅, 2006
Mebutsu is an often used word when talking about one’s city in Japan. It’s of interest to the geographer and Madison Avenue alike. It means, literally, “famous thing,” but it can be better understood as the product a given area is famous for. Almost every city has some sort of mebutsu. Some of them go back ages, some of them are brand new mebutsu that have been designed and marketed--just like the girls from AKB48--to appeal to the Japanese tourist’s pocketbook.

In this photo taken in the Summer of 2008 on a short train trip up to Kinosaki Onsen I stopped in Toyooka to change trains. There was this prominently placed sign stating:

            City of Bags - Toyooka

Bags! Toyooka (豊岡市) the largest city in northern Hyogo, closer to the Japan Sea coast than to fashionable, designer brand loving Kobe is famous for bags? It seems so improbable, but bags have to be made somewhere I supposed. After returning I asked my Japanese co-workers and friends and all of them knew that Toyooka was famous for bags.

A quick Japanese Wikipeida search reveals that the origin of the Toyooka bag goes back to the 8th century. Wicker trucks were produced using the plentiful willows that grew in the head waters of the Maruyama river that flows through the city. In modern times the Toyooka trunks were first presented to the world in during an expo in 1881. Later in 1917 the trunks were improved by coating them with lacquer and fitting them with locks. The development then turned away from wicker to fiber and then synthetic fiber bags. Production of bags and trunks has continued to today and the city prominently features them as the first two items in it’s English language tourist website.

So Toyooka is famous for bags. Almost every city has some sort of mebutsu. What’s your city’s mebutsu? What’s the strangest mebutsu you’ve seen?

A more in-depth discussion of the marketing and development of mebutsu can be found here.

1 comment:

angryparsnip said...

Nothing can beat the Tako you see everywhere in Osaka or maybe the Fugu ?
How can you not love s city that is famous for bag and trunks !
I would love a trunk made of willows.

cheers, parsnip