The Future of the Wooden Weapon Industry & 2020's price increase
In September 2019, the Horinouchi workshop who held about 40% of the production of all made in Japan wooden weapons, closed its doors forever.
The reasons are both simple and sad:
1 - Japan's aging population, meaning a huge drop in the young workforce (especially when those workshops are located in southern Japan).
2 - Bad wages, that do not motivate to work in this industry (Wooden weapon craftsmen are earning about the average local salary, no more).
3 - A lack of recognition for the quality of their work that does not contribute to motivating the young generation.
4 - And some bad business decisions that led to bankruptcy.
Of course, regarding point one, there's no much anyone can do about it. Japan's population is aging, and this won't change anytime soon.
Point four is the responsibility of the workshops, and we can only hope that the remaining 3, Aramaki, Matsuzaki and Nidome will make better choices. However, we can definitely do something about points two and three.
As you know, Seido is spending lots of energy and resources for the promotion of craftsmanship, through blog articles, video interviews, but also through our everyday job that does not only consist in selling weapons but also educating practitioners so they understand what they buy and why they pay the price they pay for made in Japan weapons. We will continue on this path with the hope that the recognition of craftsmen work both leads to the acceptance of higher prices and motivates the younger generation to choose that kind of job for the beauty of craftsmanship.
And here we come to point 2. It is of the utmost importance that workshops increase their prices to a point that will allow them to evolve toward a long-term sustainable model.
This is why we have proceeded to a wide price increase of all wooden weapons in the past months.
In November and December, when we transferred all the models made at the Horinouchi workshop to the others, we discussed the prices for each model with the craftsmen, all of them together, and made sure prices were harmonized and sustainable for them.
In January 2020, we finally increased the prices of all standard/deluxe weapons (Bokken, Jo/Bo and Tanto) with the same logic.
Before the price increase, the Standard Bokken, now priced at 6500 YEN, was priced 5000 YEN. Let's reverse-engineer the cost of this 5000 YEN Bokken:
- 2500 YEN for shipping (which is included in price).
- 1000 YEN (33% margin) for Seido (a final calculation that includes the weapons we rule out during the quality control).
- A few hundred yens for intra-Japan shipping, storage, and taxes.
All of this leaves more or less than 1000 YEN for the craftsman.
If we deduct the cost of the raw material and various maintenance costs, we can estimate that the raw earning for one Bokken is 500 YEN.
Compared to the minimum wage which is around 900 YEN in Japan, it means that a craftsman has 30 minutes to produce one Bokken and earn the very minimum wage, even after decades of training in his crafting art.
Who would want to be a craftsman working in a dangerous and dirty environment all day for earning at best 1000 YEN/hour? No one, of course.
As the founder of Seido and as someone with a passion for craftsmanship, my opinion is that craftsmen should at least double their prices.
Of course, from the customer point of view, it may sound unreasonable, but did you know that French, Portuguese or American craftsmen charge from 100 USD (10,000 YEN) to 200 USD (20,000 YEN) for one Bokken, without any third-party involved (direct sale)? Is 65 to 100 USD (worldwide shipping included) too much for a Japan-made Bokken? It's still only half what Western craftsmen charge.
We understand that acquiring high-quality weapons is a sacrifice for many of you and that not everyone can afford such expensive items.
And this is probably partially based on this reason that some of our competitors pressured the craftsmen for more than 20 years so they do not increase their prices. But this is a vicious cycle that can only lead to great losses for everyone: craftsmen, practitioners, the economy and probably even leads to ecological concerns. We have been pushing the craftsmen in this direction for almost a decade now, and if they already made a little step forward a few years ago with our full support, the sudden closing of the Horinouchi workshop shook the whole industry in a way never experienced before.
So now, we're are intensifying our efforts and we started with a significant price increase for 2020, between 50 and 100% for Koryu Bokken (who require much more work), and 20 to 30% for standard/deluxe weapons.
We also expect that this price increase will lead to a slight order decrease, and therefore a decrease in production.
Indeed, all workshops are currently completely drowned under much more orders that they can produce, and some craftsmen already suffered from burnouts the past few weeks.
Decent wages, decent working hours, and the ability to better select the material used (and not just buy as much as possible to produce as much as possible) are our main goals and we will continue to provide full support to all our partner craftsmen until those objectives are reached.
Thank you very much for your understanding!