Date goes whole hog into boar leather business in Fukushima

21 June 2017

[Translated by the Japan Times]Wild boar leather is said to breathe well and resist chafing. It is used in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, to make products like babies’ first walking shoes because it is soft and fits well.

In the leather workshop at Dateshi Noringyo Shinko Kosha (Date Agriculture and Forestry Promotion Public Corp.) in the city’s Ryozen district, one can hear the comforting sound of rubbing leather parts. Workers are carefully stitching the parts together and nailing on the metal parts using presses.

Its business of selling wild boar leather products under the brand name Ino Date is gradually catching on, with the main products, including key fobs and babies’ walking shoes, proving so popular that production can’t keep up with demand. The products are sold at the local inn Ryozen Kosaikan, Hobara Station on the Abukuma Express Line, and Ubuka no Sato — a public bath in the town of Kori in the prefecture.

The wild boar are captured by local hunters, and their skin goes through radiation testing before and after tanning to confirm safety.

The corporation initially wanted to sell the meat, but they had to give up on the idea because eating wild boar caught in the area was banned after the 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

They came up with the idea of developing leather products after learning about a company in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward that tans wild animal hides. After repeated talks with representatives from the local tourism industry, the corporation began selling leather products in April 2015. It currently employs seven staffers and 16 artisans for the project.

As the government continues to ban shipments of wild animal meat from the region due to radiation concerns, the boar population is growing and causing serious crop damage. Over 1,800 of them have been captured in the city in the six years since the meltdowns.

The corporation posted ¥3.54 million in leather sales last year but is having trouble cutting costs, including payments for hunters and tanners.

“Recognition of wild boar leather products is still low,” said the corporation’s secretary-general, Katsunori Sagawa, 53. “We are determined to go headlong, like a boar, into strengthening our brand and expanding our sales channels.”