Passion for Pearls

Tradition of Doi Pearl handed down from generation to generation Passion for pearls Let us talk about our passion for pearls nurtured over three generations.
Our passion for pearls is the world’s-strongest.

Start from nothing in the devastated burnt-out field

Doi Nobunori lived in Miura, Uwajima. He started seedling young shells of Akoya oyster in 1957. This is the beginning of the history of Doi Pearl.
Nobunori was born on November 1st in 1925 as the first son of 9 children in a farming family.
His grandfather was a carpenter holding about 10 apprentices as well as being engaged in farming. His grandfather and father were both adopted by marriage, so Nobunori was the first direct son of Doi family in three generations.

Nobunori was shocked by how much the city had been changed when coming back from Nagoya at the end of World War II. The downtown including the Uwajima station area was all burnt-out. There were just a few shabby houses with burnt tin roofs. Nobunori got married right
after returning to Uwajima. Since his wife’s family was comparatively wealthy, there was financial support from them whenever Nobunori was hard up for money. Back then, some companies based in other prefectures had already started culturing pearls in Miura. Nobunori grew interested in culturing pearls, so he decided that he would give away all the family-owned land to his younger brothers and start culturing pearls himself, start from nothing.
This is the beginning of the history of Doi Pearl.

Making great strides in the second year, the business got on track

Nobunori looks back on his second year referring it to “a divine help.” He managed to go through his first year without much income, but his culturing farm was filled with young Akoya oysters by the following year. The production amount of culturing highly depends on the climate or tide of the year. It therefore could be very different from year to year. A lot of young Akoya oysters grew in his second year, almost causing “poverty despite a good harvest”. A basket of young Akoya oysters was priced at 10,000yen. Moreover, they were all exchanged into cash. Nobunori made 3 million yen despite the fact that it was the time 5 out of 100 households in Miura Toyoura area in Uwajima could barely make more than 200 thousand yen annually.

At the time, fisheries division of Ehime Prefecture started focusing on culturing pearls and making an inspection in some developed areas such as Mie and Wakayama. The prefectural government specially asked Nobunori to go on an inspection among pearl-related business owners. Nobunori had just started his business, but the prefectural government knew he had a certain skill and good judgement so that they wanted him to absorb as much information as possible. Nobunori made a report to every fishery cooperative within Ehime Prefecture after coming back from the inspection in Mie and Wakayama. This is how the pearl-culturing industry in Ehime was making its progress step by step.

Shifting from raising mother oysters to pearl culturing

After a while, an abnormal change was spotted in pearl culturing farms nationwide. The production amount from culturing farms, which was leading the pearl industry, was beginning to fall. The production amount of Uchide Fishing Port in Gokasho Bay, Mie Prefecture, where Nobunori went for an inspection dropped likewise. Conceivable reasons were that pearl culturing farms were too close to the cities and there were young yellowtail culturing farms aside. Nobunori believed young yellowtail culturing farms should be apart from pearl culturing farms as much as possible, he therefore claimed to the prefectural fisheries division that the fishery contract of pearl and young yellowtail culturing farms should both be reviewed. However, he failed to get a result as he had expected. At the time, it was a common knowledge that water quality could be ruined if they cultured pearls and young yellowtails too close. The reason is because raw fish such as sardines is used to feed young yellowtail, so the remaining food accumulates on the bottom of the sea and ruin the environment. The prefectural experimental fishery farm had already ascertained that it was the reason, but as young yellowtail culturing had a big effect on the economy, the authority was reluctant to regulate it. That made it extremely difficult to improve the situation.

On the other hand, pearl culturing depends on “fashion” so that a recession in the industry comes every few years. For example, in the year that mini-skirt was the vogue, the sales of pearls dropped as it was considered pearls didn’t go well with mini-skirts. In addition, exported pearls were mostly going through the United States, therefore, the international trade and export of pearls sharply fell during the recession in the United States. The sales of pearl culturing were unstable because it depended on fashion or economic situation in the world. Nobunori felt the need of producing pearls, not just raising mother oysters in order to break the deadlock. However, pearl production was monopolized by major pearl culturing companies until around 60s so that local farmers were only raising mother oysters.
Since pearl culturing was based on license system then, the major companies took a dim view of permitting local farmers to culture pearls.
However, the prefectural government was aware of the need to train the local farmers to be skilled in culturing pearls in order to promote the industry, and implement the first permission of pearl culturing in 1962. That was the beginning of pearl culturing in Uwajima. Nine farmers including Nobunori obtained the first permission, and his work started in the wooden barrack.

Looking for a culturing farm nationwide, start producing large-sized pearl in Shodo Island

Once people realized pearl culturing was lucrative, they flocked into the industry.

The farms in Uwajima Bay were quickly exploited in accordance with the development of culturing, and the environment worsened year by year. When the damage became notable, pearl culturing farmers including Nobunori visited the prefectural fisheries division and requested for an improvement, but the situation didn’t change as expected. There was no way but finding other farms nationwide, especially he felt something special about producing large-sized pearl in Uwakai Sea and Shodo Island because he made the most of what each place could offer. Large-sized pearls are comparatively priced higher. Thereafter Doi Pearl focused on producing large-sized pearls as our special field.

Challenge to processing and selling pearls shifting from culturing

Hidenori experienced good and bad times of pearl culturing. Pearl culturing industry grew notably around 1965 and the number of traders was increasing year by year. While he focused on pearl culturing to keep up with other companies, he started looking into an expansion of his business by processing and selling pearls in order to survive. Hidenori obtained a license to process pearls when he was 20 years old. Back then, a license based on “Pearl Law” was mandatory to process pearls.

Hidenori promptly obtained the license in Kobe. A few years later, pearls were over-produced and it brought about a sharp decline in price. The industry suddenly experienced a recession. Fortunately, Doi Pearl had already begun processing pearls so that it minimized the damage. That’s when Hidenori reaffirmed the need of processing and selling pearls. “I just didn’t like the idea of being compelled to accept doing nothing just because it was a recession. If pearls were not so well-priced, then why don’t we sell them after raising the price by using our brains? I always had an idea of processing and selling pearls in case culturing didn’t work out.” In 1983, Hidenori persuaded his younger brother Akinobu, who was working for a record company then, to go training at a pearl-processing company in Kobe that he had an acquaintance with. When Akinobu returned in 1987, Hidenori established a full-blown pearl-processing and sales division and put up another pillar of Doi Pearl. As a result, Hidenori chose to develop pearl culturing business as his younger brother was in charge of pearl-processing and sales.

Strive for environmental conservation of farms and improvement of management environment

Fisheries Cooperative Association for Youths in Miura was founded by fishery successors in 1979. The first chairman was Hidenori.
Back then, fish farms were more and more devastated nationwide. The association held up the theme “securement of wholesome fish farms” and actively promoted it. What caused the devastation was the “dense culture” in the pearl culturing industry itself, in addition, an adverse effect of having fish and pearl culturing farms too close. The fish culturing industry was growing remarkably then, therefore, the local authority could not regulate fish culturing by force. The main issue was about sharing the farm and maintaining wholesome culturing activity at the same time. Besides, the rapid economic growth bore the incorrect competitive idea, “harvest when you can, as much as you can”. The association was naturally motivated to pursue an ethic or morals, not to take the utmost priority in profit.

“We worked on various issues with a solid theme. All members were full of vitality.”

Hidenori became a member of Uwajima city council when he was 36 years old. Although he had to cope with both his business, pearl-culturing, and political activity, he worked on the issues related to fishery environment as not only a pearl culturing trader but also as a public figure from the point of view based on the entire local economy. “I am making an effort to become a pipe between politics and the real situation. We must seriously think involving the entire industry or corporation about what we can do in the pearl industry hereafter. We should break ourselves free from the old-fashioned convention or innate characteristics rooted in the association, and have an environment that everyone can say a word having a vision.” Hidenori sees pearl business as “ultimate industry with added value” and is looking for a way to polish it strategically.
He places his mission in sharing awareness of the issues with as many people as possible.

4 elements to produce high quality pearls

In the past, what we needed to produce high quality pearls were considered to be: “a farm”, ”technique” and ”mother oysters”. Hidenori adds “management” to them. Even if the three elements are perfect, we can never get high quality pearls without a good care. The quality of pearls depends on the health condition of mother oysters while they are nurturing them. Pearls nurtured in unhealthy mother oysters have “a blunt glitter”. Producing pearls in present days requires these 4 elements perfectly. Once there was an incident that one of the 4 elements “mother oysters” was severely damaged. It was “the abnormal mortality” of Akoya oysters happened in the autumn in 1994.

The sign was shown as the red tide in Uwajima Bay. The red tide in the year turned the ocean red at first, then black. The ocean turned white just like milk after a while, and then turned bluish sprite color at last with high transparency. Around then, there was another “abnormal mortality” in Ainan, which is located in the southern part of in Uwajima. It prevailed across the nation by 1996. Disease-resistant shells created by breed improvement have been commonly used since around 2006, and that was beginning to show a revival in pearl culturing. It took 10 years since the abnormal mortality occurred. During the second generation of Hidenori, we had to go through a battle against nature such as devastation of farms and abnormal mortality of Akoya oysters. We also had to fight against some internal issues such as over-production caused by a reckless farm expansion. In addition, there was an external factor, a worldwide recession.

Rediscover the charm of Uwajima only when getting out of there

Kazunori, the oldest son of Hidenori, entered Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology after graduating from a local high school. A lot of his classmates were fond of fishing as it was a fishery-related university, they therefore often envied Kazunori saying “it’s great you can go fishing anytime in Uwajima since the ocean is right in front of you.”, but Kazunori didn’t appreciate it so much as fishing wasn’t something he would do back then. “Indeed, the ocean was just right in front, but I never appreciated its charm. It intrigued my interest for the first time only when my friends mentioned it, and it made me think Uwajima was a very attractive place.” He was also impressed that Uwajima was the best known place in Japan for pearls, which his family was engaged in.

“Not so many cities in Japan can claim that they are the best of something across the nation. I was simply impressed that we were the best of all in Japan when it comes to pearls. Then I thought I could do something with it.” Kazunori was advised by his teacher, Nobuaki Okamoto, to work at a Pearl Science Laboratory as a researcher while he was studying at the university. Later, Kazunori happened to hear the news about his hometown, Uwajima, in the United States where he was studying. “There are lots of resources in Uwajima, not only pearls, but also fish culturing, mythology and festival of Ushi-oni (ox demon), bullfighting and Uwakai Sea. My instinct told me that I could do a world-wide business when all these pieces came together.”

Explore the new possibility of pearls

Kazunori took over the family business after returning from the United States where he had been studying. Kazunori was thinking he should focus more on sales rather than culturing, so he started to combine various pearl-related products in order to explore the possibility of pearls. “Experience Tours” that tourists who visit Uwajima can see their pearl culturing farm is one of them. Fortunately, Doi Pearl’s farm was suitable for the tours thanks to the comparatively longer rafts and the facility where tourists could gather, and on top of that, thanks to the tolerant company culture handed down from their founder, Nobunori. All these factors led them to a success.

Their “Experience Tours” became so popular that ANA adopted it in their packaged tour in 2007. Kazunori was appointed as a“professional guide” who introduced their local charms to the visitors. He is the only “professional guide” in Uwajima. In addition, he kept trying new things one after another, such as a management of “Pearly Club” that offered their customers to become foster parents, sending their products to “Pearl Jewelry Design Contest”, producing cosmetics using pearl powder and developing “Pearl Beauty Salon” using their cosmetics.

Aiming for a sustainable production

Kazunori especially has a particular emotion towards new production using pearl powder. “In the pearl-related business, we produce things thanks to blessings of nature. I’m sure it can damage nature more or less so we must return our favors to the nature.” Kazunori developed “pearl powder” using a part of nacre of Akoya oysters’ shell after harvesting pearls. The constituent of pearl power is believed to be good for beauty and it’s used in cosmetics or foods. “The quantity of the product is small, but I hope people are more aware of sustainable production.” His effort was recognized, and “pearl powder” of Doi Pearl was designated as “Best resource recycled product of Ehime Prefecture”. Doi Pearl was listed on “Top 50 companies of Ehime’s pride” by the prefectural government, and also listed on “Excellent SMEs and Micro Enterprises Selection 300” by the ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

“People keep saying we are experiencing a recession, but we didn’t get into the pearl business just because we could make a lot of money. I don’t think the situation is so different from that of when my grandfather started the business. We can make ends meet even during so-called recession, and moreover, there are lots more things I haven’t even tried. In that sense, I’m sure there is a possibility that pearl industry can grow even bigger.”

Importance of activating the entire industry

Kazunori is focused on pearls even when he is off from work. The examples are the illuminations on the raft named “fireflies in the ocean” or “live cameras” in the culturing farm. Live cameras were installed as he had realized while he was studying in the United States that having an internet environment would be vital to expand his business.

Miura in Uwajima where Kazunori lives is situated on the coast and is such a rural area that there is even no traffic light on the road. When Kazunori returned to Uwajima, there was no broadband environment around the company. He contacted the telephone company, but it was “undecided” whether or not to set up the service.

Kazunori started taking actions to set up the service such as gathering signatures. Then he happened to hear that there was a plan to connect public facilities in Uwajima with optical fiber as a part of municipal merger undertaking. He petitioned that the optical fiber service should be open to public along with the signatures. His petition was accepted and a broadband environment was set up in Miura as a model area.

It’s off the subject but there were lots of petitions from other areas like Miura after the announcement. The service with optical fiber is now available in the entire Uwajima.

The main focus of Doi Pearl is laid in pearls. In addition to pearls, our aim is to activate the entire pearl industry by exploring the “possibility” from all pearl-related products.

“It is important that the entire pearl industry finds a way to survive. I think we need to build a system or form an organization that everyone can rely on. We should try not only the traditional ways, but also the ways in accordance with the present time.”
A challenge of a young entrepreneur has just begun.

Miuranishi, Uwajima-shi, Ehime,
798-0102, Japan
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