Why has such an excellent fountain pens made by Eboya not become widely known? What is the reason behind? This is simply because that Eboya’s mother body, Nikko Ebonite, is not a big enterprise and Eboya itself is just a small factory. The top three pen makers in Japan are the Pilot (Namiki Manufacturing Co., Ltd., used to be known as Dunhill Namiki), the Sailor, the Platinum. They are all big companies. They have been producing high quality pens and keep many fans all over the world.
However, high quality is not the only reason to sell the products in a broad scale. They have spent high budgets on advertising, deployed many sales persons, and displayed their commodities in the department stores or stationery shops all over the world. They have reached to operate mass-productions, having been acquiring pen or writing material fans from the world. I am also a fan of their products, using the Pilot 742, Sailor Micarta, and Platinum Goldfish often. They are all masterpieces with excellent writing touches. But they are not the only one fountain pen in the world. Sometimes they respond to my expectation well and provide me a comfortable writing touch, but some other time they give me a totally opposite responses, so unfriendly, and I can’t move my pen smoothly on paper—although it may depend on my physical or mental conditions. When it happens, I feel in the way that the pen is no longer my friend.
Eboya is not a big enterprise. That is why they can neither use much advertising expenses on their products nor display their pens on global stores hiring sales persons. Eboya does not operate mass production, or should rather say that they cannot do it, they open the stores located at Arakawa-ku in Tokyo only 1pm – 6pm on Wednesday and Friday. Today they also make only one fountain pen in the world responding to their customer’s request with a careful manner. Many customers in domestic or from overseas order pens from Eboya. Tomohisa Endo, the president of the Eboya and concurrently the Nikko Ebonite, the mother’s body of the Eboya, proudly says, “We are a small factory in town. We have only nine employees in total”.
It is a way of thinking in Japan that you should know your place. When you look up a dictionary, it explains like this: “To take a back seat or refrain from meddlesome actions, knowing who you are”. This is Japanese virtue and, at the same time, a survival strategy in our country.
One of my favorite lunch-box providers is Benmatsu in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. They have been running business for one hundred sixty years, since 1810. Matsujiro, the third –generation of the shop, has made lunch-box sales business mainstream and hold back the operation of Japanese restaurant. In 1850, the shop has begun to be called ‘Benmatsu”, making their official name of “Bentouya Matsugoro” abbreviated, that meant the lunch-box provider owned by Matsugoro in Japanese. They provides a lunch box with a pickled plum, a grilled fish, simmered vegetables, an egg omelet, cooked beans with salty-sweet taste, and rice. Their simple style of the lunch box has never been being changed more than a century.
I have been eating their lunch box over fifty years, but never got bored of the taste. I want to have it once a week. They sell the lunch box only at the department store in Nihonbashi or Ginza, Tokyo, within a fifty kilometer walking distance from my office. They have not expanded the business to other big cities except the central Tokyo. Only the connoisseurs recognizing the shop visit there and the commodities are successfully sold out in one day. Therefore Benmatsu has never been faced to a crisis of bankruptcy, being not choosing a way for business expansion.
On the other hand, there was a fish sausage shop that now I miss a lot. It was called Minoya located in Odawara-city, Kanagawa prefecture. They had started business about four hundred and fifty years ago, in 1560. It was a traditional shop that had upgraded a fish sausage, just a processed food made of minced fish, to a representative of Japanese cooking ingredients. It had an honor to be appointed as a purveyor of the Imperial household. Minoya used to sell their products only in Odawara district.
They expanded their sales market nationwide in 2010’s, so that everyone in Japan could buy Minoya’s fish sausages by visiting local department stores. However it was expensive, four thousand yen for one fish sausage, compared to ordinary sausages general publics were consuming at households, three hundred yen. Not many people would have bought Minoya’s fine-class sausages. No matter how they were carefully made, general consumers did not understand the value so the Minoya’s luxurious sausages were not appealing to consumer’s appetite.
You can find a trap of business expansion right here. The fish sausages are foods needs to be kept fresh, so unsold goods had to be disposed of nationwidely. Minoya had experienced a severe cash-flow problem and went bankruptcy in January, 2015. They had to end up their history of four hundred and fifty years attributing to the business expansion they had launched only for several years. I have heard that even Macdonald, a King of the global enterprises today, faces a difficulty in operation. Business expansion sometimes dazzles your eyes where you can’t supervise the administration from top to toe, and degrades the quality of the goods, together with inviting the risks of bankruptcy for a company. Benmatsu do not try to expand their business, but their products are being all sold out every day. Customers keep on visiting Bennmatsu all the way and buying their lunch-box.
Eboya run business thoroughly in a place they know they should stay. They have not launched a mass-production. They keep their products with high quality. This is very Japanese way of administration. Eboya does not set a high price on its product, even though they know the products are rare in the market. They just carry on manufacturing fountain pens responding to the customers’ requests, without fanfare. Even in the case that they cannot meet a customer directly, they produce a fountain pen the customer can satisfy with.
President Tomohisa Endo says, “It is imagination. I thoroughly read the order sheet given by clients, and imagine what is he / she like, what kind of work do he / she engage in, what type of writing habits may he or she have, and in which scene do they use fountain pens? Even I try to depict the information not written in the order sheet in my head. And then I start to sharpen the ebonite for their fountain pens”.
Sensing —- It is a sense of a Japanese beauty, too. I read in mind what other person requests even if he or she does not make any words; I go ahead and act. The Japanese ground rule is to sense someone’s thought. “The hospitality (Omotenashi)” is in the form of Japanese service that we can offer someone as we can sense the feeling of the others. Japanese craftsmen are professionals who devote themselves to sense a wish of a client perfectly.
Also today people in Eboya continue on making a fountain pen only for him or her, sensing how the client writes, what his / her handwriting characters are like or even how he depicts pictures, with their pen in hand.
Interviewer & Author:Akitoshi Urayama
Inquiry：General Incorporated Foundation of Employment Advance Research Center
contact form or +81 (0)3 6550 9516