By Kotaro Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMachine tools are often called “machines to make machines” and “mother machines,” as they’re used to make parts for the many products in our daily lives, including automobiles, clocks and AI-equipped robots. The tools operate unseen in the background to support industrial development worldwide.
More than 400 items, mainly domestic and foreign machine tools that have been used in recent history, are exhibited in the about 3,000-square-meter main building of the Museum of Industrial Technology of the Nippon Institute of Technology in Miyashiro, Saitama Prefecture. About 70 percent of the machine tools are still operable.
Entering the museum, visitors will find a re-creation of a small factory with a residential building. The equipment inside the re-created factory, including a lathe, was actually used at a factory in the Mita district of Minato Ward, Tokyo, until the middle of Showa era (1926-1989). When the factory closed down, its manager donated the facilities, according to the museum.
Power was transmitted from a motor to the equipment via a belt, and the shiny black cast-iron machine began working noisily, conveying to modern visitors a scene from the Showa era, when there were many small factories.
The museum was one of the sets for NHK’s TV drama series “Umechan Sensei,” broadcast in 2012.
Machine tools shape and cut metals and other materials to manufacture parts. Japan moved toward modernization from the last days of the Edo period (1603-1867) to the early Meiji era (1868-1912).
Most of the machine tools introduced in Japan during that period were imports from the United States and European countries. The museum exhibits imported machine tools and copies that were crafted by Japanese manufacturers, showing the efforts of the engineers who supported the groundbreaking years of Japan’s modern industries.
The museum also includes a large gas turbine produced in Japan using machine tools, a mercury rectifier and automobiles, as well as the British-made Class 2100 steam locomotive No. 2109, which is a particularly popular exhibit.
The steam locomotive is displayed in an annex that was long used by the former Japan National Railways. Today, the steam locomotive is operated on a 120-meter railroad starting from the annex at random times, which also draws visitors.
Museum head Kenichi Matsuno, 79, said: “I hope many people will learn about the history and roles of machine tools that have been developed along with advanced technologies. It would be great if children who visit the museum want to be involved in manufacturing in the future.”
■ Museum of Industrial Technology of Nippon Institute of Technology
The museum opened on the campus temporarily in 1987 as part of a Nippon Institute of Technology project to commemorate the 80th anniversary of its predecessor. In the following year, the museum was officially opened to the public. Major exhibits were donated by entities such as machine tool makers and owners of small factories. It is about 15 minutes on foot from Tobu Dobutsu Koen Station.
Address: 4-1 Gakuendai, Miyashiro, Saitama Prefecture
Open: From 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Closed on Sundays, national holidays, the period from mid-August to late August, the year-end and New Year holidays and the university’s entrance exam days.)