Thursday, October 12, 2006


Hanpu Heaven

My friend, Isao, on whom I rely for tips regarding what is cool, insisted a few years ago that we go visit Ichizawa Hanpu, a bag store in Kyoto.

"It would be most interesting if you were to carry an Ichizawa Hanpu bag in America," he said, slyly.

So I gave it a try.

As it happens, carrying this bag in America sometimes makes me feel as though I'm transmitting a secret code at a high frequency only audible to Japanese. The Japanese businessman I sat next to on a trip to California looked at me wide-eyed. "Where did you get that? It's so cool! You are so cool!" The girls in Family Mart, my local Japanese grocery store, whispered about my bag until I broke the news to them that I 1)spoke Japanese and 2)was well aware of what I was carrying. In a cinematic moment, I saw a young Japanese man with his own Ichizawa Hanpu bag and I sort of showed him my label and he showed me his and we smiled at each other.

So, note to those men and women who are looking for an easy conversation starter with Japanese people; go to Kyoto and get one of these bags. You'll likely be more successful than if you bring up Memoirs of a Geisha or anime.

How intrigued was I, then, to learn this Spring that the family behind Ichizawa Hanpu had had a dispute of will. I didn't catch it all, but there was something about how the third son, who had been making bags, did not inherit the business, while his older son, who had not been making bags, did. In a fit of understandable pique, the third son started his own business across the street from the original store.

Once again, it was ear-to-the-ground Isao who provided me with this news.

"And are these bags more stylish?" I asked.

"Oh yes," he affirmed.

But I was pressed for time on that trip and didn't get a chance to go to the store.

Fast forward to this week when I finally walked into Tutu, a store in NYC's Nolita that I had long admired from a distance. The proprietor was inside on the phone. And there, on a shelf, was this bag made by Hanpu Koubou. Could it be?

I was carrying my Ichizawa Hanpu bag like always, and I made sure the store proprietor could see the label. I felt a shift in the air, then heard her say in Japanese, "Let me call you back later." She turned her attention to me and said hello.

"I know your bag because I'm from Kyoto," she said with great intenwsity.

"And this Hanpu Koubou is from the same family?"

She looked cagey. "From one of the sons."

"You mean, from the one who didn't get to inherit the business?"

"Oh. You heard about that."

We chatted some more. As it turned out, her shop's logo had been designed by Reiko, whose sketchbook I've much admired in the past. The proprietor pointed out the features of the Hanpu Koubou. The canvas, she noted, was vastly superior to American canvas. She showed me an American bag so I could compare. I told her I was worried about buying a bag in a light color.

"It might get dirty."

"Yes," she said matter of factly. "We don't worry about that in Japan because we don't throw our bags around. I mean, I'd never put my bag on the floor."

And so, I am now the proud owner of a Hanpu Koubou, which I wil try to treat with the dignity it deserves, even when we pass out of big bag season.

Also posted on Japundit, where you can read the comments.

I love bags, yet never carry anything larger than a wristlet. Reiko has designed some cute ones, though--perhaps I'll branch out!
We can certainly accessorize you in NY.

Actually, I think the fact that most people take public transporation here adds to the bag phenonmenon. We don't have cars to cart around our stuff. If I had a car, I'd probably have a smaller bag.

Then again, when I think about it, even when I had a car I carried a big bag . . . .
Hi Marie! I was just wondering how much these bags run for at that store... I'm going to be going to NYC in a few weeks and really need a new schoolbag.. also, they look like they might be nice gifts.

Also, any other recommendations for your favorite places to shop on a budget in NY
No, really. I don't carry anything more than a wristlet, anywhere, unless I'm trucking pages to and from a workshop or something like that. In which case I have a really cute canvas bag that I'll bring and show you. :)
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