By Sayuri Nitani / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKURASHIKI, Okayama — The Bikan historical quarter in central Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, is known as a beautiful townscape with peaceful waterways and old white-walled buildings. This area is also famous among fans of a relatively contemporary item: masking tape.
Strolling around the area, you will find many stores with signs saying: “We have masking tape.” Popularly abbreviated to “masute,” masking tape was originally used to cover certain sections when painting things like buildings or vehicles. It usually comes in a single, eye-catching color so that users will not forget to remove it when their work is done.
But you won’t find such utilitarian products at the Nyochikudo stationery shop.
About 650 kinds of masking tape line the shelves in pink, yellow and other colors that pop. Many of them feature dots or geometric patterns, or motifs from nature such as flowers and birds. The sizes also vary: Most of the tape is about 2 centimeters wide and sold in a roll about 5 centimeters in diameter, but other options range from just several millimeters wide to more than five centimeters.
“It looks stylish if you attach a memo with masking tape,” said Nana Kadota, 22, a university student from Matsuyama, as she was making selections in the shop. “It’s no bother to carry these small items.”
According to manager Junichiro Yoshida, 56, his shop gets very crowded on weekends and during sightseeing seasons. “Every year, more and more people come [to the Bikan quarter] to buy masking tape.”
Kamoi Kakoshi Co. in Kurashiki is a pioneer in developing such stylish tape. The company was founded in 1923 as a flypaper maker and has also produced masking tape for industrial use.
The turning point came in 2006 when Kamoi Kakoshi received an email from three women who said they were fans of masking tape and asked the company to allow them to visit its factory. Company officials, however, had no idea how ordinary young women would use masking tape meant for professional use, and they circulated the email within the company to decide how to respond to the request.
However, they changed their minds when they received a book made by the three women, which showed how fascinating masute can be, from the colors and features of products from various manufacturers to how to use tape to decorate books and notebooks.
“It was quite an eye-opening experience for us,” recalled Naoto Okamoto, 49, a section chief at the company.
Kamoi Kakoshi ultimately invited the women for a factory tour. Although they asked the company to produce tape in new tones, the company initially decided not to because there appeared to be no prospect for success.
However, an employee insisted such masking tape should be developed, saying it did have potential. In November 2007, the company released some decorative masking tape, drawing attention for its subtle hues, different from the blues, yellows and other bold colors of regular masking tape.
Kamoi Kakoshi, which had made its standard tape easier to use for painting, found it could take advantage of the features it had already developed in its new products. For example, thin washi paper, which it had used for its regular products, goes well with subtle tones because it has a certain degree of transparency. Washi can also create uneven edges when torn by hand, another feature appreciated by fans.
As soon as it appeared on shelves, this new type of product fascinated people who had not seen such tape before. Masking tape for decorating has also allowed Kamoi Kakoshi to take part in a trade show for gifts and even an interior design fair in France. The company later added patterned masking tape to its lineup, bringing it many more fans.
In 2012, the company started an annual factory tour, for which more and more people are applying. Last year’s tour was open to about 14,000 people, but the manufacturer received three times that many applications. “We also got applications from Taiwan and France,” Okamoto said.
Kamoi Kakoshi’s museum on its premises is like a theme park for masking tape, showcasing not only the company’s products, but also a passenger car and a Thai three-wheeled taxi decorated with its products.
A museum in the Bikan quarter and other facilities were also decorated with Kamoi Kakoshi’s masking tape as part of a 2016 tourism promotion campaign. Many of the products can be purchased only in Kurashiki.
Don’t underestimate masking tape. It’s a small item, but can fascinate fans so much it will always stick in their minds.
Kurashiki’s Bikan quarter is a 10-minute walk from JR Kurashiki Station. Visit nyochiku.906.jp for details about the Nyochikudo store. Kamoi Kakoshi Co. opens its factory to the public once a year, with the next tour scheduled for this spring. The company will announce the event on its website at www.kamoi-net.co.jp/Speech