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From Value One, Winter 2013-2014, No. 43  

Needles for use in handicrafts are available in hundreds of different types

Hiroshima produces more than 90 percent of Japan's millinery needles, which include sewing needles, marking pins and lacing needles. Hiroshima's history as a needle-making center dates back about three centuries, when the Hiroshima fief promoted needle-making techniques brought in from Nagasaki as useful for side jobs for low-ranked samurai. Kyoto and Osaka were Japan's best-known needle-making centers during the Edo period (1603–1867). Hiroshima came to prominence in the Taisho period (1912–26) after World War I broke out and production in major needle-making countries in Europe such as Germany and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland plummeted. Massive orders poured into Japan from overseas. Needlemakers in Hiroshima, who had been quick to mechanize their operations, responded immediately and expanded their output so dramatically that they made the city the top needle-making center in the Orient.

Tulip Co., Ltd. is the biggest manufacturer of needles in Hiroshima. Although Tulip was a late starter in the industry, the firm has steadily expanded its market share by launching its own brand, using an export-oriented strategy and exploiting its advanced needle-making technology. President Kotaro Harada emphasizes the uniqueness of the company's technology, saying: “Although the number of needle-makers in Hiroshima has dropped to ten under the pressure of keen competition from foreign manufacturers, especially from China, handicraft lovers not only in Japan but also worldwide greatly appreciate the high quality of our products.”

Hiroshima needles are characterized by their unparalleled ease of handling. Their tips readily penetrate cloth and their stems are hard to break or bend. The process of turning a steel wire into a needle consists of some thirty steps. The wire is cut, the tip is sharpened, the eye is bored, and the needle is heat-treated, followed by overall polishing. Delicate temperature control during the heat treatment phase is crucial to making the elastic stem resistant to breakage, which determines the safety of the needle. Furthermore, to polish the needles to give them extra smoothness, even to the eyes, about a hundred thousand of them are placed in a box that contains a grinding agent and lubricating oil. The box is shaken continuously night and day for around a hundred hours. During this step, the needles rub one another and turn into beautiful products, polished even inside the eye.

The skills and wishes embodied in each needle cross the oceans to reach and touch their users' hearts.
The needle tip being polished with a grinding stone


The heat treatment step is vital to successful making needles


Needles are polished in a box continuously for some one hundred hours


Sewing needles melted by intense heat, exhibited in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (photo courtesy of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)


The atomic bomb dropped in 1945 virtually destroyed the needle industry in Hiroshima. Before the bombing, Hiroshima was already one of the biggest needle-making centers in Japan, but the industry's previous assets, including equipment and craftsmen, were burnt in an instant. In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, bundled sewing needles melted by heat waves are still exhibited. Needle-makers in Hiroshima achieved an amazing resurrection from the ruins and have rebuilt their town as one of the most significant needle-producing centers in the world.
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