Winter 2020 Anime: Official Info, Airdates & Trailers
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!
Inkan (also referred to as hanko and insho) are stamps customarily used in Japan. Using a distinctive red ink, these seals are used instead of handwritten signatures on everything from life-altering documents to signing for packages from your postman. There are many different types of stamps — from cheap pre-made ones available at any stationery store to intricately hand-carved ones that can cost a small fortune. Depending on the type and usage of the inkan, they may be registered at a local government office to prove their authenticity. As they are so important in Japanese people’s professional and personal lives, seals are often made from the highest-quality materials and you will often find highly sophisticated and unique lettering styles.
Inkan does not always have to be so serious, and there has been a trend of people using fun seals on their less-important documents. In addition to using one’s name, you can also get inkan made with pictures of your favorite characters! Itaindo is a brand that makes inkan precisely like that, so you can add a bit of your personality to your documents. The Itaindo brand is manufactured by TOSYO in Saitama prefecture. We headed to their headquarters to interview CEO Takafumi Nakagawa.
Our company was originally established in 2010 with the intention of developing a platform for electronic books. It was about the time where we were convinced the era of e-books was about to explode. We didn’t get off to a great start, though. We provided many new features on our platform, including one that allows creators to publish manga created with manga-creating software ‘ComiPro!’, but our business wasn’t going well. It was around this time that the president of a company in charge of our product development suggested we start a new type of service using the license of ‘ComiPro!’, as it would be a waste not to develop merchandise. That is when we started working on developing merchandise, wondering if it would bring us any profit. We weren’t thinking about it too seriously at the time [laugh]. That particular company is located in Shikoku, so their ideas included towels and such—very typical of Shikoku. Among their ideas was a rubber stamp. It turns out that they also produced stamps. I thought it would be a good idea to have rubber stamps of manga characters from ‘ComiPro!’ and asked them to make some samples.
That’s right. At the time we were thinking of big rubber stamps, like those that can be found at stamp rallies. When I got the first sample it was a brand new feeling to hold a stamp based on the data I’d sent. That gave me more ideas. I thought it would be even more interesting if we could do the same with many different illustrations. Since there are many companies out there that make rubber stamps of fictional characters, I came up with the idea of wood-carved inkan instead to bring a bit of variety. I inquired about it, and they told me they could do it as long as they receive the data, as they carve them by machine. So I asked them to make one. The finished inkan they sent me looked very nice and cute. I started to think from the objective point of view that people would be more likely to want to receive an inkan rather than a rubber stamp as a gift from a friend. We switched our perspective from ‘what is more interesting’ to ‘what is more appreciated’ to receive as a gift.
As we had made many mistakes in the past, the thing we wanted to do now was name our new brand. There are certainly other companies who have already made character-based inkan, but there was no generic term for such inkan. We had noticed that there was a rise in the trend of affixing the prefix ita (painful/cringe) to the front of items that are decorated with an otaku’s favorite characters or idols. You may already know itasha (cars adorned with pictures of a character) or itabeya (rooms brimming with merchandise of a specific character). That’s why we decided to attack the ita prefix to the in from inkan, bringing us itain to refer to inkan decorated with fictional characters.
When we were starting out, we picked out some major doujin circles that attract long queues at Comiket. We decided to introduce our service to them first. We figured that if we couldn’t convince the top of the hierarchy, then we would have no chance with anybody else. Fortunately for us, we received a favorable response from them and our first line-up of our itain series ended up being with illustrations by popular artists such as Shiratama and Coffee-Kizoku, who still continue to cooperate with us. We sent a press release for the first release and chose to send it to Pixiv, who are the biggest name in the online illustration community. We renewed our website and made it into ‘Itaindo’, an online shop for made-to-order inkan with the tagline ‘Why not make an inkan out of your illustration?”. We topped the news section at Pixiv and our reputation grew significantly.
Sales actually didn’t increase immediately. But we were confident with the potential of ‘itain’ products. If I were to get a bit ahead of myself, I was dreaming of our future, perhaps making an inkan with an illustration by a superstar such as Lady Gaga, drawing in swarms of fans.
About six months later, we received a request from a customer asking if we could provide some illustrations for them. They said they couldn’t draw themselves, but they would love to have inkan with illustrations from popular artists. I had been fixating on providing a service that lets you make an inkan with your own illustrations, but then I realized that people wanted illustrations from other artists too. We asked each of the artists for permission to use their works and renewed our homepage again. We changed it so that it was possible to purchase inkan we had made previously using these illustrations. Then we saw an upturn in sales that we had never had before.
Additionally, at the timing of the changes we made, we tweeted the fact that we were able to get our itain registered as an official seal at the government office. The news was noticed by the CEO of visual novel publisher Visual Arts and creative companies developed an interest in us. That was definitely a big turning point.
It’s in my nature to want to please and surprise our customers. After thinking about what would surprise me if I were an outsider, I ventured to Nissan Motors. A company dealing with pretty girl characters from anime and games went for cars out of blue! It was pretty big news that we made a license agreement with Nissan. After gaining a foothold with them, we managed to make license agreements with other automobile companies, followed by a variety of other manufacturers and groups. We made some inkan for famous athletes, and we even did a portrait inkan of Messi. When we made inkan of Coldplay at the request of a TV station, they loved them so much that they wanted to use them for their album jacket. They did indeed use the stamp on one of their following album jackets.
That said, we do not hold a patent for the business model of selling inkan made from illustrations, as we’d rather the industry thrive than hold a monopoly over it. Our business has also received recognition from the industry as a cultural and artistic activity, and we were allowed to join the national association of inkan, meaning that we are accepted as bonafide inkan producers. It really is an honor.
Honestly, the name of our company, TOSYO, expresses our gratitude that we’re lucky to have fictional characters and inkan in Japanese culture. We used a completely different name before, but we changed it when we reorganized our company. The ‘TO’ or ‘tou’ means ‘East’ in Japanese. Japan is located in the east, and our company is in Saitama, which is located in east Japan. ‘SYO’ has multiple meanings: ‘shou/章’ of ‘inshou/印章 (another word for inkan or seal)’, ‘shou/商’ of ‘shounin/商人 (merchant)’, and ‘shou/照’ of ‘terasu/照らす(to cast light). My favorite feudal warlord, Ieyasu Tokugawa, was deified with the name Toushou-Daigongen (light of the east). I believe that we owe our credence and growth of our business to many people including Mr. Baba of Visual Arts and to companies such as Nissan Motors. We changed our company name in order to straighten ourselves up and live up to their expectations.
We run that as a completely different brand. Original inkan are not exactly easy to deal with for retail shops because you need to handle the issue of dealing with personal information. After a great deal of consideration to make use of our sealing techniques, we came up with paper cutouts. It’s a traditional art to cut out an illustration out of a piece of paper. China also has paper cutouts in their culture, but Japan has the advantage of having an array of fictional characters. It’s more beautiful with narrower lines, but it’s hard to have them narrow enough but not too narrow to fall apart. Some of the designs demand printed lines for eyes and nose, but basically it’s made out of a piece of paper. What we always keep in mind is never to have any parts that are burnt by laser cutting and instead only use paper to depict lines and shadows. We spent almost two years finding the right kind of paper and thickness, selecting the right cutting machine and utilizing it properly until we could finally commercialize the product. We tested for a long time with white paper, even though paper cutouts are usually made with black paper. We wanted to try by doing the more difficult thing first. Currently, our paper cutouts are made with black paper, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have any burn marks even if we made them with white paper. When we trialed the products on the market, we received an inquiry from a paper-cutting craftsman asking if we were hiring. We use machines and not craftsmen, but I’m proud that the quality of our cutouts was mistaken as handcrafted. I myself am particular about the quality and the employees continue to meet my demand. To create what the world wants by combining Japanese content and technology—that is what we aim for.
It’s been about seven years since we started producing itain. A lot has happened. I’ve been personally running it to think up and plan products that would sell globally, and to do everything I want to try. We have to go further to do more different things. As for Itaindo, we have to continue to offer new things and excite our customers, or our service will cease to thrive. Sales are of course important, but what’s more important for us is what we can offer our customers. If we ever undermine that, then I’m afraid that fans would soon grow bored with our lineup.
Want to purchase an Itain?
It’s not a problem with Otsukai!!
First, be sure to check out the Itaindo website at https://www.itaindou.com/
If any of the stamps catch your eye, you can use our sister website https://otsukai.com/ to make an order!
Just make a Request with the design you want and our users in Japan can offer to order it for you.
If you would like to order a stamp with your own design then do not hesitate to contact us to find out how!
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!
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