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Views The Simple Joys of Japanese Stationery
The Attractive, All-Purpose Masking Tape of Kamoi Kakōshi

Mitamura Fukiko [Profile]


In Japan, lovers of do-it-yourself crafts have lifted masking tape from its mundane industrial beginnings and transformed it into an eye-catching item that can add a touch of color to almost any project. We visited Japanese firm Kamoi Kakōshi in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, to learn more about its popular MT brand.

Uncovering Unseen Potential

Inspiration can often come sailing out of the blue. For Japanese firm Kamoi Kakōshi, a leading maker of industrial masking tape, it took the form of an unassuming visit in 2007 by three women to its production facility in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. The factory tour changed how Kamoi viewed its products and led to the firm launching its popular MT brand of decorative tape.

Founded in 1923 as a maker of pest control adhesives, Kamoi was unaware that its colored tapes had a following outside the likes of construction sites and automotive paint shops. According to Okamoto Naoto, head of the firm’s consumer division, the three scrapbook and craft enthusiasts had become hooked on Kamoi masking tape after coming across it at home improvement stores. “They started using it in their projects because they thought it was cute,” he explains.

Okamoto Naoto of Kamoi’s consumer division talks about the inspiration for MT.

A wide variety of MT colors and designs let users choose to fit their personal styles.

The women brought examples of their creations on the tour and lauded the Kamoi tape’s easy application and clean removal. They also extolled how it allowed material underneath to show through, had a pleasant texture of hand-made Japanese paper, and could be written on without smudging.

These unexpected pronouncements got the firm thinking. Not wanting to let these valuable revelations go to waste, Kamoi looked at how it could expand the consumer potential of its masking tape. The answer, it decided, was color and variety. The company realized that by adding attractive tints and designs it could transform a normally disposable item into a product that people could use to brighten their surroundings.

Looking to the Rainbow

Kamoi got to work developing its original MT line in 2008, hiring a graphic designer and relying on the input from the trio who had inspired the project. By November that year it was ready to launch a 20-color lineup that boasted shades imbued with strong Japanese overtones and subtle hues seemingly applied with colored pencil.

In determining how to sell the narrow, 15-millimeter wide masking tape, Kamoi turned to the idea of premium branding for the new MT line. Okamoto says the company started out by focusing on special events and releasing limited-edition items. “One of the first things we did was open a booth at the Tokyo International Gift Show.” This got the attention of major franchise stores like Loft and Tōkyū Hands, which picked up the brand.

Next, in 2009, Kamoi held its first dedicated exhibit in a public housing complex in Tokyo’s Waseda neighborhood. To highlight the quality of its product it decorated the venue from floor to ceiling with colorful strips of masking tape. “People were surprised by MT’s versatility,” explains Okamoto. “It really helped boost its image as a premium product.”

Okamoto says the event was an overwhelming success, winning support from designers, creators, and regular consumers alike with the brand’s broad decorative qualities. These individuals then shared their MT creations on social media, further spreading the fan base.

A Thai tuk-tuk decorated with MT on display at Kamoi’s head office.

A Mini Cooper swathed in MT.

A Growing Fan Movement

Along with exhibitions, Kamoi hosts smaller-scale events and workshops at stationery and interior shops across Japan. Since 2012, the company has also offered tours of its Kurashiki factory for a two-week period at the end of each March. Visitors can watch each stage of production, from winding to shipment, and can browse through MT’s approximately 3,000 standard and limited-edition tapes. The popularity of the tours has grown rapidly: for the sixth installment, held in 2017, the company received three applications for each of the 12,000 spots it had made available.

Early pest-control tapes and other products on display at its Kamoi’s head office.

Industrial masking tape has been a core Kamoi product for decades.

Kamoi has gradually expanded its selection from the original 20 hues, releasing new products three times a year.

An artistic display created with MT.

A newly wrapped pack of MT rolls off the line.

Each roll is carefully checked before shipment.

Kamoi’s success has attracted a growing field of competitors, but Okamoto remains confident that MT can hold its own against newer—and often less expensive—brands. “The MT line offers the same level of quality as our industrial tapes. We make it with thin, strong washi paper, and it’s easy to apply and comes off clean.”

Kamoi has steadily expanded its lineup, releasing new and limited-edition products three times a year. Its popularity has steadily grown in Japan, and MT is now even gaining attention overseas. Okamoto says that following an exhibit in Paris several museums and specialty shops around Europe, enamored with the design, began to carry Kamoi tape. “People viewed it as an extension of Japanese culture,” he explains.

Asia is another area that has taken a liking to the masking tape. “It’s most popular in Taiwan,” says Okamoto, “but our events in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are also well attended.” As in Japan, tape featuring flowers, cats, and other cute designs are big hits, particularly among female customers.

Craft, Fashion, and Beyond

Looking to branch out, Kamoi three years ago began offering a new interior-specific line of masking tape for walls, windows, and other areas of homes. Almost immediately, Okamoto says, customers began finding unique uses for the products: “Some tapes included felt to keep them from wrinkling when being applied over a broad area. People liked this feature and started cutting out pieces to use in nail art. Customers also applied resin to make accessories. The novel uses people came up with were beyond anything we could have imagined.”

As the brand nears its tenth anniversary, MT’s popularity shows no sign of waning. Dedicated fans continue to attract new users by sharing their original creations on Instagram and other social media platforms. For many, Kamoi’s masking tape has outgrown its role as a decorative stationery product to become a powerful tool for self-expression.

Fans of MT even put the masking tape to use in their manicures. (Photo courtesy of Kamoi Kakōshi)

In 2016, Kamoi teamed up with the Ōhara Museum of Art in Kurashiki to decorate the facility with masking tape.

(Originally published in Japanese on July 28, 2017. All photos by Kimura Takuma, except where otherwise noted.)

  • [2017.08.25]

Born in the city of Fukuoka. Graduated from Tsuda College. Currently reports on the distribution sector and on broad business themes for business, economic, and specialty distribution magazines. Relocated to Bangkok, Thailand, in November 2014 to report on the rapid economic growth in the Southeast Asian hub, chronicling her relocation experience and information at her website. Publications include Yume to yokubō no kosume sensō (Cosmetics Battle of Dreams and Desires), and Pokkī wa naze Furansujin ni aisareru no ka? (Why the French Love Pocky).

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