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From Value One, Autumn 2006 No. 14  

Himeji City, in Hyogo Prefecture, is an important manufacturing center that accounts for around 70% of all chains produced in Japan. It produces anchor chains for large ships, chains for recreational equipment and various materials of various sizes. The origins of chain-making in Himeji date back to the production of "Matsubara nails," which were used in the mid-Edo period (1700s) to refurbish Himeji Castle. Nail-making technology used to produce chains for ships in the Taisho period (1912 - 1926) and the construction of a full-scale chain factory in 1914, laid the foundations for the chain industry. However, the method of forging employed at the time involved beating heated metal into shape with a single hammer. This required manpower and placed limits on the manufacturing of large chains and mass production.

Himeji's chain industry reached a turning point when large, foreign-made flash butt welding equipment was introduced in 1957. Flash butt welding is a method in which round bars, the raw material for chains, are bent while heated. Both ends join when an electric current is applied and are welded together by the heat generated by sparks. Hideo Hamanaka, President of Hamanaka Chain Mfg. Co., Ltd., which first introduced flash butt welding equipment in Japan, says, "Production volume has expanded rapidly and we can now also manufacture high tensile steel chains. Only a few companies worldwide have the technology to do this." Kinugawa Chain Mfg. Co., Ltd. manufactures anti-theft chain locks "Catena" for premium motorcycles. President Ryosuke Kinugawa stresses, "Few companies in Japan possess the technology to flash butt weld a special kind of stainless steel." Metal-working technology inherited from the days of old is continuously being passed down to the present.


 

Specialty steel round bars are cut according to the size of manufactured chains and welded after bending.


For the largest chains, round bars with a diameter of 15 cm and ellipses with major axes of up to 90 cm, are used. One ring weighs around 250 kg. Some chains reach 1.6 km in length.


Manufactured chain sizes range from large to small. Shaping them after welding is an important step.


Anti-theft motorcycle chains "Catena" made by flash butt welding a special kind of stainless steel.

Himeji Castle, one of Japan's "three famous castles."


According to The Himeji Chamber of Commerce and Industry, there are approximately 30 companies with approximately 1.5-2.0 billion in annual sales volume in Himeji's chain industry, which has its origins in the Matsubara nails used at Himeji Castle. Terumasa Ikeda substantially expanded Himeji Castle, also known as Shirasagi Castle (or "White Heron Castle") due to its elegant exterior, during the Edo period (1603 - 1867). It was designated a world cultural heritage site in 1993.

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