Minabe and Tanagokoro | Mitsugu Matsumoto

Minabe and Tanagokoro

Since the mid-Edo period, the art of making Kishu-binchotan has been carried on uninterrupted for 300 years in the unspoiled natural surroundings of Wakayama Prefecture. Once production had begun, it did not take long for the name of Kishu-binchotan to become known throughout Japan, and its reputation has persisted throughout the centuries. Today it is known as a charcoal of exquisite quality, among the finest in the world. Unfortunately, however, few consumers at large have given thought or attention to the charcoal artisans whose grueling labor is the backbone of the industry, or to the forest that provides this precious natural resource. The process of making Kishu-binchotan has been shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Under such conditions, young people in the town of Minabe-cho showed little interest in participating in such a seemingly ignominious industry, and one of Japan's valuable and historic arts threatened to go extinct due to the lack of an heir willing and able to inherit its techniques and secrets.

However, Kishu-binchotan was not to be lost. In the unforgettable summer of 1999, a savior appeared out of nowhere in Minabe-cho, and that savior was Tanagokoro. The people at Tanagokoro saw the Kishu-binchotan we produce here as more than a mere disposable fuel to be burned, and they opened the door to a world of new possibilities in which Kishu-binchotan could realize its full potential. Most of all, we appreciate that they realize the importance of knowing where the product comes from, as evidenced by the many, regularly scheduled visits the entire staff of Tanagokoro made to Minabe-cho for training. During this training, they met with the charcoal makers, had heart to heart talks, and got a grasp of the entire process by taking part in everything from removal of charcoal from the furnace, to walks together through the forests of ubamegashi Japanese holm oaks and other trees from which Kishu-binchotan is born.

Until now, many businesses have dealt in Kishu-binchotan, but none have shown such a true love for the product, or such a deep understanding of the land it came from and thought for its future. In the 10 years since Tanagokoro appeared, no charcoal maker in Minabe-cho has gone untouched by its people's thoughtfulness and sincerity, and our network of friendship and support has grown. What's more, Tanagokoro's positive influence has spread beyond the borders of Minabe-cho, and increasing numbers of young people have recognized the possibilities of Kishu-binchotan and flocked to learn its secrets. 10 years ago, we could scarcely have predicted such a phenomenon. Truly, thanks to the events of the last decade, the name of Tanagokoro has been inscribed forever in Kishu-binchotan's history books.

We are grateful to have met such a genuine partner with which to share our time and experiences. Nothing could make us happier than to continue sharing our hopes and dreams with Tanagokoro, standing side by side as participants in the transition from a society that merely makes money and buys things, to a society that makes things of genuine value, and shares them with others.

To all the staff at Tanagokoro who have loved Kishu-binchotan like a child of their own, and to all the customers of Tanagokoro, we would like to express our deepest gratitude. Thank you. We hope that you will continue using and enjoying Kishu-binchotan, nature's gift from the forest of Minabe-cho, for a long time to come.

February 12, 2009

Mitsugu Matsumoto
Councilor, Minabegawa Forest Owners Cooperative Association While engaged full time in the business of forestry, such as planting trees and tree thinning, Mr. Matsumoto is also involved in various activities promoting Minabe's local specialty Kishu-binchotan, from raising trees that provide the raw materials and supporting producers, to publicizing and helping to market Kishu-binchotan.