To the place where "good design" was created

Good design, excellent design, design that opens up the future, ideas that move people's hearts, and actions that lead society always have small beginnings.

Interviews with designers at the birthplaces of good design to find hints for the next design.



Tsuboe Co., Ltd. (Tsubame City, Niigata)

Birth of a brand from a small local factory! (Part 2)


In “GOOD DESIGN TANBOU(=exploring),” we take a look at the first small steps of good design through on-site interviews. Our first destination is Tsuboe Co., Ltd. in Tsubame City, Niigata, which won the GOOD DESIGN AWARD for two consecutive years for their graters. They revealed the history of the creation of their unique graters, and how design came to be integrated with everyday items. (Part 1)

2020 GOOD DESIGN BEST 100 (below), 2021 GOOD DESIGN AWARD “Tsuboe’s finest grater round plate –maruzara–” for wasabi (top right), “Tsuboe’s finest grater square plate –kakuzara–” for ginger (top left)

Handmade does not necessarily equal “good quality”


– To make the finest grater, Tsuboe first made a prototype by hand, then made a mold from it and mechanized it. The technique of hands was reproduced by machine.

Tsuboe has been mechanizing since the previous generation so that craftspeople can mass-produce their skills. Dig out blades by hand and apply the optimal setting to the machine.

Shinji Kasahara (President and CEO of Tsuboe) Human hands move flexibly, whereas machines need commands to make every movement, so it’s not easy. Only experienced craftspeople can tell the difference in touch or strength they feel in their hands. Therefore, as a stepping-stone to mechanization, I mastered the craftsperson’s art of “hon-metate,” digging out blades with a chisel.

Only a craftsperson can master the machine because it replaces a technique that only a craftsperson can understand with an NC machine tool*. In general, handmade is recognized as “good quality,” and machining is often considered as an antonym of handmade. But I would object to this.

This is my personal opinion, but an antonym of handmade should be “corner cutting.” In fact, machine working can be superior sometimes. Copper, which has long been used for graters, is soft and can be processed by hand, whereas stainless steel is hard and cannot be modified by human hands, for example. “Hon-metate” on stainless steel can be done only by machines.

*NC machine tool: A numerically controlled machine

Graters are pressed in various shapes one by one.

Advance reviews were unfavorable

– You said you had made many prototypes, so I imagine the development costs have also piled up.

Kasahara I did spend a lot on machinery. When I was building prototypes, I aimed for a product worthy of the name “the finest” as the pinnacle of the grater and made no compromises, but when I put myself in the shoes of the seller after that, I suddenly became anxious.

Generally, ordinary graters are sold on the market for 5,000 to 6,000 yen at the most. We wouldn’t be able to have a return on investment at these prices. Also, I believed that this product was beyond all conventional products and worth more. But I was also unsure whether this product would be accepted if I set the price that high.

Thinking that there should be a fair price for things, we considered a price of 10,000 yen, which is a high price for a grater. However, selling at that price would not have been possible without changing the current distribution route. The existing route to retail stores through wholesalers allows goods to be spread quickly, but on the other hand, it has the disadvantage of generating middle margins, resulting in higher selling prices. So, in an attempt to reform distribution, we decided to sell our products directly to retailers.

Kaoru Kuriyama (kuriyama kaoru design) Selling through wholesalers results in price inconsistency. We wanted to make sure that there was no price destruction caused by this.

The peerless brand was born through the collaboration of Shinji Kasahara, an artisan and business owner, and Kaoru Kuriyama, an art director.

– In order to establish a brand, you need to be prepared to break off traditional relationships.

Kasahara The sales method dependent on wholesalers had the drawback of making it difficult for retailers to understand our ideas. I declined to do business with wholesalers and was prepared to be told, “I won’t buy your products ever again.” Instead, I absolutely had to sell it for the sake of people who helped me with it. But we received unfavorable comments from people around us, saying “It’s overpriced” or “There is no way this thing will make a sale.”

Being a business owner is a solitary job. You might have many people who help you but you always have to take responsibility on your own. If you fail, you could be blamed for excessive investment. If I can’t sell it, I can’t reciprocate their support. I was determined to find out how much I had to endure at the risk of losing what I had built thus far.

“BEST 100” became the strongest advantage

– How did you come to the turning point?

Kasahara We thought we needed something that could serve as leverage in sales, so we applied for various design awards. We also believe that good products come from a good environment, and in an effort to enhance the company’s brand power, we improved the working environment and organized the factory to make the working environment more comfortable for women.

As I actively applied for awards, I received a variety of awards and have developed more advantages. The biggest one out of these awards was the “BEST 100” of GOOD DESIGN AWARD.

The machinery and environment at Tsuboe’s factory are designed to make it easier to work, with women and young staff playing a central role.

Kuriyama That meant a lot. Previously we were recognized as an OEM manufacturer. But after being selected as a GOOD DESIGN BEST 100, our reputation completely changed. We had strong responses particularly from urban areas and overseas.

Kasahara After receiving the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, we were contacted by various media such as newspapers and magazines as well as TV stations.

Kuriyama Once the product was introduced on a TV show, orders poured in and it was out of stock. It was out of stock for months. If we had chosen conventional distribution at that time, we would have been inundated with complaints about the shortfall in stock, asking why the product was not available. We sell directly, so customers understand and wait. I was glad that I had chosen this distribution method and was relieved.

Kasahara We received wonderful comments from the GOOD DESIGN AWARD judges. I was so honored, knowing that they understood the thought we put into this product. That made me cry with joy.

Evaluation comments on the finest grater box of Tsuboe – hako: The beauty of this item lies in its straightforward, stately appearance. Made from thick stainless steel, it feels solid and stable, and eliminating the need to curl the ends for reinforcement means that food scraps do not accumulate, ensuring that it is more hygienic. The silicone rubber cap acts as a nonslip grip during use and is also ideal for storing grated ingredients, while the restrained black color gives it a modern appearance. There is nothing to suggest that the design has been manipulated in an effort to differentiate this product and we wish to express our respect for the sincere approach to manufacturing demonstrated in its focus on function.

Even when I go abroad, people appraise our product as “Oh, Good Design.” If I am a user and hesitate to buy an item because I’m not familiar with the manufacturer’s name, I think the GOOD DESIGN AWARD would be the one that gives me a push.

We also believe that the GOOD DESIGN AWARD is not only a point of status for a manufacturer, but also a symbol of continued manufacturing with pride.

At Tsuboe, all products are individually inspected and thoroughly controlled.

Exquisite manufacturing of craftspeople

– I am sure that the cooperating manufacturers in Tsubame City and Sanjo City were also pleased to know your product was chosen for BEST 100.

Kasahara Yes, they were very pleased. But if we don’t get orders despite receiving the award, they won’t be genuinely happy. We aimed to build a robust sales foundation while regularly revising the price so that everyone can continue to work comfortably.

It’s important to maintain a fair price. Now, we can shift our profits to the development of new products, maintaining a good cycle.

– What other responses did you receive?

Kasahara We have received letters from customers who paid 10,000 yen for our product, saying “Thank you for this wonderful product.” It’s sharp, has a slant to allow light-force grating, and comes with a silicone lid to help prevent slipping. We have received letters saying, “I’m weak-handed and couldn’t grate veggies myself, but it wasn’t a problem with this product,” “This is the only grater you can use with one hand,” and “The grated radish tastes delicious.”

I never imagined that we would have such responses, so it’s the greatest honor for artisans. This product taught us that even small businesses can aim for the best. I think that this is the joy of making things.


Points of design: A simple, elegant shape that eliminates the rustic flavor of a tool and allows it to be served as is on the dining table. Surprisingly easy to grate, “Tsuboe’s finest grater, round plate –maruzara–” for wasabi on the right is characterized by its quick and creamy grating. “Tsuboe’s finest grater square plate –kakuzara–” for ginger on the left is designed not to release ginger fibers with the wonderful ingenuity of pouring juice from the corner.

– In 2021, for the second attempt, Tsuboe made round plates for wasabi and square plates for ginger.

Kasahara These ones were difficult. For the previous year’s “box,” we could assume the starting point to grate a radish, but for wasabi on a round plate we couldn’t decide, because there’s no particular spot to start grating it. Therefore, we designed it by arranging the blades in eight different directions so that wasabi can be grated in any direction.

Engineers try to avoid round molds because a starting point is not determined when they are manufactured, and they are difficult to hold in place and to make. We tend to think in terms of ease of manufacturing, but designers and engineers have different viewpoints. Ideas that are not bound by how the products are manufactured are the source of the round plate and square plate.

– In other words, this product would never have come into the world if it hadn’t been for a designer’s viewpoint.

Kasahara At present, everything from product manufacturing to public relations is done in consultation with Ms. Kuriyama. This system didn’t set off on the right foot straight away, but I feel like we finally have set a course. I believe that things work better this way, and in fact, we have started to see results.

Kuriyama It is the generosity of President Kasahara to entrust everything to an outside director who is younger than him, and I think that is a sign of his confidence backed by his skills.

Kasahara She is a person who never compromises. I feel we share the same spirit there. She always gets things done to completion. It’s important to have someone from outside your company who thinks in the same way you do. They see things objectively, make judgments, and make corrections.

– Finally, what are your goals for the future?

Kasahara We hope to create products that we can apply for the GOOD DESIGN AWARD with. Our goal is to create products that will keep us at that level. It’s not that I’m craving for awards, but I want to aim at making products that incorporate our story, history, and spirit.

The next goal is to win the GOOD DESIGN LONG LIFE DESIGN AWARD. It would be great if the “box” became synonymous with graters and a standard grater item.

It’s often said that our company grew rapidly, but it wasn’t that what I wanted to happen just happened. I kept building up, leading us to the next step.

That’s how we put to use the best technology available, but it’s going to evolve further. We couldn’t make the “box” with the technology we had 30 years ago when I joined the company. In the same way, we will be able to change it with future technologies. We want to expand the series and increase the number of fans who are pleased with Tsuboe’s perspective. I want to do what only Tsuboe can do.

The finest grater box of Tsuboe

Tsuboe Co., Ltd.

Established in 1907 in Tsubame City, Niigata. Shinji Kasahara was appointed as the fourth president in 2010. He took on the challenge of making graters with hard-to-process materials such as stainless steel, hard aluminum alloy, and titanium, and started to design and manufacture grating blades for special machines. When the brand’s logo was renewed in 2017, the company took the opportunity to rebrand and developed an unprecedented premium grater.

Award details
2021 “Tsuboe’s finest grater round plate – maruzara” for wasabi, “Tsuboe’s finest grater square plate – kakuzara” for ginger 2020 GOOD DESIGN BEST 100 “The finest grater box of Tsuboe – hako”

Shinji Kasahara

Kaoru Kuriyama

Shinji Kasahara

Tomoko Ishiguro


After working in the editorial department of “AXIS,” she became a freelancer. She writes, edits, and plans, with a focus on design and life culture. Her major editorial works include LIXIL BOOKLET series (book, LIXIL Publishing) and “Oishisa no Kagaku” (magazine, NTS Publishing).

Yasuo Saji


Graduated from Department of Photography, Kuwasawa Design School in 1970. He gained experience as a freelancer by engaging in photo shooting for “Graphic Design” edited by Masaru Katsumi and other works. Presently, he mainly works on printed media including design magazines, PR magazines, art college archives, and art museum pictorial books.