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Views The Simple Joys of Japanese Stationery
Japanese Firm Brightens Work and Study with Adorable Collectable Erasers

Mitamura Fukiko [Profile]


Japanese stationery maker Iwakō has tapped into the playful spirit of students and office workers alike with its series of collectable novelty erasers. The small firm offers a wide range of designs, including cuddly animals, vehicles, popular foods, and dinosaurs. The erasers have won droves of fans in Japan, an achievement the company hopes to replicate overseas.

Fun at Any Age

The lights are always on at Iwakō, a maker of novelty erasers in Yashio, Saitama Prefecture. On the firm’s production floor 15 machines whir day and night cranking out miniature renderings of zoo animals, pastries, fruits and vegetables, vehicles, sushi, and even Mount Fuji. Selling for around ¥50 each, these adorable items, most of which measure just 2–3 centimeters in height, have won a broad following of both young and mature collectors.

Part of the appeal of the erasers lies in their ingeniously real designs and deceptive complexity. A tiny plate of rolled sushi, for example, is made up of multiple parts in different hues, including nori, rice, and tuna filling, that when put together look almost good enough to eat. Cuteness and appealing colors are also factors that draw devotees and newcomers alike.

A sushi roll and cup of green tea are constructed from multiple parts.

A Novel Idea

Iwakō got its start in 1968 producing plastic pencil cases. Company founder Iwasawa Yoshikazu explains that he set up the company in a small apartment in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, after 18 years working at a stationery wholesaler. “Our first product that really sold was a plastic pencil cap,” he recalls. This sustained the company until inexpensive mechanical pencils flooded the market, forcing Iwasawa back to the drawing board.

“I made novelty erasers on something of a whim,” he says. That was back in 1988. Hoping to boost the company’s fortunes with an original product, he poured his energy into creating a vegetable series that included vegetables like carrots and daikon radishes . Stores and wholesalers, however, failed to share his enthusiasm for the novelty erasers. “They wouldn’t even give me the time of day,” he says with a wry smile.

Iwasawa Yoshikazu started Iwakō after spending 18 years at a stationery wholesaler.

The company’s first eraser series featured a selection of vegetables.

Iwakō currently makes 450 types of erasers.

Without buyers, Iwasawa was forced to mothball his vegetable erasers. But five years later a wholesaler saw potential in the series and convinced him to restart the project. The supplier’s instinct proved to be on target and sales took off. Over the years Iwakō has broadened its lineup to include 450 types of erasers.

Starting in 1993, the firm cranked out 100,000 units daily for six years straight. Success spawned competition, but as interest in novelty erasers cooled following an initial uptick, these rivals fell by the wayside, leaving Iwakō to dominate the market. Iwasawa says perseverance has seen the firm through its various dips and curves. “Our hard work really started paying dividends around 15 years ago,” he explains. Currently between 200,000 and 250,000 erasers roll off the factory line each day.

Erasers like this strawberry shortcake are put together by hand.

A selection of realistic cakes and pastries set in a make-believe bakery showcase.

  • [2017.09.21]

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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