Brent Gareth Robinson

November 3rd, what does this date mean to you? For most Japanese it is a national holiday, a day off work or school where they can acknowledge and celebrate 'Culture Day'. For one of Japan's creative industries it is an opportunity to showcase some of Japan's greatest talent within the leather industry.

November 3rd has been set aside as 'いいレザーの日'or 'Good Leather Day'. The reason this date was chosen really is a stroke of creative genius, with いい read as 'ii' (11) in Japanese, and レザーhaving very similar pronunciation to the Japanese reading of (03). The remaining part 'の日'referring to the day. Hence why November 3rd was chosen to represent this very special industry.

The Japan Leather Award, which is an annual event organized by Japan Leather and Leather Goods Association (JLIA), is a chance for not only professionals but also amateur leathernists to display some of their finest products. The conditions of entry are that the contestant must be living in Japan and that the products must be made from leather tanned in Japanese tanneries. Thus, the competition represents talent within the entire industry.

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This year's exhibition was held at Ark Hills Café in Roppongi on October 7th & 8th, and saw an overwhelming response with a total of 191 products entered into the competition, 142 of these made by professionals, with the remaining 49 having been made by amateurs aspiring to make a name for themselves within the industry. I was delighted to be selected as one of a hundred judges, made up of people from various walks of life, to choose what I thought to be the top three products from each of the eight different categories represented in the competition. These being professional men's shoes, ladies' shoes, men's bags, ladies bags, small leather goods and eco-leather products. The two remaining categories being amateur men's and amateur ladies'. Due to the high level of workmanship having gone into every product and the serious expressions on the faces of the other judges I instantly knew that this was going to be no easy task. I was even impressed by some of the work presented by the amateur contestants, and I'm sure it's just a matter of time before some of their products are featured in Japan's top department stores. The judges based their evaluation of each product on concept, function(usability), design(beauty), price (originality for amateur designers), and the skill of the artist. The products were showcased on social network media sites such as facebook and twitter, where members of the public had the opportunity to vote for their favorite designs.

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The awards ceremony will be held on November 3rd (いいレザーの日), and the grand winner from each category will have the chance to exhibit their products from November 30th(Wed) to December 13th(Tue) in Hankyu Hanshin Department Store, Nishinomiya Hankyu in Hyogo prefecture. This is not only an opportunity for the contestant winners to showcase their products, but also a fantastic opportunity for them to gain some much needed exposure in such a competitive industry. It is also a tremendous break for the amateur artists to really start to make a name for themselves.

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I attended the exhibition on Saturday, October 8th, and was really impressed by the thought and organization that had gone into this event. The products were well displayed and were presented in a way that allowed the judges to touch and see the products from a number of different angles. Lighting was used well, allowing the judges to determine some of the intricate patterns and textures used on some of the more elaborate pieces. The mood of the event was serious yet comfortable, and the venue was roomy enough to allow the judges to walk around in ease without constantly bumping into each other.

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There were a number of products that impressed me, but there were two that I really desire to own. The first product was an 'eco-leather' men's shoulder bag made by 'Flathority'. What struck me about this was the sheer quality of the product. You could see from the workmanship that the leathernist had put his entire soul into the manufacturing of this product. It was stylish yet very practical, and was therefore a bag that any decent man would feel proud to own.

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The other product was a medium-sized rucksack designed by none other than 'Yoshida Kaban'. The designers certainly had the more sophisticated traveler in mind when designing this bag. The design was both unique and practical, and would be suitable for various conditions around the globe.

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The only faults I could find at the exhibition was that I thought perhaps there should have been some kind of information card next to each product explaining the message each artist was trying to convey through their design. I could see that a number of pieces of work had a story that needed to be told, but unfortunately those stories were being left to the viewers' imaginations. I would have also appreciated some more background music, as the drone of the TV presenter's voice was a little off-putting at times. Other than that I thought it was an excellent exhibition, and I was honored to be a part of it. Will the products that I voted for be chosen for this year's best leather award? I'm looking forward to hearing the results which will be announced on November 3rd.

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