The eyewear industry of Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture—including frame manufacturing industry—has a history reaching back over 100 years. It might even be said that Sabae represents the history of eyewear in Japan itself.
The production of eyewear in Sabae was started by a local man called Masunaga Goemon, who from his youth served as a member of the village assembly while also being active in town development. Known as a wise man with a deep love of his hometown, Masunaga’s ultimate goal was to enrich the lives of all the people of Sabae, which, despite its severe snows, relied on agriculture as its primary industry.
Seeing an urgent need to diversify, Masunaga foresaw the increasing demand for eyewear. Thus, as a side business during the off season, he invited craftsmen from areas such as Osaka and Tokyo, where eyewear manufacturing was already quite active, and drew on his own capital to have them teach their techniques to the young people of his city.
Eyewear manufacturing spread widely in Sabae beginning in 1905. The various aspects of the process were separated, however, by having individuals specialize in each component of the eyewear, ultimately turning the entire town into a single factory. This methodology eventually bore fruit, and after World War 2, the rapidly expanding economy brought with it increasing demand for eyeglasses, allowing Sabae to grow into a leading eyewear production center.
Even after this period, production efficiency was improved by automatizing parts of the manufacturing process, and both quality improvement and product variety developed as the city began manufacturing celluloid frames and sunglasses as well. In 1981, Sabae succeeded in developing and producing the world’s first durable yet lightweight titanium eyewear, establishing itself as a world-renowned center for eyewear production.
Glasses produced in Fukui in general, and Sabae in particular, have been acknowledged not only for their innovation, but also for their high quality, and have strongly supported the Made in Japan brand. In 2003, an integrated production brand dubbed THE291 (an alternate reading of “two-nine-one” in Japanese is fu-ku-i, or Fukui) was established in Fukui to compete with foreign brands and promote development of new materials. Today, Fukui Prefecture accounts for over 90 percent of national eyewear production, and continues to vigorously advance new innovations as it drives product quality.
2-3-4 Shinyokoe Sabae City Fukui Prefecture
1-2 Hinode-cho Sabae City Fukui Prefecture