Fukushima firm has big dreams thanks to cedar pillows(夢詰め込んだ「眠り杉枕」)

Iwaki-Takahashi President Masayuki Takahashi lies on a bed in a former school that has been turned into a factory in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.(廃校を改修した工場にある元保健室のベッドに寝そべる高橋さん。「眠り杉枕で世界制覇したい」と夢を膨らませる)

 A company that makes high-grade wood products in a remote part of Fukushima Prefecture has big dreams of exporting its goods to the world -- and a pillow containing scrapped chopsticks could turn them into reality.
 Iwaki-Takahashi, Inc. uses timber from local forest thinning to make chopsticks, pencils and other items at its factory in the mountains in Iwaki.
 But now the pillow containing chopsticks made from sugi Japanese cedar -- and, according to Iwaki-Takahashi President Masayuki Takahashi, "the dreams of people in Fukushima" -- is set to be exported overseas in large numbers.
 "It's thrilling to think a small company tucked away in the mountains could aim to sell its products around the globe," said Takahashi, 46. "We want to dominate the world."


 Each "sleeping cedar pillow" contains 500 pairs of cut up disposable chopsticks, which were discarded because they lacked sufficient strength. Development of the pillows was based on a suggestion by Minoru Toriizuka, an adviser at Iwaki-Takahashi.
 However, the company struggled to keep the sawdust and fine powder from the wood chips inside the pillow. Iwaki-Takahashi worked with a support team from the Reconstruction Agency and enlisted the cooperation of other entities. Finally, in December 2016, after a lot of sweat and tears, the pillow was complete.


 Takahashi was eager to boost his company's brand by exporting its products. He tapped the Iwaki Cooperative Support Networks Association and a prefectural support project, and started business negotiations with Singapore-based investment company JCS Group in February 2019.
 The talks made little progress initially, which made Takahashi feel anxious. Despite this apprehension, the high quality of the pillows featuring the rich fragrance of Iwaki-grown cedar and excellent cushioning won over the group's chairman.
 In December, they concluded a contract giving the group exclusive overseas sales of the pillow. The pillow will be sold under the KOMME brand of luxury bedding, which is aiming to boost global sales.
 During the negotiations, there was absolutely no hint of concern about harmful rumors triggered by the March 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture.


 The group plans to sell KOMME products in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, the United States, Germany and elsewhere by March 2021. Iwaki-Takahashi is scheduled to export the first batch of 50 pillows by the end of February, and the group has placed an order for "a container" of pillows after that.
 Until now, Iwaki-Takahashi's exports had been limited to about 20 pillows it shipped to Taiwan. This latest deal will comfortably eclipse that.
 If the company can achieve its target of exporting 1,000 pillows per year, the volume of cedar used as a material in the pillows will spike.
 "We can add value to the cedar trees our predecessors planted and send them out to the world," Takahashi said. "I want to help improve the forest environment and lift Fukushima's image."
 Takahashi also hopes his success in exporting products will offer a glimmer of hope to small and midsize companies. "It would be great if companies in other underpopulated areas could aim for the global market by changing their methods," he said.

( Translated by The Japan News )


 【 2020年1月18日付・福島民友新聞掲載 】