A Local Factory's Hidden Potential for Bringing Back Japanese-Made Bows
The Road from Hobby to "Made in Japan" Revival
The archery competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was held at the Yumenoshima Park Archery Field. With bronze medal wins by the men's team and Furukawa Takaharu in the individual event, it was a breakthrough moment for the Japanese athletes.
However, despite the fact that Japan was once the world leader in producing archery equipment, all domestic manufacturers have now pulled out of the industry. Even the equipment used during the Games was made abroad.
Nishikawa Yoshihisa, president of Nishikawa Seiki Seisakujo Co., Ltd. in Edogawa City, Tokyo, took on the challenge of reviving the production of this "Made in Japan" archery equipment that had been lost.
Interested in archery since his school days, Nishikawa was past 40 when he got his first chance to shoot an arrow. He quickly became absorbed in the equipment just as he did the allure of the competition. However, foreign-made gear is a bit too big for Japanese hands, and he heard complaints about this from his fellow archery students.
A few years later, at the encouragement of his friends, he decided to make his own handle (riser). While it did shoot arrows, the first prototype he made by imitation was no semblance of a proper bow.
"If You're Not Aiming for the Olympics, I Can't Help You"
As the prototype was far from being usable for competition, a fellow archer who could not just sit back and watch introduced Nishikawa to Hongo Sachio, once a leader in Japanese archery equipment production at a manufacturing company. When they met for the first time, Hongo said, "As long as I'm involved, I aim to reach a level where our bows can compete in the Olympics. If you don't have the spirit to raise up the level of Japanese competition together with me, I can't help you whatsoever."
That sentiment inspired Nishikawa even more, and it was then that things really began. The company was criticized over and over and went through repeated trial and error. Nishikawa Seiki Seisakujo took charge of cutting the aluminum handle, while a specialist factory assisted with plastic molding and painting for the grip.
Then, in February 2020, the Japanese-made handle was complete, combining Hongo's knowledge and philosophy with manufacturing techniques of the old town area. Six years had already passed since the first prototype was made, and unfortunately it was too late for this new handle to be used in the Tokyo 2020 Games.
"It was a shame. I thought, 'If we'd just finished a year sooner...' But this isn't the first Olympics and it won't be the last. As a self-respecting manufacturer of sporting equipment, we always want to be there for our athletes, so we needed time to release something we were satisfied with."
Nishikawa is already looking ahead. His company is currently set to provide its bows to promising young players and is aiming for the Paris 2024 Games.
Delivering "Made in Japan" Bows from Tokyo to the World
Nishikawa Seiki Seisakujo has also set out to make compound bows for people with an impairment to be used at the Paralympic archery competitions.
"I want to create a society in which everyone can enjoy archery, not because they do or do not have an impairment, but because they are able to use archery equipment that fits their body type and condition. It's really about diversity and inclusion."
Nishikawa says that while he only makes handles for now, eventually he would like to produce limbs (plate springs) as well, so that he can offer the best possible bows as a complete set.
"I don't just want to bring back the Japanese-made equipment that had been lost; I want to make even higher-performing bows with technology that meets the needs of the current age. I intend to kick start the world of Japanese archery equipment out of Tokyo."
Nishikawa's mission is far from over. His dream looms large, from the Paris Games to the future beyond.