Our fascination with Inden originated with Tusha. Tusha is a kendo sixth dan renshi (sixth degree blackbelt teacher) with the Wahiawa Kendo club in Wahiawa, Hawaii. Kendo is the fighting technique used by samurai hundreds of years ago in Japan. As mentioned in the previous post in this series, samurais used lacquered leather inden as part of their armor. They also used inden bukuro, a lacquered leather bag, to hold their personal items and tools as well as smoked deer leather gloves called kote. Both are still used in present day Kendo and are what captured Tusha’s attention.
“There is just something special about the distinct aroma of smoked leather from a new pair of kote….its the smell of new gear” -Tusha
“I just love inden because it is handmade, beautiful, and it really lasts, that’s what makes it such a great value” says Aisha.
Our Aunt, who is Japanese, lives in Japan, and accompanied us on our trip, has been instrumental in our ability to purchase inden over the last 20 years. The Inden-ya factory in Yamashi is a very traditional company. They have been producing inden for the last 14 generations and do not ship their product out of Japan nor deal with foreign companies. They only way we could get inden to our gallery was to ask our aunt to create an account in her name in order to purchase inden for us then she would have to send it to Honolulu. We are very grateful for her service over the last 20 years, but due to the increasing demand for inden, we felt that it was time to find out if we could form a direct partnership with Inden-ya.
Upon our arrival in Yamanashi, the three of us checked into Yamura Tokiwa Hotel. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. This onsen has a rich history of imperial family visits including the emperor, and an impressive collection of Japanese art.
Yumura Tokiwa Hotel has both indoor and outdoor natural hot spring baths, and we were delighted to enjoy them both. The room we stayed in was a traditional Japanese ‘tatami’ room like the ones featured in the picture. After relaxing in the baths, dinner was served in our room at a low table near the window with a spectacular view of the city lights.
Our dinner was a festival of flavors and textures including tofu, sashimi, nabe, and much more including a shabushabu hot pot and delicious plum wine.
After watching the sunrise over Mt. Fuji, we visited the Inden-ya museum and shop.
From left to right: Rotating barrel used to smoke the deer leather; katagami screens; tools used in collection of lacquer sap; cuts made in the lacquer tree to collect sap.
Above are photos of storefronts from Inden-ya’s history and vintage advertisements for inden.
In this picture are some examples of inden throughout the ages. From Top to bottom: Inden wallets, drawstring bag, a leather fireman’s jacket that originally belonged to an upper ranking samurai, a seigaiha katagami screen, a wallet, and a tobacco case.
Following our visit to the museum, we met with the manager of Indenya and were given a private tour of their factory. We were very impressed by how clean and orderly the factory and craftsmen were.
“Why are the workers not wearing any gloves or uniforms to protect against the toxins in the lacquer?” Tusha asked.
“If they have to wear those things then they are not good enough to make inden.” The manager answered.
“Is there an apprenticeship program for creating inden?”
“There is a period of time when the skills are learnt by the repetition of one job at a time, then when the student gets to the point that he can remain clean and the product looks professional, he can advance to the next job. Some people have been working here for 10-20 years.”
“The craftsmen look very young to be doing this job.” Tusha remarked.
“Inden is hard work, and requires the strength of a young body to create it.”
As we observed the process of cleaning the screens our host explained, “If the lacquer dries on the katagami, it will harden and ruin the design; when it is dry it is almost impossible to get off and can never be used again. Cleaning is an important part of what they do.”
After the tour we had a meeting with the manager to discuss a potential partnership. Inden-ya is not the only producer of inden in Japan. We have purchased products from other factories, but have repeatedly returned to Inden-ya. Since they have been producing inden for the last 500 years, Inden-ya utilizes time tested techniques and methods developed and perfected by their family. We’ve found their product and quality to be superior to all others.
Our meeting was successful and we are proud to announce that we are now official partners with Japan’s famed Inden-ya. Robyn Buntin of Honolulu is now the only carrier of Inden in the Hawaiian islands and one of the very few vendors in the United States.
We returned from Japan with a large selection of inden wallets, large and small zip billfolds, coin purses, card cases, pen cases, and one belt in a variety of designs.
If you would like to peruse our selection in person, we invite you to our gallery here in Honolulu.