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From Value One, Summer 2009, No. 25  


The city of Kuwana is situated in the northern part of Mie Prefecture and is well-known for its traditional cuisine: broiled clams. However, since the Edo period (1603–1867), the city has prospered as a center of the casting industry. Kuwana has gained a large reputation for its castings, which is reflected in the well-known saying, "Kawaguchi in the east and Kuwana in the west." [Kawaguchi, located in Saitama Prefecture, is another large casting city in Japan.] The origin of casting in Kuwana is believed to date back to around 1600, when Honda Tadakatsu, lord of the Kuwana clan and a close aide of Tokugawa Ieyasu, ordered the manufacture of rifles.

In the Meiji period (1868–1912), Kuwana's local casting industry was given a boost. Raw materials for casting, such as pig iron and coke, began to be imported, and along with the rapidly spreading use of manufactured products, the city's casting output skyrocketed. Even today, a wide variety of cast products is manufactured here, including household utensils for everyday use, such as pans and gas appliances; materials for civil engineering and construction projects; and industrial machinery parts. Iron manhole covers in particular are largely manufactured here. In fact, Kuwana is one of the biggest production centers of iron manhole covers in Japan.

Chubu Corporation is a major castings manufacturer representative of Kuwana. The company produces a broad range of cast products, from construction materials, such as manhole covers and road grates, to tableware, including steak platters. "Castings absorb vibrations, so they are best suited for use in manhole covers," says Mr. Masayuki Hattori, manager of Chubu Corporation's Kuwana plant. The company developed the High Grip Manhole Cover, which is less slippery, even on rainy days, thanks to small pyramid-shaped projections attached to its surface. The product is constantly being improved to meet the ever-changing needs of the market.

Having no major role in the production of auto parts, Kuwana's casting industry is not among Japan's top 10 in terms of output. On the other hand, more than half of the city's output is manhole covers, which it supplies to municipalities all over Japan, both urban and rural. Mr. Yasutoshi Fukatsu, director of the Mie Cast Metal Industrial Cooperative, says, "Many casting manufacturers in Kuwana are eager to try new things. One manufacturer is making fishing weights from cast metals instead of the usual lead. Another has developed gas equipment made of rustproof cast iron." Traditional skills are steadily passed down to the next generation and constantly improved.

High Grip Manhole Covers have a specific pattern that makes them less slippery, even on rainy days.


A sand mold for casting manhole covers
Molten cast iron is poured into the round hole.


A cupola furnace, in which pig iron or scrap iron is molten into the consistency of hot water


A manhole cover in Kuwana bearing the city's unique design—origami cranes—which has been a traditional pattern since the Edo period.


Manholes allow access to underground sewers, communication lines, electric power cables, and gas lines. The covers for these manholes vary in shape and size according to use. The first manhole covers in Japan appeared in the early Meiji period and were made of wood. After World War II, many municipalities in Japan began to use manhole covers adorned with the locality's unique design. During Japan's economic bubble period, colorful manhole covers with fancy plant or animal patterns emerged. The current trend, however, places greater emphasis on functional advantages.
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