Robert Pott

My name is Robert Pott, and I was born 35 years ago in the UK. Thanks to my father's job in the navy and foreign postings, I was educated in a traditional British boarding school. Leather for me meant shiny cricket balls(twisted a string and leather around the cork) and having to polish my shoes the old-fashioned way a few times a week.

English gentlemen are known for taking proper care of their possessions, their respect for quality, interest in how things are made, and for being a decent member of the community. For us, the ideal possession is handcrafted with care and skill and can be passed down to our children. These ideals are perhaps best exemplified by the royal warrants awarded by the Queen to companies handcrafting products of excellence and quality.

The royal household's leather products such as horse-riding whips and gloves are made by Swaine Adeney Brigg. Leather is favoured by gentlemen due to its durability and responsiveness to proper care. For this article I set out to find excellent examples of handcrafted leather goods around me in Japan, judged by the standards of an English gentleman.

I live with my family in a cabin in the forest in Isumi City, Chiba Prefecture, and I teach English in high schools nearby. I use the Porter bag you can see in my profile picture every day at school. It used to belong to my wife's father. The design and quality are fabulous, and it is sturdy enough that I can imagine passing it down to my child one day.

English gentlemen like to meet the people whose skill crafts their possessions, so I always enjoy the annual "Earth Day Tokyo" festival in Yoyogi Park, where there's always a good number of artisans exhibiting and selling their handicrafts. At this year's event, I found two leather-craft stalls.

Otake-san from chahat creates sturdy bags and wallets with rugged, natural designs, sourcing his leather from Nepal. On his iPad he showed me pictures of the traditional tanning process. The hides are tanned using vegetal tannins, and treated with a mustard oil mixture for suppleness. Villagers knead in this mixture with their feet while holding onto ropes hanging from rafters to keep their balance.

Meanwhile, Sakurai-san of kazoo had a jacket and some purses for sale. The leather was of a much darker hue than chahat's, much suppler, and had a more finished look. His leather was New Zealand deerskin chrome-tanned in Japan.

A few weeks later, I visited Herb Island close to my house. There I came across a leather stall called ST!TCH run by hobbyist craftsman Tateno-san. He sells leather tags which customers get to stamp with various designs. I spent a delightful 15 minutes stamping the Chinese zodiac animals of the 3 members of my family around our surname.

Porter's design quality, chahat's sourcing of traditional eco-leather, kazoo's use of an interesting and high-quality material, and ST!TCH's focus on customization; these 4 leather brands each have qualities an English gentleman can admire.

However, the decent community-member in me was most drawn to chahat's products. That's because I think his business model does the most to nurture a sustainable, healthy community. Happily, this awareness is growing. Back at Earth Day Sakurai-san told me Japanese tanning companies recently agreed to switch to eco-leather. Searching online reveals a set of Japanese eco-leather standards in place and even an eco-leather company offering tours of its factory!

With Japanese artisans continuing to hone their skills, innovatively customize their products, and become more eco-friendly, English gentlemen in Japan have a lot to look forward to!

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