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From Value One, Summer 2018, No. 61  

A check valve for fresh water supply service use, etc. (Shimizu Iron Works)

Unsung Heroes Indispensable to Industry

Valves control the flow of liquid and gas through pipes. They are indispensable to all aspects of industry, including the supply of clean water and disposal of sewage as well as in iron making, chemical processing, food processing, electric power or fuel gas generation, machine manufacturing and shipbuilding.

The city of Hikone in Shiga Prefecture prospered as a castle town during the Edo period (1603–1868). Many Buddhist altars were made here, and this fostered a long tradition of metalworking, including the production of metal ornaments and gold foil pressing. Today, Hikone is also known as one of Japan’s biggest valve production centers.

In or around 1887, Tomekichi Kadono, a craftsman making ornamental metal fittings, manufactured steam piping (including faucets) in response to an order from a silk mill in Shinshu. That marked the beginning of valve manufacture in Hikone. The modernization of industry, including iron and steel making and shipbuilding, expanded demand for valves. Many of Tomekichi’s disciples set up valve factories one after another.

There are now about twenty valve manufacturers in Hikone, all with their own brands. In addition, some seventy related companies based here are engaged in casting, mechanical processing and surface treatment. These manufacturers mainly produce valves for use in water service, industrial purposes and on ships. They make well over 10,000 kinds of valve products that range in size from that of a person’s palm to giant ones weighing several tonnes.

Making valves for water service use is a specialty of Shimizu Iron Works Corporation. The company holds a significant share in the market for such valves for fresh water supply and handling sewage. Only Shimizu Iron Works can produce many of these valves, which include large gate valves measuring some two meters in height. Valves for water service use must conform to official standards, but Shimizu Iron Works has created unique ones such as valves that close automatically without using electric power in times of emergency.

Hirose Valve Industry Co., Ltd., whose founder is a nephew of Tomekichi Kadono, is the top manufacturer in its own field, holding a 90 percent market share for hydraulic stop valves. They are used for rolling mills in every steelworks in Japan, and must meet high performance standards to strictly control the high-pressure flow of oil. “Even a slight gap that would allow leaks is unacceptable,” says Shinichi Ono, Hirose Valve’s president.

Valves made in Hikone are reportedly also used in attractions at Tokyo Disneyland. They are “unsung heroes” with a history of some 130 years behind them.


Various components are manually fitted (Hirose Valve Industry)



Hydraulic valves are available in diverse versions (Hirose Valve Industry)

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