A Day at the Industrial Innovation City of Japan-Kitakyushu

Yawata_Works_Factory
Yokoshiro_Citizen_Center
Yokoshiro Citizen Center

If you really want to see how a country can start from NOTHING and go on to become a leader in a certain industry – in this case, the steel industry, please pay a visit to Japan, esp. Kitakyushu city, a city that hosts Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation Yawata Works. Japan was 100 years behind the European countries in industrialization, but within 15 years, the country was on bar with the West. What makes this success an astonishing feat is that Japan didn’t have the resources required to feed the steel industry. For Japan, the know-how, not natural resources, was/is a secret to compete.

We’re not allowed to take photos or record videos inside the plant, but this is the closest demonstration I could find on YouTube:


I was fortunate enough to be one of a few students who took part in a one-day tour organized by Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. What I have seen in the Kitakyushu city is marveling – something you cannot explain to anyone. You need to be here to feel the magnitude of work going on in the city, esp. the Yawata Works.  Now, I fully understand what industrialization really means.

Matching the West Within 15 Years

Before the opening of Japan to the world, the country was using the Tatara system for smelting iron and steel. In 1896, the Japanese government decided to introduce Western-style reverberatory furnaces; and the following year, work started on the ground.

Higashida_First_Blast_Furnace
Higashida First Blast Furnace

The Japanese government sent abroad a team of experts to study the available technology in the market at the time. The team found that German technology was suitable for the Japanese needs at the time. Then, the government decided to transfer the German technology. In 1901, with the design and tooling expertise of Gute Hoffnungshutte,, a German engineering company, the Higashida First Blast Furnace (shown in the photo above) started operation at Yahata. Within 10 years, the factory was responsible for producing 80-90% of Japan’s steel output; 80% of Japan’s pig iron production was also from the company.

Japan was finally an industrial nation thanks to Yahata Works. This factory was very important for Japan that it was identified as a target for the second atomic bomb during the WWII; due to cloud cover, the bomb was redirected to Nagasaki.

First_Head_Office_Imperial_Steel_Works
Behind Me, The First Head Office of the Imperial Steel Works, Japan.

What Can We Learn From Japan?

Success is not a secret; it requires a hard work, discipline, and prioritizing general interests over individual ones (and, maybe, a certain degree of luck). Developing countries, esp. African countries, need visionary leaders who can see the bigger picture and not being derailed into non-significant issues. Personal greed will never be satisfied; to be better off, the system in place should nurture social interests. As I’ve seen here in Japan, life is about caring others, not individuals.

The logic is simple (though difficult for our leaders): work for your country, not for your personal interests; get paid, don’t become a corrupt citizen; think in terms of your country’s position relative to the rest of the world.

This post is part of series posts related to my experiences as an ABE Initiative Scholar in Japan. If you want to read related posts, please CLICK HERE.

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