National

Shop selling sharkskin products hopes to revive tsunami-hit Kesennuma, known for shark fishing

Kyodo

The owner of a shop specializing in products made from sharkskin hopes the business will help revitalize a northeastern Japanese city devastated by tsunami and fire following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.

Makiko Kumagai, 58, opened the store Sharks in a make-shift shopping district in her hometown of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, in November that year, after her home was washed away and the sharkskin processing company she worked for was destroyed.

The store, which sells colorful sharkskin goods such as wallets and bags, moved to its current spot after relocating within the city following the closure of the shopping site.

“Kesennuma is all about sharks,” Kumagai said. “I would like to promote this distinctive aspect through my store, and revitalize the city.”

The city is the leading hub for shark fishing in Japan.

Criticism of the practice is growing among environmentalists, but Kesennuma is known for making use of the whole bodies of the sharks caught without wasting any parts.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry caps the annual quota of blue sharks and short-fin mako sharks landed at Kesennuma port and reports their hauls to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which manages stocks of sharks in certain areas of the Pacific.

The skin of blue sharks landed at Kesennuma is tanned at a factory in Tochigi Prefecture, before being processed into leather products in Kesennuma and Tokyo.

Kumagai’s store has also been developing original merchandise. A key case that looks like a shark’s mouth, produced at the request of a customer from Yokohama, is proving to be a popular item.

“I think I’ve found my calling,” said Kumagai. “Someday, I’d like to open a workshop in the store and hire local people. I’d like to give something back to my hometown that I love dearly.”