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Tokyo: Visit a crucible of Japan’s heavy industry

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

Panels looking back at the history of the shipyard are exhibited along with models of an electric locomotive and other things.

By Kotaro Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer The Tsukuda district of Chuo Ward, Tokyo, began developing as a major center of heavy industry after a shipyard was built on Ishikawajima island during the Edo period (1603-1867).

The Ishikawajima Museum, opened on the site of the former shipyard near the mouth of the Sumidagawa river, teaches visitors about the history of Japan’s heavy industry through the exhibition of models and photos of ships made there.

It was in 1853, at the end of the Edo period, when Tokugawa Nariaki of the Mito domain built the Ishikawajima Shipyard here. It became the parent organization of IHI Corp., the major heavy industry operator that runs the museum.

After the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the shipyard was sold to the private sector. A steamship called the Tsuun Maru that was built there was used as a means of transportation on the Sumidagawa and Arakawa rivers. The business also expanded beyond shipbuilding, undertaking the construction of the arch of the Kachidokibashi bridge during the Showa era (1926-1989). The shipyard was called the “Tsukuda factory” after the name of the area.

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  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A diorama re-creates how the Ishikawajima Shipyard looked during construction of the Tsuun Maru, the first steamship ever built in a private shipyard.

  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Museum panels describe the lives of people who worked at the shipyard during the period of high economic growth.

  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Drawings and models of the ships built at the shipyard are seen.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

During the postwar high economic growth period, its business became centered mainly on manufacturing industrial machinery and constructing bridges.

In addition to panels that describe how people lived at the time, the museum has a diorama that re-creates the area around the factory and shows the vibrancy of the traditional commercial and residential area in the booming economy. It was so crowded that people on their way to work sometimes fell off the ferry.

However, due to the worsening business caused by the first oil crisis among other things, the Tsukuda factory was forced to reorganize, and it closed in 1979.

“The factory had progressed with the development of Japan and continued to produce the latest technology of the time,” said Yuko Takeuchi, 46, of IHI’s public relations and investor relations department.

The former factory site was redeveloped as a waterfront residential area, and now high-rise condominiums stand side by side.

The museum, which is open only two days a week, receives about 3,000 visitors a year. Although many of the visitors are local residents, the museum also attracts students who study shipbuilding, according to the museum.

“Because it is a newly developed town, many residents may be interested in local history. I want people to know the history of Ishikawajima that is difficult to imagine now,” Takeuchi said.

The Ishikawajima Museum opened on the former site of the Tsukuda factory in 1998. Models of ships that were built at the shipyard and panels that convey the life of the workers during the high economic growth period are exhibited.

Address: Pier West Square 1st floor, 1-11-8, Tsukuda, Chuo Ward, Tokyo

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