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Globe Digester [Katsushika City]
   
From Value One, Autumn 2018, No. 62  


The Papermaking Industry’s Industrial Heritage

A large reddish-brown iron ball sits quietly in a corner of a grassy park as if it has been there forever. The massive object is four meters tall and sticks out against its verdant background.

This mysterious object—which looks as if it has come straight out of a Hayao Miyazaki movie—is called a “globe digester.” The person who named it is unknown, but it’s certainly big and round. “Digester” refers to the type of work the iron ball performed for many years.

Katsushika Niijuku Future Park is close to JR Kanamachi Station in Katsushika City, Tokyo. The vast grounds include the neighboring Katsushika campus of the Tokyo University of Science, and up until 2003 the Nakagawa plant of Mitsubishi Paper Mills Ltd. operated here. A hundred tonnes of water was required to make every tonne of paper at a paper plant, so the plant was built in a location near a source of water. In fact, since before World War II there were many paper mills along the Naka and Edo rivers, which both flow through Katsushika City. The Nakagawa plant began operations in 1917, and during the war the Ministry of Finance tasked it with manufacturing banknotes. After the war, it supplied printing paper to the thriving publishing industry near the city center.

The globe digester was a machine that steamed waste paper the plant produced at high temperatures for reuse. It broke down the fibers while turning for hours on end. That is why it was round in shape. According to records, the Nakagawa plant’s globe digester was built around 1945. It consists of 32 steel plates that are 16 millimeters thick, held together by rivets without the use of welding. It was used for nearly six decades until the Nakagawa plant was closed, and donated to Katsushika City as a piece of industrial heritage of the papermaking industry.

Not many paper mills still use globe digesters, but Tsunekatsu Takeuchi, general manager of the Nonwoven Fabric Department at Mitsubishi Paper Mills Ltd., saw the globe digester in action at the Nakagawa plant. “The globe digester was a symbol of the Nakagawa plant, and it serves as a reminder that, yes, the plant was really here. It’s both nostalgic and sad,” he says.

Filled with the memories of people from the papermaking industry’s past, this decommissioned globe digester will remain forever in this verdant park where children and students come to relax.


Naka River near the park


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