Nippon Tokotoko / ◯—◯

Jun. 23, 2017
  • Viewpoints
Shinsuke Fukaya
Executive manager, INSTITUTE OF SMART x URBAN DESIGN
Sub leader, Hakuhodo Brand Design

“I’m glad you like them. That means a lot coming from of an ad exec. Take it, Mr. Fukaya.”
“What?!”
“You can advertise much better than I can. It’s yours!”
“Are you sure?” I asked, already reaching for the pin. “That makes me so happy! I’ll wear it everywhere.”

Photo 1: Fashioning the Pin

I tried to remember when that conversation took place on my way to the glorious town of “◯-◯,” where my former colleague with a charming smile was waiting for me.

Although I was born in neighboring Kanazawa, I had never visited Fukui Prefecture before nor was I aware of anything beyond Eihei-ji Temple, traditional Echizen-washi paper, and Tojinbo, a series of rugged cliffs on the coast where many TV suspense dramas were filmed. To my surprise, a dinosaur robot nodded with its long neck to greet me as I stepped out of the station. That’s right, I remembered. Fukui has been dinosaur-crazy since Fukuititan, a genus of giant sauropod dinosaur, was recently found in the area.

Photo 2: Fukuititan Greets Visitors in front of Fukui Station

“The town burned down during the war,” the taxi driver said, abruptly starting his story. The sky was surprisingly high and blue for this region. “Soon after the war ended, they came up with a plan to rebuild the city from the ashes. Then the earthquake hit right in the middle of the construction. What a sad joke, like a mean one-two punch. But we overcame both disasters, and the whole city had running water and sewage by the 1950s, ahead of the rest of the country!”

Indeed, the wide streets upon a checkerboard grid told a story of thorough city planning. Passing trams brightened the streets with speckles of color, just like in Toyama City. The presence of locals who talk proudly about their town was always the sign of a good city.

Photo 3: A Tram Cruising Through Fukui City

I swiftly finished my work in Fukui City and headed to ◯-◯ town, my personal destination on this particular trip. I was there to see a colleague of mine, though he was more than 20 years my junior. He was sent to the city by the Cabinet Office with the grand mission of revitalizing the region. That’s some serious task. I hummed with joy at the vibrant green of the expansive fields and mountains passing by outside the window.

Photo 4: The View from the Window on My Way to Sabae

♪ Eyeglasses are for wearing on your face…♪
Right in front of Sabae Station, a huge, brilliant billboard stood to greet us. It seems the city has opted for a preemptive marketing strike on every visitor as soon as they step off the train and into the city.

Photo 5: The Brilliant Billboard in front of the Station

Sabae is a town of eyeglasses. Around the turn of the 20th century, the city of Sabae, in search for income during the agricultural off-season, invited skilled workers from Osaka and Tokyo to teach the locals about eyeglass manufacturing. More than 100 years later, Sabae’s attention to quality has earned it a place of domination in the industry, supplying nearly 100% of domestically manufactured eyeglass frames. I pondered their indomitable spirit as I walked to city hall.

As soon as I walked into the building, I was surrounded by ◯-◯, ◯-◯, ◯-◯… Every sign in the hallway included the design. It was even on the clock hanging on the wall!

Photo 6: Signs Inside the City Hall

On the hallway wall outside of the strategic office of Sabae, a diagram showed the layout of the office complete with staff photos. It seemed like ◯-◯ had an impact on customer-first hospitality here as well.

It had been a while since I had seen my colleague, who was young enough to be my son, and I was strangely nervous to see him. But we started our inspection straight away, soon after our reunion.

“Let’s take a walk around town, Mr. Fukaya! People here take initiative in doing a wide range of things.” Ah ha!, I thought, that’s why this town is so full of energy. “We’re installing this ◯-◯ design all along the street with strong support from the residents,” he told me. We strolled down Sabae’s main street leading to the Megane Museum (megane means eyeglasses in Japanese). A long-time eyewear connoisseur, I had always dreamt of visiting.

Benches, flower beds, staircases. and the museum itself… Everything my eyes could see adorned with ◯-◯ ◯-◯ ◯-◯. Eyeglasses everywhere. It almost felt like there was an eyewear festival going on. The street from the station was covered with eyeglasses and led straight to the Megane Museum.

Photo 7-1: A Bench on a Sidewalk
Photo7-2: A Flower Bed on a Sidewalk
Photo 7-3: A Staircase
Photo 7-4: A Local Flag

Other shopping areas were also full of ◯-◯ ◯-◯ ◯-◯. They were extremely thorough—almost over the top.

“It’s been almost two years since I first came to Sabae, and I went through a lot of different ideas. But in the end, I decided eyeglasses would be the best way to promote the city!” We had barely finished catching up when we arrived at the Megane Museum. The museum offered a stylish exhibition of the history and culture of eyewear and displayed over 3,000 of the latest models of eyeglasses. You could order custom-made frames and even take a DIY frame-making workshop. The museum attracts avid eyewear fans from all over the world, who can enjoy looking at the displays, learning about eyeglasses, and shopping. I really wished I had time to make my own frames!

Photo 8: Megane Museum
Photo 9: Megane Museum Entrance
Photo 10: Megane Museum Pamphlet

“There is a really nice hill over here!” my colleague suggested. We headed to the center of the town to Nishiyama Park, a relaxing local hangout. The park covers 15 hectares of land and was covered with beautiful, neatly mowed grass. What a luxury to have such a beautiful place on top of a hill where people can spend time together. “It costs a lot to maintain, but we cherish this place. There is also a roadside station that sells local products.”

Photo 11: Nishiyama Park

At the roadside station, a mascot fashioning eyeglasses welcomed us inside to find countless products in the shape of eyeglasses, from simple handicrafts to edible delights. A biscuit in the shape of eyeglasses caught my eye, and I thought it would make a perfect souvenir for my fellow spectacled friends.

Photo 12-1: Souvenir Pin
Photo 12-2: Souvenir Sweets

The city is free of doubt and hesitation, passionate yet calm. It was refreshing to see such dedication.

“I’m so happy I came here!”
“Thank you so much for coming while I’m still here! I’ll head home at the end of the month,” my colleague replied.

I understand now that you must first build a firm foundation for action. The strategic skills my colleague had seeded had taken root deep within both the hard and soft infrastructure of the town. They believed in their profession and connected it to everything they could think of. Sabae believed in eyewear.

♪Eyeglasses are everything in Sabae~♪

Photo 13: ◯-◯ Sculpture in Front of the Station
Nippon Tokotoko
Tokotoko counter : 140 tokotoko
*Tokotoko counter means the total number of places visited since April, 2016.
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