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From Value One, Spring 2012, No. 36  

Expert forging skills determine product quality. (Top Kogyo)

Sanjo City in Niigata Prefecture is one of Japan's biggest producers of workshop tools such as pliers, screwdrivers, and wrenches. Along with the neighboring city of Tsubame, Sanjo has long prospered as a town known for metalware. The city's industrial history dates back to the Edo period (1603–1867), when it began producing Japanese-style nails.

Both Sanjo and Tsubame have made good use of the metalworking techniques and knowhow they built up through the crafting of metalware, such as knives, with Sanjo becoming a major production base of workshop tools and Tsubame specializing in Western-style tableware. Japan had begun importing workshop tools from the West in the Meiji period (1868–1912), and the Kansai region pioneered their production domestically. Maruto Hasegawa Kosakujo Inc., now Japan's biggest manufacturer of pliers and nippers, was the first to produce workshop tools in Sanjo. The company's founder, Mr. Tosaburo Hasegawa, bought spring hammers in Osaka in 1932 and began manufacturing pliers. Sanjo's workshop tool manufacturers, late starters compared to their counterparts in the Kansai region, sought markets abroad and steadily expanded their share of the export market by displaying creativity and ingenuity in quality, cost, and design. In spite of the strong yen, Maruto Hasegawa Kosakujo still maintains an export ratio of about 50 percent. Chairman Tadashi Hasegawa declares, "No foreign manufacturer can match us in the sharpness of nippers. Our technique represents the fruits of sensibility characteristic of our company."

During World War II, Top Kogyo Co., Ltd.—a producer of wrenches, spanners, and other workshop tools— took on forging jobs as a subcontractor to Nakajima Aircraft Co., Ltd., and after the war changed its focus to workshop tool production. "Our emphasis on product development to meet customers' needs has borne fruit in a wide range of original products," says President Ichiro Watanabe. Kaneko Mfg Corporation, specializing mainly in screwdrivers, has made all-out efforts to differentiate themselves from competitors by attaching particular importance to product design, which they consider a major source of added value. Many tool manufacturers in Sanjo share this emphasis on design. One major feature of Sanjo-based tool producers is the early establishment of their own brands, which have deeply penetrated the market. In addition to tradition-backed skills, the enhanced value added in the design and brand aspects has solidified the globally leading position of Sanjo-produced workshop tools.



Kaneko Mfg's hit product Ryujin Bit; distinctive design is a major priority.


Top Kogyo's product lineup numbers 2,000 items.


Maruto Hasegawa Kosakujo's nail nippers are a favorite item of top beauticians.


Sanjo's long history with iron cannot be properly discussed without paying tribute to the general wholesalers and steel wholesalers who distribute the products of the workshop tool manufacturers throughout Japan. The Sanjo Steel Business Association, counting 49 member companies including steel wholesalers and established in 1891, is one of Japan's oldest steel industry associations. Its 120-year history can be explained in part by the area's cluster of metalworking businesses. The depth of the industry in which manufacturers and traders are working so closely together supports the workshop tools that Sanjo proudly turns out.
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