KAI FACT magazine
FACT  No.03

The evolution of personal grooming
The origins of Japanese razor production

When did beard shaving become common practice in Japan? The trend began during the Edo period. Although beards had historically been a symbols of the samurai, the samurai elite of the Edo period began to shave their beards. In the era of peace that followed the Warring States Period, sporting a beard suddenly seemed barbaric. At one point the Japanese government banned beards because bearded samurai, who had lost their lords, were becoming bandits. Since then shaving one’s beard has become a matter of good hygiene and demand has increased for a high performance razor. The history of razors and the history of KAI has long been intertwined. During the early 1930’s, western clothes were still rare; nevertheless the idea of modern boys and girls became really popular. ‘Modern boys,’ who were clean-shaven, proudly strutted around Tokyo in their favorite suits much like American actors. Japan was in an economic depression at that time. Saijiro Endo, the founder of KAI, heard that replaceable razor blades could be sold more easily than knives. As a result, he began manufacturing replaceable razors. By 1932 his business was a success. KAI’s inexpensive razor blades sold well. Their emergence on the market coincided with the popularity of shaving. When his manufacturing operation started, Saijiro only had a few employees. Even though he was able to rapidly expand his business, the road wasn’t easy because he had never seen a razor blade factory before. Saijiro imported a production machine from Germany. It took him eight months of trial and error with little rest and no pay before he was able to sell a three-holed replaceable razor blade. For the first 3-4 years, Saijiro only entered into contracted manufacturing agreements with wholesale and department stores that demanded their name be on the product’s label. After a while, however, he acquired the trademark ‘Feather’ which he began to use on all of his products. The replaceable razor business began to take off around 1936 when he established a new company, Japan Safety Razor. The Sino-Japan War started in 1937 and productivity decreased as a result. Nevertheless, the sales of the replaceable razor rose rapidly as the number of imported razors decreased and exportation of goods to the warzone became necessary. In addition, Saijiro’s safety razors were packed in care packages delivered to soldiers serving on the front, who became aware of their good quality. Razors were invented to shave beards that can sometimes seem intimidating. Thanks to the evolving technology, razors are no longer just for shaving beards but can also be used for styling them. The production of replaceable razors in Japan, one could argue, was the first step towards turning a blade into a hygienic commodity.

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