Kuramoto Diary #519 -【The Perspective of Hermès】
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet the president of Hermès Japon. The president had in fact, visited our brewery in the past, but I was unfortunately away on a previously engagement so I was unable to say hello. Nevertheless, this time, Saint-Louis, a crystal brand founded in 1586 under the Hermès Group decided to hold a meeting at their head office in Ginza, saying, “The president is coming to Japan, so let’s act as their intermediary.” It was there where we met each other.
Hermès is one of my favorite brands. Starting out as a harness manufacturer, it would be no surprise if the brand diminishes with time as horses were replaced by trains and cars as a means of transportation. However, Hermès continues to shine as a top-notch luxury brand by shifting its focus to bags and other accessories. It is a brand that embodies in a wonderful way the message that we cannot survive unless we change.
The exchange with both the presidents of Saint-Louis and Hermès proved very stimulating for me, and I spent two hours nodding in agreement, thinking, “That’s right. That’s absolutely right!” “No wonder Hermès is THE brand amongst brands”.
Both presidents conveyed the common message on the importance of a craftsman’s work. The fact that at Hermès, each priceless bag is made by a craftsman from start to end left an exceptionally deep impression on me. (It costs more than 3 million yen for one, that’s roughly twenty-one thousand five hundred dollars. However, it seems to be in short supply and somewhat challenging for ordinary folk like my wife to buy. I guess I’m lucky?)
The president spent several weeks at the Hermès workshop next to Place Vendôme in Paris for technical training immediately after joining Hermès. (Hermès requires that training for all its staff, not even the headhunted candidates for the position of president were excluded!)
When he saw how each craftsman finishes a bag meticulously, the president asked the factory manager, “Won’t the products differ depending on each craftsman’s skill?” The factory manager clearly denied the question. “We do not advocate uniform production of the same good through automation,” he said. (I believe that means they cherish each craftsman outstanding skills and cherish their pride.)
Hearing this, I felt as if his ideas coincided with my own. People often praised DASSAI for producing Junmai Daiginjo of consistent quality due to the brewing staffs’ thorough data management, but we would counter their compliment, saying, “No, that is not true.”
“The climate differs from year to year, so does the quality of the rice. The rice also varies from field to field. Supposing we only use rice from the Fujita area in Hyogo, the annual temperature of a rice field near the mountain is different from that of a rice field by the river. They simply cannot be the same Yamada-Nishiki. We leave well enough alone and do not try to mend the sake rice. In addition, the air pressure when steaming rice changes every day. This will affect the making of koji. Furthermore, our brewing staff does not think it is good to repeat similar tasks day after day, instead they continue making new innovations with each passing day. In other words, with each tank DASSAI grows and becomes something new.”
“It is impossible to create the same thing when you are pursuing high quality sake. If you wish to make the same sake, you must be willing to make do with products at 70 points in terms of quality. We would not compromise quality to produce the same sake.” This is how we explain our stance to avert the eyes of people accustomed to the logic of today’s industrialized society.
As we continue making sake with this in mind, our brewing staff has grown from a little over 100 people to 176 over the past five years. However, the production volume has hardly changed during that time.
In resonance with our ideals, the words of the presidents of Hermès and Saint-Louis were deeply moving. I am feeling better knowing that, “This is the only way to go!”
At the end of the day, the president of Hermès said, “Watching DASSAI make sake, and seeing the staff striving to brew a better sake each and every time reminds me of Porsche. When I asked Porsche, “Which model is the best?” They always answer, “It is the latest Porsche.” I felt something in their spirit similar to the way Porsche makes its cars.” Hooray!