Date : December 13 - 14, 2010
Notice: Gunma Press Tour (December 13-14, 2010)
post date : 2013.08.22
~Potential of Gunma’s Inherited Manufacturing Gene~
Gunma prefecture is well known for its constellation of manufacturing industries. The accumulation of knowledge and technology over a long period of time has become the foundation of the industry in Gunma. Its history flourished from the silk and textile industry, typically the Tomioka Silk Mill, the origin of Japanese modernization and industrialization dating back to the Meiji era. Then the war industry was located there before and during the Second World War, for example, the biggest airplane manufacturer Nakajima Airplanes, the predecessor of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., now known for its automotive brand “Subaru”. At present day, Gunma is prominent in the area of secondary industry, such as casting, hammering, pressing and assembling. In this context, the prefecture has put a lot of resources into technological education, to meet the demand from the industrial world here. So, Gunma University faculty of engineering has been playing a key role and producing many great engineers supporting “manufacturing expert, Gunma”.
In this tour, you will cover the potentiality of Gunma’s inherited manufacturing gene; the case of industry-academic and government collaboration formed with the purpose of solving global issues such as energy; small and medium-sized enterprises producing unique products, which cannot be mimicked by others. The former is making full use of technical skill, imagination and the natural environment. In the latter case, unique manufacturing skills make them globally competitive, overcoming the worldwide depression and the strong yen.
1. Local Production of Sustainable Energy for Local Consumption, Making Full Use of Notable Features of Gunma (Kiryu City)
The notable features of Gunma are its dramatic mountains, unpolluted rivers, green countryside, and the local train that runs placidly through it. At the same time, there is a cluster of car industry and electrics. From October this year, Kiryu City has been testing a new energy system: “Local production for local consumption,” which will enable a storage battery to be charged through a small hydroelectric plant by the stream from the dramatic Watarase ravine. Then the Watarase ravine train carries the charged battery to a power station located in the city center, when it is used for charging electric cars and electric assisted-bicycles.
Not only the lithium ion battery unit but also the electric car is a product of Gunma. The lithium ion battery units are products custom-made by the Nitto Electric Manufacture Co. Three electric cars, “Stella,” are supplied by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., a leading company in Gunma. Two “MicroTT2” are supplied by the faculty of engineering at Gunma University. MicroTT2 is a one-seater electric car developed by Gunma University in collaboration with local enterprises. A former engineer at Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd and visiting professor of Gunma University, Dr. Shuji Matsumura is in charge of developing the MicroTT2. The number of cars owned per household is 1.67 in Gunma, the third highest rate in Japan.
Considering this, Dr. Matsumura estimates that the demand for more casual cars compared with the existing light weight car will rise with the aging population. He says the key points for achieving the diffusion of the electric car is to produce compact one- and two-seaters. The weight of the MicroTT2 is 250kg, one-fourth of the average mini car; the top speed is 60kmph, and it runs 30km on a 90-minutes charge. The targeted commercial price is 1 million yen.
This project, commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment and run by Kiryu city, is part of “Challenge 25% community development project,” aiming at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 compared with its level of 1990. In this tour, an official of Kiryu City and Dr. Matsumura talk about the details of this project. You will travel with lithium ion batteries by the “Watarase ravine-train,” and visit the power station where EVs are charged from them.
2.Milanorib Ltd’s Challenge Towards Revival of “Gunma Silk” (Kiryu City)
The silk industry in Japan, once dominant in the world, is close to extinction. Even though Gunma prefecture has a long silk industry history and produces 45% of domestic silk cocoons and 80% of the domestic raw silk in Japan, the share of pure domestic silk products in the Japanese market is less than 1% since the market is dominated by imported silk especially from China. With a sense of impending crisis, Ms. Harumi Sasaguchi, president of Milanorib Ltd., determined to reactivate the 1200 year tradition of Gunma silk. In 1998, she founded Miranolib Ltd., covering everything from manufacturing to retailing with the policy of taking an alternative way and avoiding mass production. She believes this is the only means by which the textile industry will survive. She gives weight to the quality of the product, and uses the cocoon produced by the local species of silkworm “Gunma 200.”
Miranolib is noted for introducing traceability systems in 2003 and manages the silk from the cocoon to the finished product. They can trace back their silk to one of the four contracted sericulturists within the prefecture. They also invented a special technique to dye the cocoon itself. This resulted in producing a silk fabric which changes color by reflecting the light from different angles. In 2005, they established a brand called “Chijila”. Their manufacturing policy is to let the consumer know who is making the product, and their ongoing continuous effort is to answer the demand of each customer.
President Ms. Sasaguchi says that the silkworm makes the cocoon to protect its own body, just as silk fabric protects the human body, though in a different manner. Nothing compares with silk in terms of reflecting the producer’s design. In the tour, you will hear from President Sasaguchi and visit their workshop.
3. Matsui Knitting Crafts Mfg., Ltd., Sweep the World with Ribbed Fabric (Kiryu City)
The wooden house and factory, built over 100 years ago, still stands in a back alley in the center of Kiryu City. This small factory with only eight workers produces multicolor mufflers, which have been top of the best-selling list for five years in a row at the museum shop in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Established in 1907, Matsui Knitting Crafts specializes in rib knitting, which is voluminous, light weight, and heat-retaining. Manufacturers usually hate making ribbed fabric because it often catches in the production process, but Matsui untiringly worked on this and established a one-of-the-kind technique which “cannot be copied by Italians and Chinese (President Tomoji Matsui)”. Propping up their efforts are old knitting machines which have been used since the late 1950s to the early 60s, although the most low speed knitting machines disappeared from Japan over 20 years ago. Since the speed of those machines is only one-fifth of the modern high speed machines, they are not suited for mass production, but are capable of producing soft-touch ribbed fabric with a slow and gentle rhythm.
As the Japanese textile industry has long been declining, Matsui Knitting Crafts experienced a management crisis twice. The first crisis came in the 1970s when the textile exports to the United States were controlled. Depending heavily on exports, Matsui’s sales suffered a severe blow.
However, taking advantage of the network of Managing Director Toshio Matsui, the younger brother of President Matsui who was working for a textile trading company at that time, they decided to ride on the wave of “designer brands” and became an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) for those brands. In the 1990s, the manufacturing center of those brands moved to China and South East Asia, and Matsui gradually suffered from lowering prices and declining orders.
Under such circumstances, a designer and a buyer of the Museum of Modern Art visited their factory in 1999, and they instantly received an order for 400 mufflers. The volume of orders from the MoMA has jumped, and is still on an upward trend despite the strong yen. In 2005, they inaugurated their original brand “KNITTING INN”, and, despite the recession, have extended their market to the museums in Europe and the tax free shops in Haneda and Narita Airports.
The tour will interview President Tomoji Matsui, who says that their market is still expanding, and Managing Director Toshio Matsui. It will cover their small factory where the slow machines are in full operation preparing for Christmas.
4.Mitsuba Gakki Co. Ltd., the Only Mass Producer of Ukuleles in Japan (Maebashi City)
“Because of the uncertainty for the future, this healing-type music is very popular”, says Mr. Shigeru Osawa, President of Mitsuba Gakki, the only mass producer of ukuleles in Japan. Mitsuba Kogei, its predecessor, was established in 1948, right after the war. The company’s main product was a desk-top xylophone, and ukuleles were just a sideline particularly during the summer holidays when demand for xylophones plummeted. When the ukulele boom of the 1950s was over, they considered concentrating on furniture. However, Mr. Takashi Kanai, then President and the current Chairman, heard the news about ukuleles being used by special classes for handicapped children in Miyazaki Prefecture, and decided to continue producing ukuleles as long as they were needed. Although annual production dropped to even below ten in the 1980s, the boom came back in the 1990s, and the figure recovered to over 1,000 a month in 2003. Recently it further expanded to about 1,200 a month, thanks to the big hit movie “Hula Girl” released in 2006 and the popularity of young ukulele musicians.
While low-priced foreign products are coming from China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, over a dozen skilled workers are producing high-quality ukuleles in the factory in Maebashi City. Wishing more children to have a chance to try the instrument, they introduced this September a new slim and light product “usulele”, (from the Japanese word ‘usui’, meaning ‘thin’). This is only two-thirds the thickness of the original product. On top of that, their challenge to the world market started last year, exporting 500 ukuleles to the United States, Germany, and the Republic of Korea.
The press tour will interview President Osawa, who is determined to continue producing things which are needed and can be made only by small and medium enterprises. You will also have a chance to tour the ukulele factory.
5.Takasaki Daruma, Blowing off the Recession (Takasaki City)
The Daruma doll is known as a symbol of good luck and is a popular gift of celebration. Takasaki City has 55 Daruma manufacturers, who produce some 900,000 dolls a year, making it Japan’s largest Daruma producing center. Most of the large election Darumas, indispensable for Japanese politicians, are believed to be made in Takasaki. The Takasaki Daruma Festival held every January at Shorinzan Daruma-ji temple attracts crowds of some 240,000 people. Takasaki Daruma has 200 years of history. In 1783 when the Great Tenmei Famine occurred after the eruption of Mt. Asama, the ninth priest of Shorinzan Daruma-ji, Togaku, taught farmers how to make papier-mâché Darumas to save them from hunger. Since then, Daruma making has been passed on as a side job for farmers, mainly sericulturists. About 120 years ago, however, Daruma manufacture started to increase with the inauguration of the local Jomo Shimbun newspaper which as a result provided enough used paper to make Darumas.
In 2006, the Patent Office recognized the Takasaki Daruma as the first regional brand in Gunma Prefecture. Their product lines have expanded on such occasions as the Soccer World Cup, when they produced a blue Daruma, the color of the uniform of the Japanese national team. Orders come from overseas for this high-quality art work, particularly from Europe and the United States. Recently, they were surprised to receive an order for 1,400 Darumas from Venezuela through the JETRO.
The tour will visit Daimonya, operated by Mr. Sumikazu Nakata, President of the Gunma Daruma Manufacturers Association. You will hear about the wholehearted Daruma making of Mr. Nakata, who says that production volume has dropped from the bubble period but things are turning better since they can now work on time-consuming products. You will also cover their workshop which is getting busier toward the end of the year.
*Foreign Press Center/Japan organized this press tour in cooperation with Gunma Prefecture. Tour participants bear part of the cost, but the purpose of the tour is not profit-making.
Tour itinerary and application details:
Monday, December 13
7:40 Leave Tobu Asakusa Station by Ryomo 3
9:18 Arrive at Tobu Shinkiryu Station
Morning: Milanorib Ltd
Afternoon:Local Production of Sustainable Energy for Local Consumption
Matsui Knitting Crafts Mfg., Ltd.
Meeting with Senior Officials of Gunma Prefecture (Pending)
Tuesday, December 14
Morning: Mitsuba Gakki Co. Ltd.
Afternoon: Takasaki Daruma
15:21 Leave JR Takasaki station by Asama530
16:12 Arrive at JR Tokyo station
2. Qualification: Bearer of Gaimusho foreign press registration card
3. Expenses: 10,000 yen per person including transportation, meals, and accommodation
* FPC will later inform the participants of methods for payment, cancellation fee etc.
4. Participants: Limited to the first ten applicants on a first-come first-served basis. (Only one reporter and one photographer from each company, but two participants from each TV team will be acceptable.)
5. FPCJ Contact: Mr. Yano and Mr. Yamaguchi (Tel: 03-3501-3405, 5251)
* The FPCJ will not be liable for any inconvenience, trouble or accident that might occur in the course of the tour.
**There are some restrictions on photographing and filming at the tour sites. Please follow the instructions of the officials on duty.