Sunday, April 20, 2008


Return to Hanpu Heaven

I written before of the fascinating "in-group-magic-spell" that bag company Ichizawa Hanpu casts on certain Japanese people, and how the original business has experienced a wrinkle in its recent history. To recap, Ichizawa Hanpu originally made sails, then adopted its nearly indestructible sailing cloth to make such utilitarian bags as the Showa era milk carriers, before giving these practical items up for fashionable handbags. Even on this trip to Japan, a cousin I hadn't seen in 27 years exclaimed, "Oh! You have an Ichizawa Hanpu bag! How cool!"

Except, it's not enough to have an Ichizawa Hanpu bag anymore. Now you must have a Shinzaburo Hanpu bag. You see, Mr. Shinzaburo Hanpu was the bag designer behind Ichizaburo Hanpu for many years, though he suffered the misfortune of being the "third son" in the family hierarchy. Tradition triumphed over talent, and when Ichizawa Hanpu's family patriarch died, the company passed into the hands of first brother, who cannot design a handbag. There was a revolt. Designers quit and closed ranks with Mr. Shinzaburo Hanpu, who had the temerity to open a store practically right next door.

Of course, I had to go and see what the fuss was all about. The stores are indeed right next to each other. In the photo above, Shinzaburo Hanpu is in the foreground. In the background, you see a similar vertical white sign with black lettering; that is Ichizawa Hanpu.

Shinzaburo Hanpu was a flurry of people. It was hot inside. I was frustrated. I wanted a bag with a zipper, but only one model had a zipper. The atmosphere was competitive. I had to hang on to handbags I was thinking about "in case" I decided I wanted them or run the risk of seeing it fly into someone else's arms. This was worse than the Hermes sample sale. This was like the Hermes sample sale in the middle of Tokyo rush hour where no one bumps into anyone else and I was self consciously trying to avoid bumping into anyone, lest I look enormous and clumsy, all while still trying to get my damned bag. I was glad that Gordon was tall and I could find him by looking up at the ceiling. I ended up getting a massive tote bag with feet. Most of the bags were too small. "We don't need big bags in Japan," Isao explained. This did not help my self esteem.

Down the street at Ichizawa Hanpu, the scene was much quieter. I felt sad. I was sorry for the bags, for the salesgirls inside and the security guard stationed outside (why was he there?). When I recounted my experience to a few older relatives, they said: "Yes, the brothers should get along. Siblings should be friends." Yeah, and sometimes following tradition like a hardliner isn't the best idea.

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