• 文化財の修復に使われる世界一薄い紙

    [From January Issue 2014]

    There’s a paper called “Tenguchoushi” that’s so thin that if you put it on your palm, you can see the creases in your skin beneath. If you place it over a newspaper, you can easily read the articles underneath. Tenguchoushi is currently thought to be the world’s thinnest paper. One square meter weighs 1.8 grams. A sheet the size of half a tatami mat is lighter than two one yen coins.
    A company called Hidaka Washi Co., Ltd. (President CHINZEI Mariko) in Hidaka Village, Takaoka County, Kochi Prefecture, developed this paper. The “washi” that constitutes part of the company name, is paper made from natural ingredients to a traditional Japanese method. The company used to make each sheet by hand, but began using machines in response to demand for rolls.
    It is said that Tenguchoushi originated from “usu-mino” manufactured in Mino (today’s Gifu Prefecture) in the 17th century. From the middle of the Meiji era (19-20 century) Kochi Prefecture began production of it in earnest. Exported in large quantities to the West, it was used mainly as typewriting paper, wrapping paper and for coffee filters. In those days Tenguchoushi wasn’t as thin as it is today.
    Since the company was established (in 1949), it has specialized in making thin paper. In order for the quality of its paper to be better known, the company has made it available for use in the restoration of so-called cultural assets: old paintings and documents. To repair a heavily damaged document, it is sandwiched between thin sheets of washi. As Tenguchoushi is robust despite being so thin, the company was asked to make it even thinner.
    Tenguchoushi’s reputation for being thin and durable immediately spread to museums, art galleries and libraries around the world. The lack of fine paper suitable for the restoration of damaged cultural assets and old documents had been an issue in other countries, too. The company not only supplies paper, but also provides explanations, using examples, of the proper use of washi. “Apart from Africa, Tenguchoushi is now used on all continents,” says senior managing director, CHINZEI Hiroyoshi.
    Shedding light on the company’s effectiveness, Chinzei says, “Without chemicals, using only natural fibers, we manufacture ultra-fine paper. We also specialize in matching the color of our paper to that of the item being restored, a service other companies can’t provide. Tenguchoushi is too thin to be dyed afterwards. So we dye the fibers used as raw materials to match the color of old documents and suchlike.”
    “The hardest part is making delicate adjustments to the quantity of ingredients and water used, and to the speed of the machinery, in order to achieve the optimal paper thickness to make a satisfactory product,” says Chinzei. “However, if we only consider our own convenience as manufacturers, we may become complacent. To prevent that from happening, we’d like to further improve our technology by taking challenging orders from customers.”
    Hidaka Washi Co.,Ltd.
    Text: ITO Koichi[2014年1月号掲載記事]


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  • 丸亀製麺

    [From January Issue 2014]

    Priding itself on its handmade, fresh dishes, Marugame Seimen chain of self-service restaurants specializes sanuki-udon. These udon (noodles) have a characteristic springy texture and natural wheat flavor. The noodles are made right in front of customers in an open kitchen. Made from only domestically produced wheat, salt and water, no additives whatsoever are used. Side dishes include tempura, omusubi (rice balls) and others.

    [No.1] Kamaage Udon (regular size) 280 yen

    Boiled udon freshly scooped out of a pot. Before being eaten it is dipped in a thick, hot soup of ginger and sesame. This is the best dish on the menu.

    [No.2] Kake Udon (regular size) 280 yen

    Boiled noodles are cooled in cold water to create the firm texture characteristic of sanuki udon. These are to be eaten reheated just before being served in a hot soup.

    [No.3] Toro-tama Udon (regular size) 380 yen

    Boiled udon served with grated yam and onsen tamago (a hot spring egg). This is especially popular with women.
    We introduce the three most popular items on the menu.
    Marugame Seimen[2014年1月号掲載記事]


    【No.1】釜揚げうどん (並)280円


    【No.2】かけうどん (並)280円


    【No.3】とろ玉うどん (並)380円



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  • 地方を元気にするビジネス

    [From January Issue 2014]

    With 25% of its population over aged 65 as of 2013, Japan has entered the era of the aging society. Young people, particularly those from provincial towns, tend to move to larger cities in search of work. Therefore, the population of so called productive age – aged 15 to 64 – is decreasing. As a result, economic activity has decreased and it’s become a serious problem. However, there are examples of people tackling this problem, and reviving their regions.
    SHIRAMIZU Takahiro runs a shop called “Unagi no Nedoko” (Eel’s Bed) in the city of Yame City, Fukuoka Prefecture, with HARUGUCHI Shogo, a former college classmate. They deal mainly in products made in the local region of Chikugo, where Yame is located. “From kasuri (patterned cloth), Buddhist household altars, paper lanterns, bows and arrows, to artisanal earthenware and woodcraft, the region of Chikugo produces both new and old products,” Shiramizu says, outlining Chikugo’s characteristics.
    “Unagi no Nedoko” also deals in unique products, such as modern style monpe made with kurume-gasuri (a traditional kind of patterned cloth). Monpe are traditional Japanese trousers many women used to wear for physical work in the past. “At first, I thought that both kurume-gasuri and monpe were for elderly ladies. I changed my mind when I went to a weaver’s and saw different fabrics and patterns. I thought that I might be able to wear them myself.” This experience led to him organizing a “Monpe Fair.” It was an opportunity to let many people find out about the existence of kurume-gasuri and about the variety of patterns available.
    While monpe were sold at the fair, many locals already had kurume-gasuri fabrics at home. In response to a demand from those who wanted to make their own monpe with these fabrics, it was decided that they would also sell sewing patterns. Traditional monpe were made to fit loosely, in order that physical work could be done with ease. These original patterns are slender enough to make efficient use of the 36 to 38 centimeter-wide kasuri fabrics. Modern-looking silhouettes were created as a result. Monpe made from those patterns and sold on have been adopted by many young people as part of their fashion.”
    Shiramizu believes that it’s important to first display products, so that people can become aware of them. “We run our shop as a kind of showroom. We don’t aim to sell large quantities. We sell products that have taken time and effort to make for reasonable prices. By doing this, their worth is properly appreciated. If they’re properly appreciated, those items will sell and that craft will be passed down to the next generation, I think.” He says that, from now on, they want to concentrate their energies on introducing Chikugo on their website.


    Rhubarb Production Cooperation

    There is also an example of a new local specialty being created. This is rhubarb from Fujimi town in Nagano Prefecture. Well known in Europe as an ingredient for jam and other confections, people aren’t familiar with the plant in Japan. Chiyoko ANGEL, who moved from Chiba Prefecture to Fujimi in 1992, cultivated it at home because her English husband liked it.
    Native to Siberia and well-suited to Fujimi’s cool weather, the rhubarb thrived when cultivated through division. Angel’s rhubarb was noticeably red. Angel was aware of the tough conditions the aging farmers were dealing with. So around 2004, she began to wonder if she could turn rhubarb into a local specialty. She organized tasting events in order to distribute rhubarb to farmers she was acquainted with and asked them to grow it with no pesticides. Her intention was to respond to the demands of those who want to eat safe food.
    She also set out to create sales opportunities. “First I searched for ‘rhubarb’ and ‘red’ on the Internet and wrote emails to people who might be interested.” She hoped to get people to try Fujimi red rhubarb and to write their impressions of it on blogs and so forth. The reaction from consumers was pretty good, she received orders from people who’d seen this positive response and the amount she shipped also grew through word of mouth.
    The town hired a consultant three years ago and has expanded its market to include department stores in Tokyo. Through these channels, this year, about three tons of rhubarb was sold. The number of families growing the plant has increased from 15 in 2006 to 74 today. Angel says, “In the provinces, you’re more familiar with the problems of local government than those in the heart of a big city. That’s why I thought we might be able to change the region in some way with our initiative.”
    She’s constantly getting closer to her dream of making Fujimi Japan’s largest producer of red rhubarb. But she has some pending issues, too. With increased shipment volumes, a stable supply of pest-free products is needed. She therefore has to reconsider her pesticide-free method of cultivation. The new challenge she faces is balancing quality with shipment volumes.


    Irodori Co., Ltd.

    By creating a specialty from a local item, the town of Kamikatsu in Tokushima Prefecture has created added value. Once known for its production of wood and tangerines, bad weather in the 1980s dealt a major blow to the area. It became tough to maintain the local business.
    In those days, as farming advisor to the Kamikatsu Agricultural Cooperative, YOKOISHI Tomoji was looking for new businesses opportunities for the town. In the fall of 1986, the idea struck him to use tree leaves growing on the town’s mountains as decoration for Japanese food. Picking, wrapping and shipping leaves requires little physical exertion and can be done by the elderly. In this way, the leaf business was launched. Irodori Co., Ltd. was founded in 2002 and Yokoishi has been its president since 2009.
    Currently 200 farming families ship those leaves. The work is mostly done by women with an average age of 70. An original communication network has been set up to receive orders and control shipments. It may seem hard for the elderly to operate tablets and PCs, but Yokoishi says, “As it’s a necessity, they all naturally pick it up.” His believes that if he can identify the needs of both producers and consumers, things will naturally run smoothly. Kamikatsu’ initiative was featured in a film.
    Yokoishi is also actively involved in a project to attract young people from outside town. In addition he provides young interns with jobs and housing and organizes lectures on starting businesses. The elderly now make up around 50% of the population of Kamikatsu and, by increasing the number of young people, Yokoishi aims to bring this ratio down to about 35%.
    Yokoishi is from the city of Tokushima City and came to Kamikatsu for work. “It made a lot of sense to take a step back to look at this place from an outsider’s standpoint. There are also things I’ve come to realize after years of putting my hypotheses into practice.”
    In recent years, Yokoishi has witnessed growing interest among young people in country life. “Now the tide is turning for the provinces,” he says energetically. “There must be many other places with potential. I hope they can effectively make their regional attractions appealing to others.”

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年1月号掲載記事]





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  • 黒に染めることで服が生まれ変わる

    [From January Issue 2014]

    WWF Japan
    Though there’s growing interest in ecology in Japan, in reality, all kinds of things are still being thrown away. It’s said that Japan’s rate of recycling clothing is particularly low. WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) Japan is raising awareness of this by promoting its “PANDA BLACK -REWEAR PROJECT 2013-.”
    Even though its activities are guided by the policies of its international office, WWF Japan particularly focuses on consumer lifestyle. This is because, from a global perspective, Japan consumes a large amount of natural resources. WWF Japan is working with corporations and the government in order to prevent Japan from becoming too much of a burden on the global environment.
    Stained or yellowed clothes are re-dyed black for the project, transforming them into new-looking items to be reused. Wearing the same items of clothing for a longer time lessens the impact on the Earth’s environment.
    “The project got underway because of a suggestion made by a young duo – the designer SHIBATA Kenzo and copywriter MAKINO Keita,” says ONISHI Haruka, public relations officer at WWF Japan. “They told us they wanted to use their skills and abilities to benefit society. They wanted to do something with the WWF. I had a hunch that the idea of dyeing things black could become an innovative project, so I decided to go with it right away. I also thought it was good to focus on the color of black, which is used in WWF’s panda logo.”
    Shibata and Makino found Kyoto Montsuki Co., Ltd., a company specializing in dyeing black montsuki. As it happened, Kyoto Montsuki, too, was thinking of starting up a re-dyeing business. Because of this good timing, the project was put into practice without a hitch.
    “I think that people associate recycling and ecology with self-denial,” says Onishi. “Dyeing clothes black, however, gives it a fashionable and fun twist.” They are reused because they are fashionable and fun. Onishi believes the project can improve the image of recycling and ecology.
    WWF Japan had a booth at this fall’s “Tokyo Designers Week 2013” where they exhibited clothes that had been dyed black. Onishi says, “A lot of people reacted by saying that dyeing stained clothes black, as opposed to bleaching them, was an interesting idea.”
    Kyoto Montsuki, the company responsible for dyeing the clothes, has specialized in dyeing things black ever since its foundation in 1915. A montsuki is a black kimono emblazoned with a family crest that’s worn like a jacket over other clothes. It’s still worn today as formal attire for men.
    Dyes made from natural fibers are used, so 100% cotton and hemp turn pitch black, while fabrics such as polyester turn grey. You can’t dye parts made with synthetic fibers, such as embossed designs, but they stand out and look fashionable. Clothes are priced at 2,000 to 5,000 yen an item, depending on their weight. A portion of the proceeds is donated to WWF Japan’s nature conservation activity funds.
    Kyoto Montsuki is now getting a lot of inquiries about re-dyeing. It seems that the project has also opened a window for the art of dyeing montsuki, which was gradually slipping into obscurity, to be rediscovered.
    Kyoto Montsuki Co., Ltd.
    Email: kyotomontsuki@kmontsuki.co.jp[2014年1月号掲載記事]

    日本でもエコロジーへの関心は高まっていますが、さまざまなものが捨てられているのが現状です。特に日本は衣類のリサイクル率がとても低いといわれています。このことに着目し、WWF(世界自然保護基金)ジャパンが進めているのが「PANDA BLACK -REWEAR PROJECT2013-」です。
    Email: kyotomontsuki@kmontsuki.co.jp

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  • 飛び散る火花から生まれる日本の刀

    [From December Issue 2013]

    Blades are useful for a variety of tasks in our daily lives: kitchen knives to cut raw fish up into sashimi, scissors to create beautiful hairstyles and razor blades to keep skin smooth. These days most blades used in Japan are manufactured in Japan. Sharp edged and suitable for delicate work, blades made in Japan are renowned throughout the world. So why are Japanese blades at the cutting edge?
    Located in the center of Japan, Seki City in Gifu Prefecture is an area known for the production of blades. Blades made there are distributed not only to the domestic market, but also to other areas, including Europe and the U.S., making it a world famous brand like Germany’s Solingen. Blades made in Seki have the largest share of Japan’s market; from blades used for haircuts – which are the best in the country – and kitchen knives, to other types of knives and scissors.
    The reason Seki became the center of production for blades in Japan is that it is following on from a 700 year old sword making tradition that began in the Kamakura era. YOSHIDA Ken, a representative of sword maker Kajita-token, says, “It could be that the level of craftsmanship of blades in Seki is so high because it’s ideally located to easily source high-quality materials and there is an infrastructure in place to distribute swords around Japan.”


    太刀 全長 73cm 刃文 反り 2.1cm
    銘 御護濃州住正明作之

    Yoshida says, “Compared to other sword makers, who were protected by powerful military commanders, sword makers in Seki did everything themselves from production to sales, so they gradually became powerful themselves, without having to rely on people in power. It could be that craftsmen who heard about this reputation flocked to the city, and this also contributed to Seki becoming a city that is highly regarded throughout the world for the production of blades.”
    When a knife cuts well, it’s often said that it is “as sharp as a sword.” The reason that Japanese blades are so sharp is that skills acquired through making swords were utilized for making other kinds of blades. For instance, scissors are made with two blades and it’s particularly important when manufacturing to both make the blades sharp and to put them together. To get a sharp edge, it’s necessary to toughen the metal immediately after it is heated.
    Simply put, the art of sword making is in making steel from a reaction of iron fillings with carbon, which is then repeatedly forged into the shape of a sword. There are many steps in the production process but the main phase is forging. The work of a sword smith involves repeatedly striking steel so that it is stretched out; in temperatures of 1,300℃ little by little it takes shape. This reaches its climax in a process called tempering. Tempering involves hitting steel that is still rather soft to strike off impurities; this adjusts the structure of the steel. When the small mallet of a licensed sword smith and the large mallet of his apprentice are swung down alternately, a lot of sparks fly around.
    In this way, a sword smith’s work is all done by hand. Because it’s impossible to automate, experience, intuition and all the five senses are brought into play. To make the best swords, high temperatures are important for creating the finest possible steel. This is reflected in the English phrase “Strike while the iron is hot.” Forging has a close connection with sword making.
    Text: ITO Koichi[2013年12月号掲載記事]



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  • 何度も書いたり消したりできるペン

    [From November Issue 2013]

    PILOT Corporation
    If you want to change or rewrite what you’ve written in your schedule or memo pad, it’s not possible to erase the text written with a normal ballpoint pen or fountain pen in the same way you would with a pencil. The “Frixion” series developed by PILOT Corporation came into being with the concept that “it would be convenient if there were a pen that could be erased no matter how many times you wrote with it.”
    Frixion uses special ink that disappears when a certain temperature is exceeded. The unique property of this ink is that when it is rubbed with a special rubber attached to the tip of the pen, the frictional heat created renders it transparent. Therefore, once the ink has been erased, it’s possible to write on that surface over and over again. Besides this ballpoint pen, the product lineup includes felt tip pens and highlighters.
    Until now, those wanting to erase text written in pen had to rely on erasers containing sand particles, or on correction fluid. The pen is designed so that the ink becomes colorless with the change in temperature and this means that even when the ink is rubbed with the rubber tip of the pen, residue is not produced. Because of this, the pen has caused quite a stir, and since it was released in France in 2006, more than 600 million pens have been sold in over 90 countries around the world.
    It all started in 1975 when the company developed writing tools that used “ink that changes color with temperature.” “It began with toys that would change color in the bath and with applications for printing, but came to fruition with writing instruments, becoming our core business in 2005. To achieve the ideal pigment more than 1,000 kinds of compounds were created, over more than 30 years of study,” says TANAKA Mari of the Sales and Promotion Division.
    Tanaka says, “The biggest difficulty was widening the temperature range within which the ink reacts, and to make the grain of the pigment fine enough. At first the original ink we developed changed color with the only the slightest change in temperature, so it was not practical. In addition, in order for the pigments to flow smoothly from the small crevice in the pen nib, the ink grains have to be very small and uniform in size,” she says, looking back on the developmental stage.
    Frixion ink uses unique microcapsules that act as pigment. The capsule contains three components and it’s these that combine to react with frictional heat, making the ink turn transparent. The ink has been engineered to change color at a temperature of minus 20 to 65 degrees Celsius. The research lab was given the nickname “fuyajyou” (nightless district) within the company because in order to carry out this research, development continued day and night.
    This pen is very convenient for studying. By writing in pink or orange, text can be hidden with a transparent sheet of red plastic, making it especially useful for memorizing important information.
    PILOT Corporation
    Text: ITO Koichi[2013年11月号掲載記事]


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  • 京都から発信する無言のパフォーマンス







    無言劇ですが、観客はユーモラスな動きに笑ったり、感動する場面では涙を流したりします。主催するART COMPLEXプロデューサーの小原啓渡さんは話します。「2010年にギアを制作しました。グローバルな催しをしたいと考えたとき、言葉の壁が一番大きいと思い、この形になりました。世代や国籍を超えて楽しめるものを目指しています」。









    [From November Issue 2013]



    “Gear,” a show performed at Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto City, is becoming popular by word of mouth. Once you enter the small theatre located within a building, a set that resembles a genuine factory appears before you. Before long, five performers appear on stage and express the story through various movements. Not a single word is used.

    The story is set in a tempestuous and desolate future society. A former toy factory, where humanoid “Roboroid” robots continue to labor, is visited by “Doll,” a former product of this factory. As they interact they experience curiosity and play, gradually becoming more like human beings. Meanwhile, an accident occurs and the Roboroids have to deal with a crisis. The story takes a dramatic turn when, left all alone, a change appears in Doll.

    Although the play is silent, the audience laughs at the slapstick comedy and sheds tears during the emotional scenes. KOHARA Keito, the producer of ART COMPLEX – an organization that sponsors the show – says, “I created Gear in 2010. The show took this form because I wanted to produce a global event, but believed that the language barrier would be my greatest challenge. The aim was to create something that could be enjoyed regardless of age or nationality.”

    Gear utilizes the latest technologies, including something called projection mapping, projecting an image or lighting up an object by adapting itself to that object’s shape. The choreography was created by KONDO Ryohei who is also known as the leader of the dance company “Condors.”

    Numerous world championship winning dancers and mime artists make an appearance. However, Gear demands movements and expressions that have never before been experienced. At first the performers had concerns, saying, “Why do we have to do something like this?” They also went through a tough period when there would only be about ten people in the audience.

    Kohara continued to make steady progress by taking into account the opinions given on questionnaires about the show. The cast themselves began to put forward their own ideas. Here, the crew, cast and audience all direct the show. Because of their hard work, the show, which was first performed in 2012, was performed for the 400th time in September, 2013, and more than 20,000 people have been to see it.

    Audience members have commented that: “I could enjoy it even without dialogue. In fact, it is more interesting because there are no words.” “While the tricks and devices are effective, in the end, it was the ‘people’ who moved me.” A non-Japanese tourist commented that: “I’ve never seen a performance like it.” Kid’s Day – when children under the age of three can attend – was created after they received a comment saying that, “Our three year old child was able to concentrate and watch it until the end.”

    “I would be delighted if many more small theatres were created in Kyoto,” says Kohara. “In the future I want to do a long running performance on the real Broadway. There’s no precedent for Japanese people performing a long run yet, so I’d like to set myself this challenge.” Kohara’s dreams are growing bigger.


    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko


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  • クリーンと省エネを両立させた地下工場

    [From October Issue 2013]


    Many products around us are made of parts which are shaped or bored metal and resin. A car, for example, is assembled from 30,000 parts made this way. Mobile phones and digital cameras, too, contain many precision parts. Machines that make parts for such products are called “machine tools.”

    Yamazaki Mazak Corporation of Oguchi Town, Aichi Prefecture (President YAMAZAKI Tomohisa) is one of the world’s most prominent manufacturers in this field. In addition to other machine tools, they also make “laser processing machines” that cut and bore through iron plate or steel with heat from a laser. This contains a mechanism that amplifies and reflects the laser’s strong beams through lenses and mirrors, onto parts to be processed.

    For a laser beam machine to do precise work, it’s absolutely necessary for the lenses and mirrors to be clean. Dust and impurities contained in the air pose a threat, potentially having a negative effect on performance. So, to produce laser processing machines more rapidly, the company built a special underground factory in 2008. In the factory’s clean hermetic environment, lenses and mirrors are not adversely affected by dust or other contaminants in the air.

    The factory was built in a hilly area. Buried underground at a depth of 17 meters, the building is two stories high in some parts, covering a total area of 10,000 square meters. One of the company directors was inspired to build an underground factory when he visited an underground facility in the former Soviet Union where a metric standard instrument was kept. Spokesman TOMITA Kazuhiko says, “I don’t think there’s another underground factory of this scale anywhere in the world.”

    A hygienic environment is the foremost advantage to building a factory underground. Compared to a factory build above ground, the quantity of dust has been reduced to 1/20. The second advantage is that with a year round subterranean temperature of 16-18℃, the temperature is naturally regulated. By pumping air into the factory from above ground and circulating it through its inner walls, in summer temperatures reach 28℃ at their highest and in winter 18℃ at their lowest.

    The heat emitted from machines undergoing testing on the assembly line is expelled through concrete tubes crisscrossing the floor. That heat is used for internal heating in wintertime. The factory contains no large air conditioning system. But since the temperature is kept within a certain range, the company saves about 90% on annual air-conditioning costs for the factory.

    Other advantages include: “the aboveground space is available for practical use” and “minimal vibrations from cars and railways.” Because of these original features, the factory won the “Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s Land Utilization Model Grand Prix” in 2008 and the “Nikkei Earth Environment Technology Award/Production Environment Special Award” in 2009. More underground factories, based on this design, may be built all over Japan in the future.

    Yamazaki Mazak Corporation

    Text: ITO Koichi













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  • 「全日本製造業コマ大戦」を制したZION


    [From September Issue 2013]

    Shion Limited Company

    From precision parts used for airplanes and cars, to fountain pen nibs, Shion Limited Company in Mino City, Gifu Prefecture manufactures a variety of metal items. Particularly in the case of parts made for aircrafts and automobiles, it’s necessary to use specialized equipment that can only be operated by highly skilled technicians.

    Drawing on their technological knowhow, the firm has produced a spinning top that can be spun on a fingertip. The spinning top was originally made not to be sold, but to be entered into the All-Japan Manufacturing Industry Spinning Top Battle. Coming top out of 200 participating companies, the company won the second ever contest held in February. On display in the entrance to their factory are the “spoils of war,” i.e. the spinning tops of conquered opponents.

    The All-Japan Manufacturing Industry Spinning Top Battle is held so that small businesses, which make up the majority of Japan’s manufacturing industry, can showcase their technological competence. As long as the top is 20 millimeters in diameter or less, there are no other restrictions on materials, weight or shape. Tops are pitted against each other in a “ring” made of synthetic resin which is 250 millimeters in circumference. The rule is that a top wins if it either nudges the other one out of the ring, or keeps spinning for longer – even if it’s just by one second.

    The company’s winning top “Zion” was chosen from over 100 prototypes. It was refined during in-house contests and regional trials. “The night before the final, I practiced spinning the top so much that the fingerprints on my right thumb and index finger were rubbed smooth,” says president YAMADA Ken, reminiscing about the intensity of the battle.

    Zion is 19.8 millimeters in diameter. Characterized by its heft and low center of gravity, the top was made from durable metals like heavy alloy and tungsten, and is extremely tough. Speaking about the manufacturing difficulties they encountered, Yamada said: “We made holes to make the center lighter and made the tip slippery so that it wouldn’t get caught on the edge of the ring. Also we did our utmost to design a shape that would keep spinning for as long as possible.”

    Zion not only has an unusual shape. An extremely thin substance – of a thickness of only 0.05 millimeters – called “skin gel,” has been applied to its outer edge. Because skin gel halts an opponent’s spinning top, any contact works in Zion’s favor. As long as the top meets the requirement of being 20 millimeters or less in diameter, it’s not against the rules.

    “It’s easy to do projects that have predetermined production techniques and materials, but it’s not much fun. In this way, making spinning tops offers us the perfect opportunity to indulge in our enthusiasm for craftsmanship, as we’re involved in every step of the process, from brainstorming and designing, to producing and experimenting. Through this experience, many employees have come to realize that manufacturing is enjoyable and have become prouder of what they do,” said Yamada, who believes that the contest was also useful for employee education.

    Shion Limited Company

    Text: ITO Koichi













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  • 100年使ってもらえる木のおもちゃ作りへかける思い

    [From September Issue 2013]


    Hokuju Co., Ltd.

    In 1989, KAN Yoshinori founded Hokuju Co., Ltd. in his home town, Kitami City, Hokkaido. It was in the latter years of the economic bubble and a lot of money was circulating in society. Constructing studios and stereos, Hokuji were specialists in audio equipment made of wood. At this time, there was a person named ITO Eiji, who was promoting the merits of carpentry to children.

    Ito, who was once Kan’s junior high school teacher, established his own private workshop and invited children there so they could have an opportunity to get a feel for carpentry. Kan’s children also visited Ito’s workshop. Kan says that in those days, “I believed that wooden toys were not a viable business proposition.” But seeing how dedicated Ito was about getting children to have more opportunities to work with wood, Kan began to think that he would support his efforts.

    “I would like it if he was better known in society.” He began to give Ito the backing of his company. Hokuju’s support made it possible for Ito to create some large scale playground equipment, thus widening the scope of Ito’s activities. He began to hold events all around Japan.

    The collapse of the bubble economy was a turning point for Hokuju, however Hokuju’s wooden toys had become well known through these events. This perfect timing allowed the company to weather the crisis. One of their most popular products from that period is their “wooden ball pool.” A wooden frame is filled with wooden “kikkoro” balls of a diameter of approximately three centimeters. In March 2013, the product was installed at nursery schools and the like in 121 locations around Japan.

    Each of the handmade kikkoro, has a slightly different shape and size and is pleasant to the touch. Lying down on them, your body is buoyed up, giving you a wonderful sense of stability and security. Enchanted by this sensation, some people have specially ordered beds filled with kikkoro.

    Most of the toys made at Hokuju are made from broadleaf trees. Although coniferous trees are easier to process, they easily splinter or break. It became clear that they were not suitable as a material for children’s toys. It takes 100 to 200 years for a broadleaf tree to grow thick enough to be used. That means you have to make toys that will last for a hundred years. This is the philosophy that Kan has always held about toys.

    Since forestry is one of the main industries in Hokkaido, they are committed to using trees grown in the area, but that means higher prices. Some people are surprised when they see the price of large scale playground equipment and comment, “You can buy an expensive imported car with this money!” Nevertheless, Kan is reluctant to rely on imported material just because it is cheaper. He is worried that the skills of forestry and woodworking, which once thrived in the area, are now being lost because the number of people active in the industry is now decreasing. For this reason he continues to run his business using local resources, thus keeping people employed.

    A few years ago, Kan bought a mountain covered with broadleaf trees. He is looking forward to the day he can make products using those trees. “I’ve been part of this industry for 46 years. I have always dealt in wooden items and have been able to live in my local area. Being able to contribute to the development of local industry has given me great satisfaction,” says Kan, looking back on what he has achieved up to now. Although Ito passed away last year, his dedication to carpentry continues to live on in Kan.

    Hokuju Co., Ltd.

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo














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