Follow is a tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of shop and on-site workplace in the center of Osaka selling exquisitely handcrafted leather bags.
Owner Mitsuko Fujiwara and her partner only use “leather with character.” The shy Fujiwara quietly shows what she means when she puts a sheet of leather on the counter separating the shop from the open workplace.
It looks like a smoothed out and flattened tree trunk. Tiny deviations in color and texture give it something extra that can not be described in words.
Fujiwara doesn’t even try to express it verbally. She just shows one slab of leather after the other. The leather, she seems to say, speaks for itself. No need to waste words.
She handles the leather like it is a delicate baby. “We don’t use any chemicals when dyeing,” she explains, “only natural materials.”
Ren, a renovated wooden townhouse converted into a mini mall.
Follow is located in a renovated traditional Japanese wooden townhouse that has been converted into a mini shopping mall with 16 exclusive shops and restaurants. It is called Ren. The Japanese character used for Ren carries a range of meanings that includes gloss, refine and polish.
The choice is highly appropriate. Surrounded by unimaginative and colorless concrete high-rises, the old weathered structure feels very special.
It is actually extremely special. In the early 1920s, when it was already turning into a relic from another time, the building was dismantled and literally shipped—as in by boat—all the way from the port city of Kobe.
It now stands nearby Matsuyamachi avenue, a wholesale area in Osaka especially famous for toys and traditional dolls. It is just two subway stations away from Shinsaibashi, Osaka’s Southern shopping district. And it can hardly be more convenient. Walk out of the number 3 exit of Matsuyamachi subway station and you walk straight into Ren.
At first sight, you might think it is an ordinary house. Even though it houses 16 shops and restaurants, it doesn’t look like a shopping mall at all. Not even a miniature one.
Follow is located in the back. Just walking through Ren’s old wooden gate into a small courtyard is already an experience. It takes you under a Japanese camellia tree that in Winter blossoms with flowers that have a color that is impossible to define. Somewhere between baby pink and burgundy red.
Surrounded by these gorgeous flowers and the old Japanese architecture you feel like you don’t just enter a different place, but a completely different time.
When you enter Follow, lots of different leather bags welcome you. All of them are designed by Fujiwara’s partner, Yoshiko Saito. “I want to create bags that can change their shapes and expression according to who owns them and the situation they are used in,” explains the equally soft-spoken Saito.
Simple, but exquisite.
At first sight, her bags look deceivingly simple. But when you look more carefully, you can see the details.
The on-site workshop and the incredible craftsmanship of Saito and Fujiwara offer enticing possibilities. Like a bag on display, but want it in another color? No problem. Want to change some details? No problem either. Want something completely original? Again, no problem. Saito and Fujiwara will create it for you.
Prices range from 15,000 to 30,000 yen (166 to 332 US dollars). A steal when you consider the workmanship that goes into each piece.
Fujiwara (right) and Saito at work at Follow’s on-site workshop.
The on-site workshop also allows you to see their bags being born. Stay long enough and you can watch the whole process of leather bag creation.
Saito and Fujiwara started Follow in 1992 in Shinsaibashi’s Amerika Mura, where JAPANESE STREETS often shoots street fashion. Some six years ago they moved into Ren. “We were attracted by the atmosphere of the traditional building with all the trees and plants right in the middle of this huge urban area,” explains Saito.
That very same old Japanese atmosphere will sharpen your senses when you come here looking for your very own leather bag. One that no-one else has.
Exclusive bags at Follow.
Address: 6-17-43 Tanimachi, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0012 (大阪市中央区谷町6丁目17-43)
Access: Take exit number 3 of the Matsuyamachi Subway Station on the Nagahori Tsurumi-Ryokuchi Line (just two stations away from Shinsaibashi!). Walk straight for three minutes.