August 29, 2019

Made in Japan / Monozukuri : Building on Technology and Curiosity (Part 2)

Made in Japan / Monozukuri : Building on Technology and Curiosity (Part 2)

(from left) Takahiko Hasegawa, Kenichi Yamada, and Toshikazu Ishii

Creating something new isn't easy, but it's certainly an adventure. In this two-part series we talk with three leaders that came together to explore the spirit of monozukuri, and ultimately create technology-driven skill toys that have captured the hearts of children and adults alike around the world. How did they get started? What challenges did they overcome? Read on to find out.

Did you miss Part 1? Read it here.
Made in Japan / Monozukuri : Building on Technology and Curiosity
Part 1 : Yo-yo King Meets Bearing

About the team

Takahiko Hasegawa

Takahiko Hasegawa
President & CEO, Soloham Co., Ltd.
Owner of SpinGear yo-yo shop
Yo-yo world champion (Over 40 division)

Takahiko has been the driving force behind re-imagining and re-creating many modern and traditional toys-spinning skill toys from around the world including fidget spinners, spinning tops, diabolos, kendama, and yo-yos. Today, the multi-time yo-yo world champion dazzles audiences with live stage performances and TV appearances alongside managing a toy shop and toy production and wholesale company.


Kenichi Yamada

Kenichi Yamada
President & CEO
Mitsumi Factory Limited Company

Kenichi's Mitsumi Factory metalworking shop was founded in 1920 in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward. Inspired to continue the work of his grandfather, a watchmaker who made his own parts, today Kenichi and his team produce precision parts with a focus on automotive, medical, and semiconductor applications. Katsushika is known as the "town of toys," something Kenichi's grandfather took great pride in, and the family has continued to help push the envelope in bringing together leading edge precision manufacturing technology and the world of toy making.


Toshikazu Ishii

Toshikazu Ishii
President & CEO
NSK Micro Precision Co., Ltd.

Toshikazu leads NSK Micro Precision, an NSK Group company developing, producing, and selling small bearings used in electric vehicles dental equipment, computers, ships, fishing reels, and innumerable other applications. The company also employs its expertise in bearings to help develop fidget spinners, yo-yos, and spinning tops as its contribution to the "Cool Japan" initiative promoted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.


Tackling a New Challenge

Kenichi    Our three companies started working on the Tokyo Gyro — an ultra-long-spinning gyroscope — using the technology and expertise NSK had from making yo-yos. Our first big goal was to have it ready in time for the International Tokyo Toy Show 2019.

Takahiko    Yes, that was quite the deadline! [laughs] Now, we've made it part of our annual plan to start developing something new six months before the toy show. We want to keep this up as long as we can.

Kenichi    The first product we developed together was the Tokyo Gyro. The precision bearings are from NSK Micro Precision. The rest of the parts are all made in Japan, with Mitsumi Factory putting together the end product. At the toy show, the long-spinning Tokyo Gyro really showed the crowds what a gyroscope is all about.

Toshikazu    Yes, that was great. The Tokyo Gyro spins silently and is packed with innovations. When we had it nearly ready for manufacturing, we brought a prototype to the NSK head office to get people's reactions. Many of the younger employees there didn't even recognize me from when I used to work there in accounting. When I was making my rounds, a lot of them thought I was a salesman from a toy company. [laughs] So I played along so I could have them evaluate the prototype from the end user's perspective. This is one of the things I love about my job — serious research and exchange of views, but over a product that involves fun and play. I like to say we are serious about making toys. That's why we got feedback from people in various departments and from gyro experts, as well. I had a bunch of fun.

Chaos Maker—An Appealing Showcase for Bearings

Takahiko    The Chaos Maker, which was released this year, also benefited from your efforts, Toshikazu, to collect feedback at the NSK head office. The final product is much more appealing thanks to the input you got for us. As you recall, one of Misumi Factory's employees, Hideaki Takeda, made the initial prototypes.

Kenichi    Right. Hideaki told me he had made a pendulum using parts laying around the factory. I first showed it to you when we had dinner together last year. I remember how excited you got! We subsequently modified the design and developed a long-swinging double pendulum. Then we incorporated ideas from Takahiko and Toshikazu to create the final form of the Chaos Maker. Its movement is totally intriguing to engineers and non-engineers alike.

Toshikazu    The Chaos Maker incorporates a number of NSK bearings. It is very portable, which makes it great for showcasing NSK's technologies. We actually installed one in our corporate reception area. Everyone going by touches it, wondering what it is. This is one “toy” that's fun for both kids and adults.

Chaos Maker

Bringing Ideas to Life through Craftsmanship

Takahiko    The Tokyo Gyro and Chaos Maker have both become popular desktop toys. I love to spin bearings on my desk, and watch them spin all day long. [laughs]

Kenichi    When I saw a fidget spinner for the first time, I honestly thought “Is that all it does?” However, they went on to become a major phenomenon. You never know what will happen. As a craftsperson, you can't be too sure of your preconceptions. No one knows for sure how things will turn out, so making decisions based only on your own assumptions is risky business. Besides, creating a hit product requires not only a passion for craftsmanship, but also innovative thinking. You can't be stuck in the mud. I think it says something that all three of the products we developed have been featured on television.

Toshikazu    As a manufacturer, there is nothing better than having your products create a buzz — we love to see people having fun with them. Most people don't even know that there are about 100 bearings in every home and up to 150 in every automobile, working behind the scenes to support people's lives. It's cool that these little inventions of ours help more people appreciate what bearings do. Another part of the fun for me, as a fan of bearings, is the challenge of delivering the specifications Takahiko asks for. In a competition for the longest spinning yoyo, the yoyo using NSK bearings set a world record, at 21 minutes and 21 seconds. I really want to keep working with both of you to develop and provide products that capture customers' hearts and make the world a bit more fun.

Kenichi    Mitsumi Factory is a small operation with less than 10 employees, but that means we have the flexibility to tackle fun projects. We are delighted to work with a world yoyo champion and a major firm like NSK. Manufacturers like us must do more than just make things to order. We have to be creative if we want to survive. We need to invest the time and money it takes to develop our own original strategies.

Takahiko    So true. I'm always dreaming up some new product, and I want to keep collaborating with both of you on inventions that use bearings. While we can't always make something totally from scratch, we can definitely combine the technologies we already have to make really interesting new products. I know I can count on you two to back me up on this. I look forward to working with you on future products that really excite the world.

Takahiko Hasegawa

Learn more about Chaos Maker here (Press release).
CHAOS MAKER: New Double Pendulum Toy with Precision Bearings