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FUJIHORO: Japan’s enamel experts

Interview - July 20, 2023

Founded in 1947, FUJIHORO has established itself as one of Japan’s leading manufacturers of kitchenware. Specializing in enameled-steel cooking vessels such as pots, pans and casseroles, the Tokyo-based company boasts an extensive range of outstanding products that are sold both at home and abroad.



Where do you source the steel you use in your enamel products?

We procure the most suitable special steel for making enamel products from leading Japanese steel manufacturers. The best products cannot be produced without the use of steel plates specially designed for enameling. We also use materials from major Japanese steel manufacturers, as it is important to select materials that are compatible with the properties of the press and the enamels.


What do you believe to be your company's core strengths or competencies?

Our core strength is that we are particular about the quality of the steel materials we use, and the glass material, enamel, is also manufactured using our own firing method, which is managed to produce stable products of the same standard.

The choice of special materials is important for the production of stable products, but our strength is also that we produce hard enamel products through the special pre-treatment technology we have accumulated over the years for these materials and the management of our own firing methods for each process.


You talk about a very unique and detail-oriented process, managing the expansion rates, talking about the shaping required, and the many treatment processes both pre and post forging. Obviously, this requires a great deal of technical expertise, and we saw in our research a point of pride about your company in regard to the Thai factories being able to achieve that same ‘made in Japan’ level of quality, whether it's produced here or in Thailand. Could you tell us a little bit more about that process, and how you're able to maintain the same level of quality control whether a product is produced in Japan or overseas?

Thai people are cheerful and calm, but from a Japanese point of view, they sometimes feel a lack of commitment and attention to detail when it comes to craftsmanship. In Japan, there's a word, kizuki, which means noticing or being aware of something so that you can make improvements, but there's no equivalent word in Thai. We are always trying to educate people to be aware of something in order to improve quality.

Management and training is carried out by two Japanese, the technical management manager and the factory manager. In terms of quality control, we introduced this control camera about 13 years ago, because it is an element that must be checked to ensure that the work line is running smoothly. This is a system designed for quality control.

At first we had 12 cameras, but now we have 80. It manages the work lines and workers to make sure they are not doing things wrong. In addition, there is a monitor at the Tokyo head office, where all executives, including myself as president, can see the monitor. This system also makes it easier for the Japanese side to check, for example, whether production is progressing as planned.


I was hoping you could speak to us in a little more detail about the impact of Japan's declining population in terms of both challenges and opportunities for your company.

The current problem in Japan is a declining population, which is also causing a decline in GDP. It is predicted that Japan will be overtaken by Germany in a few years' time. The fusion of steel sheets and glass, which is at the heart of our manufacturing, requires special chemical knowledge, though. However, there is a lack of researchers in inorganic chemistry who can understand this.

To compensate for this, we have set up a technical development team at our plant in Thailand and recruited excellent Thai university students in inorganic chemistry.

We have welcomed five engineers from Chulalongkorn University and two from Chiang Mai University in the science field, and two from the Thai University of Technology in the technology field, to the plant. In fact, Japanese people are now teaching engineers and scientists in Thailand, as many universities in Japan have abolished specialized inorganic departments and there are no personnel who have studied this particular technology. We concentrate on research and development to evolve our new business.

We also manufacture high-end products in Japan. It produces watch craft dials for top Japanese watch manufacturers. Custom-made products that require high standards, including watch craft dials, are produced in our Japanese factory.

The manufacturer's watch craft dials come in four series: enamel, cloisonne, lacquerware and porcelain. All four are traditional Japanese craftsmanship. Our enamel products have a good reputation with a 70% share of sales.

We have been in business for 75 years and will continue to manufacture our high-end products in Japan. The above-mentioned watch craft dial requires the highest precision, and the watch is tagged with the name of enamel craftsman. It is very difficult to get these people. Two Japanese senior engineers are actively teaching and passing on the skills to young Thai engineers.

We will continue to develop new products at the Tsukuba Plant in Japan, but at the same time, as the main production of homeware is carried out in Thailand, we have an R&D center there as well, where Japanese engineers are teaching young, talented local engineers and passing on the technology.


With regard to the aforementioned watch craft dial, you have shown us some really impressive statistics, despite the four choices for consumers: enamel, fired glass, lacquerware and porcelain. Can you tell us a little about the advantages or strengths of enamel as a material compared to other superior alternatives to achieve this 70% sales share figure?

The popularity of enamel is due to the fact that it does not fade and lasts even after 100 years. For example, the Egyptian Tutankhamen was actually enamel. So it was possible to retain it for thousands of years.

Please tell us more about your initiatives to be more sustainable, both in terms of general power generation and also in the product offerings that you can create.

In particular, Thailand used to use heavy fuel oil as an energy source, but is now shifting to LP gas for environmental reasons. In Thailand, solar panels will be installed on the roof. In autumn this year, solar power will be available.

Thailand has long hours of sunshine and high temperatures, so it is very efficient.

At the moment we have Toyota hybrid cars. We use them for our company cars because we think they are the best technology with the lowest energy consumption. They may be replaced by electric cars in the next 10 years or so.


You showed us the EX series when we arrived, which as we understand has excellent heat retention as one of its key characteristics. Could you explain for us in a little more detail the advantages for the consumer in switching from the pot they're currently using to an enamel pot like the EX series?

These pans are particularly suitable for induction cooktops. They are extremely energy-efficient, so you can cook quickly with the minimum amount of electricity required. In addition, good heat conduction means that heat is transferred from various directions, which makes cooking tastier. The EX series products are durable and can be used for more than 100 years, which means less waste, and are very environmentally friendly. Instead of consuming large quantities, you make one thing last longer.


Another interesting way that you've managed to get some attention, or build that kind of brand identity, is through various collaborations with firms such as Disney. I'd like to know more about the role that these collaborations play in building your brand identities. Specifically, the idea of collaborating with international brands and companies. Are you interested in pursuing more of these kinds of collaborations with overseas companies?

We actively are seeking partners, and we already have extensive partners in 22 countries, working with them as an OEM and providing direct products. Our uniqueness is being able to provide our unique technology as well as the design aspect, and the reduction of the cost.

In order to receive OEM branding, new molds had to be developed, which had previously been outsourced. However, our customers told us that the mold costs were too high, so we installed two machining centers so that we could make the molds ourselves, and created a system to significantly reduce the initial costs for our customers.

The reason for this is that a famous European brand was not satisfied with the quality of a product that had previously been produced in China, and asked us to produce it for them. At that time, they pointed out that mold costs were higher than in China. This led us to think that in order to reduce the cost of the molds, it would be possible to work even more closely with our overseas customers by manufacturing with our own machining.

Rumors of our high quality have spread around the world, and the same can be said for the EJIRY brand as well as the FUJIHORO brand, with requests for OEM and collaboration.

About 20 years ago, the two main enamel manufacturers in Japanese department stores were called FUJIHORO in the east and EJIRY in the west. EJIRY was our competitor and our rival, but they went out of business. We inherited their brand and their technicians.

This EJIRY brand used to export quality products in some parts of the world, so we still retain those brands. We have acquired their molds and we continue to produce and export the EJIRY brand abroad.


I think it's a good transition to talk a little more about your international business and global development strategy.

Of the 22 countries that we export to, 60% are in Asia, but we still want to expand more in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian countries. Our focus is to provide enriching food culture, through our high-quality products, to those who have a deep affiliation with food.

E-commerce has been doing very well during covid-19, so we are now seeing e-commerce as a growing sales channel both domestically and overseas, and we're looking for an agent who could take care of e-commerce. Currently, we have 22. If we add eight more, we could have 30 and if we add even more we can have more countries. We want to have a big network.

E-commerce in the US is attractive. We are currently looking to enter the US market through the Amazon route, which we tried about 30 years ago with Wal-Mart and JCPenney OEM. We pulled out because we couldn't cope with the low prices, but we intend to develop a route that can cope with the high-end line with added value. We want to supply not only high quality but also products that reduce cooking time, so we want to strengthen our features and continue branding.


Let's say we come back to interview you again on the last day of your presidency. What would you like to tell us about your goals and dreams for the company by that time, and what would you like to have achieved by then?

I am the fifth generation, and there’s a 6th generation president ready. The company is ready, but I want to make it better when I take over; we are aiming for 100 years, so I want to create a good environment for the next generation to take over.

Our goal is to be a 100-year company, but in order to achieve this, I think it is important to preserve Japanese manufacturing, while accepting people who will stay with us and evolve our manufacturing. We intend to continue to make, research and develop the highest quality products in Japan, but it is expected to become more difficult to make them in Japan in the future, so we are currently building a team of young people in Japan and Thailand to pass on the tradition and technology to the younger generation.