TOKYO, Jan. 12 (Kyodo) — Young owners of some small manufacturing companies in Tokyo's Ota Ward have developed a bobsled to demonstrate their technological prowess amid a prolonged recession that has forced a large number of "Shitamachi" plants out of business.
The project to develop Japan's first bobsled was proposed by Satoshi Kosugi, 36, of the Ota City Industrial Promotion Organization to "publicize" the technological competence of small businesses in Shitamachi.
Shitamachi, translated as "lower city," is the name given to Tokyo's flatlands east of the Sumida River, an area that was inhabited by the lower classes, such as craftsmen and fishermen, during the Edo period (1603-1868) under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Ota used to have some 9,000 plants, but the number has been cut in half due to Japan's long-lasting economic slump with intensifying global competition and a shortage of young people to take over the companies.
Bobsled is often compared to Formula One auto racing. While companies like Ferraris S.p.A. and BMW AG help the development of bobsleds in Europe, there is no sled maker in Japan, and as such Japanese Olympic teams are forced to rely on used sleds imported from Europe.
Junichi Hosogai, 46, president of metal processing firm Material Co., responded to Kosugi's proposal, saying that Ota Ward has companies that have made parts for Formula One cars and jet fighters. He then called on owners of local plants, mainly in their 30s and 40s, and a processor of carbon fiber reinforced plastics in Maibara, Shiga Prefecture, to participate in the project.
Hosogai worked out a blueprint for a bobsled modeled after a German-made sled. When he presented his plans at a meeting of local plant owners in September last year, some 30 of them came forward to take part in the voluntary work, offering their expertise in fields such as metal cutting and welding.
With participants working until midnight along with the day-to-day operation of the plants, the "Shitamachi Bobsled" was developed and won the 2012 all-Japan championships held in Nagano Prefecture on Dec. 23.
"At a time when we cannot foresee orders even next month, we wanted to develop something that is dream-inspiring and internationally competitive," said Kazuaki Ono, 32, operator of a family-owned metal-processing plant, who fought back his tears when he saw the winning team on top of the podium at the medal ceremony.
Work to develop a better sled in time for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics will continue.