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The shop at Somès' headquarters in Sunagawa, Hokkaido 

Taking the reins

How a small Hokkaido saddle maker came to make products fit for an emperor

Words by FIONA WILSON, Photography by JONATHAN VDK | Japan

The Sorachi Plain is an idyllic spot halfway between Asahikawa and Sapporo on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. It’s here, surrounded by fields and trees, that Somès -- Japan’s only leather saddle maker -- is to be found. On a clear autumn day, the setup looks almost too perfect to be real: horses frolicking in a lush green paddock next to a cluster of low-slung buildings with pitched roofs.

“We wanted it to look like a training yard in Newmarket,” says company Chairman Junichi Someya. Except instead of the old buildings you’d find in the U.K.’s horse-racing capital, these are in the small rural city of Sunagawa (population 17,185) and were designed by Hokkaido architect Tatsuhiko Kuramoto. These sunny structures house Somès’ head office, factory and a shop that sells equine paraphernalia and leather goods. A carriage sits out front; inside there are horse sculptures and paintings on every surface.

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