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Made To: Tell Stories. The Hirokawa Files, Part 2

Welcome back to my several part series on the life of one of the best people I know:

Teruo Hirokawa

If you haven't read the first part of this wee tale, you might want to catch up here.

Unfortunately we are without many personal photographs of the subject of our story, but I did the best I could to fill in the blanks so we could all get an idea of what his life might've been like.

We left off with a young Master Hirokawa as he was just finishing up his live-in apprenticeship in a bustling 1960's Tokyo that was rife with potential, and developing at a speed that must've felt incredibly difficult to hold pace with.

Kanda 1967

At 22 years old, Teruo put in his notice at Hayano Youfuku and had been accepted on as a constructionist at "Eikokuya"(英國屋 literally meaning "English store" an ode to the seat of tailoring, on Savile row in London), a large tailoring house which began in 1940 as "Kobayashi Clothing Store", founded by the illustrious Shinzaburo Kobayashi.

What a dapper fellow! (Photo courtesy of Eikokuya website)

The main store in Ginza:

(photo also courtesy of the Eikokuya website)

This career move would take Teruo from Bunkyo-Ku to Higashi Nakano for one more year of bachelor-hood, to live in a company dormitory. However, around the time he was finishing up at Hayano, he noticed a young woman floating by the shop every morning. He saw her daily for months, and realised she worked just near by at a ladies clothing atelier. Shortly after he made the jump, he realised he couldn't live without her, and moved back to Sendagi after 11 months to live in a tiny one-room apartment together. The two married and they had their first child two years later.

Nakano is a bit of an odd wedge between Suginami ward and Shinjuku ward. These days it's home to the unfortunate "Nakano Broadway", and really not much else.

Nakano Station in the 60's

Moving his career to Higashi Nakano was a journey of only 8.7km, but suddenly he was on trial by fire, as his own two feet were all he had to stand on. Teruo left the safety of apprentice/ master relationship, and was brought on as a "constructionist" or in japanese a "shokunin". His sole responsibility was to take cut garments from the first fitting to final garment as quickly as he could, with no one to hold his hand.

The atelier was broken down into respective garment sections, and Teruo was joining 9 other tailors in the jacket making group. The 20 other tailors working there made waistcoats, and trousers. His life at Eikokuya was easier in some respects. He had his own living quarters, and could put away his work and go home for the night rather than waking up every morning with his boss and family. He started work daily at 9 am, no longer had breakfast duties, or baby sitting to worry about (except for his own quickly growing family!). After Hirokawa made a life with his new wife, he commuted to work daily on his motorbike, as the train just felt like an extra hassle. He took his parenting duties seriously despite being a very busy person (usually working 12 hour days). He promised his wife and most importantly his children his undivided attention on his one day a week away from the atelier. Teruo remembered fondly that he started every Sunday by making a large pot of curry with his eldest son, who enjoyed that time with his father so much that he went on to become a chef.

A small pause to talk about food:

As we've spent time talking over the last months so I could get this story "right", somehow, curry seemed like a big part of the picture of any Showa era family. Curry powder and processed foods were an essential part of "modern Japan", and S&B was one of the first companies developing all sorts of new products to make families happier.

I asked HIrokawa how his family made Sunday curry, and he said it was something like this:

1-2 onions

1 carrot

Corned beef from a tin, chopped into chunks

cabbage for sweetness


S&B curry powder

a couple of tablespoons of fat (butter/ shortening/ lard)

a bit of flour for thickening


Instructions: Throw it all in a large stock pot, boil on low heat until it smells nice and it looks done.

If you happen to have time to make some Hirokawa family curry, let us all know!

Of course it's meant to be served over rice.

Back to tailoring!

Teruo's most important life change at Eikokuya was the ability to bring home a real salary. He was paid per finished garment, so he trained himself for speed and eventually learned to finish one jacket in 12 hours. This is a pace at which most tailors cannot fathom working but Hirokawa seemed to enjoy it. He got faster via watching and competing with the young men around him. He also loved building a career in which he was compensated properly for his effort. The down side of putting in that level of effort is that the company came to depend on the new bar he'd set and expected him to always work at that pace. He was the star work horse of his division but learned quickly that when a person works that fast, it can sometimes be expected and when he needed to slow down or do something that required a bit of learning, it was difficult to explain that to his bosses.

During the time he worked at Eikokuya, he was pleased to have the opportunity to learn the "tuxedo jacket", which was something he'd longed to do when he was learning his trade at Hayano. He worked at Eikokuya from the age of 23, until he turned 28 years old. Around that time he noticed changes happening in the atelier that he knew would make him dissatisfied as a tailor.

In England and Europe, tailoring ateliers often divide labor by garment parts. One person might construct jacket sleeves, another person might do trouser curtains, and one person will sit in a chair all day and stitch button holes. This factory style of work is fast, and efficient, but leaves a lot to be desired by a tailor who can stitch all parts of a garment, as sometimes the quality standard changes via one or two constructionists, and mediocrity creeps in. Hirokawa received word that Eikokuya was moving to this style of production and decided to pack it in and take his skill set to a company that would let him shine a bit more.

In 1972, Teruo was invited for a trial order at "Ichibankan" which to this day is one of Tokyo's premier Japanese tailoring shops in Ginza, which is where we will pick up our story the next time, with a great many more pictures of the star of this tale, and his work.

Until then.





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