“Strong in the rain, Strong in the wind… Everyone calls him a Blockhead… But that is the sort of person I want to be.” – Miyazawa Kenji

雨ニモマケズ 風ニモマケズ… 木偶の坊と呼ばれ.. そうゆう者に私はなりたい 宮沢賢治より

雨ニモマケズ 風ニモマケズ…木偶の坊と呼ばれ..そうゆう者に私はなりたい 宮沢賢治より

“Strong in the rain, Strong in the wind… Everyone calls him a Blockhead… But that is the sort of person I want to be.” – Miyazawa Kenji


In the old days in Japan, rapeseed flowers were planted to provide the raw ingredients for making oil in various parts of the country. Oil presses were found all over the country.
However, due to the import of cheap rapeseed oil from overseas, and due to the fact that native rapeseed plants contained erucic acid, the rapeseed fields and oil presses began to decline consequently.


In 2005, five locals realized the crisis they were facing and established “Kobo Jiabura” in Ichinoseki city of Iwate prefecture, so as to preserve the rich culinary culture and the beautiful scenery of nature. Kobo Jiabura later became Dekunobonz. They bought rapeseeds without erucic acid but contained vitamin E that provided antioxidant elements, from local farmers and started producing oil. They operated the local oil press, placing emphasis on the reuse of oil cake and waste oil, with the greater vision of creating a sustainable city with natural resources that flow in a healthy cycle.


Among the initial members, four of them are currently engaged in various jobs such as machinery maintenance and managing a restaurant that uses the locally grown rapeseed oil. On the other hand, Shingo Onodera of Dekunobonz is still producing and selling high quality rapeseed oil using the traditional methods of production, all by himself.


The designers assigned to this local oil press were Russell from the Philippines and Ellie from Malaysia.


Shingo epitomizes the stereotypical “Tohoku-man” image that most Japanese have. A little shy and humble man with few words, but has strong principles and puts his heart into whatever he does and believes. On the other hand, the designers have dazzling accomplishments in their careers. Russell owns his own design studio with more than 20 staff and interns, whereas Ellie works for a large advertising company and has won several prominent awards in China. Three people, of various cultural backgrounds, lifestyles and environments, were to spend the next few days together. How will the conservative Tohoku man communicate with the two designers and establish mutual understanding? It was going to be something that we have never experienced before.


First, the two designers learnt about the production process of rapeseed oil. No matter how little the production was, we could see how much this meant to the local farmers and rapeseed manufacturers in the regions. The oil cake is a valuable by-product that can be used as a fertilizer, which was used in growing sweet corns. We were surprised by Shingo’s unwavering spirit to keep taking on new challenges, such as the reuse of oil cakes. We began to slowly understand that the production, sales and reuse of by-products were all part of this connection that Shingo has with all the locals.


However, at the same time many questions filled our minds- What’s the company logo? Branding concept? Packaging design? Box design? Ordering method? Distribution channel? Marketing and advertising?


Instead of striving to raise sales profits, expand distribution channels, increasing production, improving advertising effectiveness and so on, the only things that Shingo mentioned were about quality, the connection with nature and the region, personal and non-commercial business.


The homestay on the second day provided the two designers with a valuable opportunity to learn more. Shingo lives with his wife Mari and his three children- Kenshin, Ayame and Soushi. We had a hearty meal with delicious food and drinks in his cozy wooden house in the mountains. As time passed by, the designers and Shingo opened up slowly. We talked about what the designers could do to help, what Shingo wanted to convey to his customers, what kind of questions to ask and how to answer them. Unconsciously we started thinking in the shoes of Shingo and cracked our minds as if it were our own business.


After spending a few days together, the two designers posed the following last questions before entering the design production process.


Russell asked, “What is the meaning of life (IKIGAI) to you?”
Ellie asked, “How would you describe your brand Dekunobonz in one word?”

IKIGAI 〜Family is life〜


Realizing that Shingo’s family and relationships with the people in his region meant everything to him, Russell did a presentation of various approaches based on the theme of family. Among all the suggestions and approaches, Russell eventually picked a message card that illustrated Shingo and his family. “I am not going to convey design ideas that will boost your sales profits. I just wanted to present what I have learnt and experienced first-hand to both Shingo and his family at the presentation session. However, I want you to think about the risk of not being able to work one day due to sickness or injury, as you are currently working all by yourself. In any case, Shingo is my superman.”

Gradual improvement is key to sustainable growth


The word that describes Shingo’s brand was “sustainable”, and based on that, Ellie created a series of branding concepts and applications such as logo, packaging and web design. She also suggested novel promotion activities such as using food education or cooking classes for children as activity themes to promote environmental education and sustainable city development in the region. Her presentation to Shingo was vastly different from those that she had gotten used to presenting to her big company clients. This was reflected in the last page of her presentation: “Be yourself, Shingo. Move forward slowly but steadily, because gradual improvement is the key to sustainable growth.


A few days later, Shingo sent me a picture of his computer in his office. The wallpaper was that of Team Dekunobonz.

<Report:Masayuki Kato(加藤 雅元)>

  • Russell's Presentation
  • Ellie's Presentation