Ōta Open Factory: From Smartphones to Space Rockets, Ōta-ku’s Small Factory Festival

Ōta-ku: one of the foremost factory towns in Japan. “Ōta Open Factory,” an annual winter event for small factories, was held in 2016 on the week of November 26th. This is a special event where small factories are open to the public for a limited time. On the first day, warm despite being late November, many families with children visited factories in the Shimomaruko, Musashi Nitta area.

Kurirabo Tamagawa Kurirabo Tamagawa

This event started in 2012 under the auspices of the Kouwakai Cooperative Association, the General Incorporated Ōta-ku Tourist Agency Association, Tokyo Metropolitan University, and Yokohama National University. This year is its sixth anniversary. Based on the “Creative town Ōta” framework advocated by the host, Ōta-ku furthers its industrial rehabilitation, tour enhancement, and fabrication focused urban design.

Ōta Open Factory offers not only an inside view of the factories but an opportunity to experience the actual work, including soldering and working a metal lathe, as instructed by skilled craftsmen. The event also includes other attractions, such as making quasi planet finders using balloons and straws and inscribing your name on scrap wood from the factories.

 “Miyazaki Limited Company Factory” - Plastic precision cutting work “Miyazaki Limited Company Factory” – Plastic precision cutting work

Ōta-ku has 3,500 factories. As of December 2016, this is the most for any ward in Tokyo. Eighty percent of these factories do machine metal processing, and most of them specialize in prototypes and precision processing products. In “Shitamachi Rocket,” a novel written by the Naoki award winning writer, Jun Ikeido, the Katsuragawa Seira Corporation Factory in Ōta-ku was used as a location in the story.

 “Ōmori Iron Steel Corporation” - Metal burr “Ōmori Iron Steel Corporation” – Metal burr

Most processing in small factories is characterized by a single process, such as “plane”, “shave”, “polish”, or “coat”. Therefore they use a technique called “fellow turning”, passing parts from factory to factory, to make a new product. This is also known as the bicycle network because each factory is within bicycling distance of the next. A leading example of fellow turning is the Lower City Bobsleigh Project. The bobsleigh, bringing together Ōta-ku’s metal processing techniques, was officially adopted by the first Jamaican bobsleigh team in the Olympics. We will see their brave figure again in the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in 2018.

Ōta Open Factory’s Information CenterŌta Open Factory’s Information Center

On the surface, it’s hard to tell what the finished products from small factories are. However, if you take apart and examine your personal belongings, many of the parts are made in Ōta-ku. Some of the various products from Ōta-ku include parts inside your smartphone and parts in the fall prevention fences at train platforms.

Visitor Experience Metal LathesVisitor Experience Metal Lathes

The lathe has two parts, the turning process, which turns a workpiece in order to make an object, and the slice, an industrial tool with many sharp teeth that’s spun to process a workpiece. The metal lathe has a special stick, called a paddle, that is pressed onto rotating metal stock to deform workpieces. These techniques are used when making the parts of a parabolic antenna, the noses of battle planes and space rockets, etc. There is also metal working, which includes bending iron, aluminum, and stainless steel, or punching holes, caving, and polishing them. Other processes include 3D printing, plastifying, etc. Becoming a professional in those processing areas requires at least a few years, and sometimes as many as ten. Professionals with a few decades’ experience are required for precision and accuracy.

Metal Lathe PartsMetal Lathe Parts

Ōta-ku wants to be a town where industry and living coexist. Under this policy, there are several factory apartments. The biggest factory apartment in the Tokyo area is Techno Wing Ōta. The 6,500 square meter facility includes an open type factory, a five story factory ridge with a capacity of forty eight factory units and apartments for the workers and their families.

Techno WING Ōta - Ōta-ku’s factory apartment Techno WING Ōta – Ōta-ku’s factory apartment

Ōta-ku operates an incubation facility in a former elementary school, “BIG Asahi”, for the purpose of assisting founders of start-up businesses. Start-up business founders can use the facility for an inexpensive price, so they can focus on their business while cutting down running costs.

Tech Strake, 3D reverse engineering Tech Strake, 3D reverse engineering

The goal of Ōta Open Factory is to pass down to young creators the fascination of Ōta-ku’s factories while getting community people to understand the culture of fabrication. In Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population, this kind of event is significant in order to transmit the small factory’s master craftsmanship to the next generation. We should not eradicate the fabrication culture in Japan.

References

Kouwakai Cooperative Association (Japanese)

the General Incorporated Ōta-ku Tourist Agency Association (Japanese)

Ōta Open Factory (Japanese)

Creative town Ōta framework (Japanese)

Miyazaki Limited Company Factory (Japanese)

Tech Strake (Japanese)

Ōmori Iron Steel Corporation (Japanese)

Kurirabo Tamagawa (Japanese)

Hikariyane Company

Osugi Company

@japan introduces “Ōta Open Factory” by Idol Urara Tachibana, active in Akihabara.

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