Thousands of Miles from Home


Mitsui Zosen Extravaganza

If anyone in Japan knows how to have a good time, it's Tamano's Mitsui Zosen shipbuilding company. Back when I met the mayor of Tamano (not to be confused with this other famous mayor), I mentioned wanting a tour of the massive, and frankly ominous shipyard located essentially in the Watanabe's back yard.

I suppose asking the mayor for a favor really gets you the whole nine yards, because he talked to some Rotary members and arranged a private tour of the grounds. I was not allowed many pictures on the premises, so I will do my best to explain the somewhat secret and decidedly awesome going-ons at the Mitsui company.

First a little background, discerned from a powerpoint presentation given with tea before the tour. Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Company was founded in 1917 (Taisho 8 on the japanese calendar), supplying Japan with both ships and diesel motors. Among other projects, the company has placed pillars for the Seto-Ohashi bridge and holds world records for deep-sea ocean drilling. Today's projects include rescue ships, tankers, automonous drilling vessles, hovercraft, and my favorite, "high speed chase boats" (my translator mentioned something about North Korea). After the diesel bust in the 80's (before which the Tamano Mitsui Company employed over 10,000 workers), the company also focuses on constructing solar panels, LCD monitors, and X-ray machines that check for stress and cracks in tunnels. But they are still best known for their work on engines and tankers, including "Ogasawara," the world's largest aluminum ship.

After the powerpoint, I donned a hard hat and steel tipped boots for the real tour of the factory. Accompaning me was an offical from Mitsui, my Rotary host counselor, and Mitsui's on-site english teacher as a translator. We took a car around the massive complex (988,000 square meters) where I saw various processing plants, huge cranes, and partially constructed ships. In one "off-limits" area, we could barely see three enormous military hovercrafts waiting deployment. After the drive we set off on foot to tour an engine factory. Mitsui does not only make ship engines, but is also well known for power-plant diesel engines. The size of the factory was staggering, with engines that looked much like that of a car, except you could easily fit incide one of the pistons.

We toured other facilities which I have a hard time recalling because of the restricted picture taking. After the tour, which lasted about an hour and a half, I came back to the powerpoint room for tea and cookies, and could ask any questions I wanted about the factory. Mostly I spoke with my translator, about whether he enjoyed his job and how he came to work in Tamano. It turns out that he is married, expecting a second child soon, and his brother (who got him the job) also works as an English teacher at Mitsui.

There is also another branch of Mitsui near Chiba, which manufactures many of the same ships as Tamano but in larger quantities. I belive the Tamano branch builds 40 ships a year, and also has a hand in research, development, and plant engineering around the world. Next month, my host father, who works for the Mitsui Chemical branch, is traveling to Iran to plan and coordinate the building of a chemical refinery plant near the Iran/Iraq border. I asked if I could go too and he said I would need to buy a gun first.

So I left the Mitsui Shipyard feeling enlightened as to the large clanging noises I would hear from the Watanabe's house throughout the day. I have never been a ship buff, but something about seeing a massive tanker in construction would give anyone a sense of wonder and awe.


  • Ben-san

    party on

    By Bernard, at 2:21 AM  

  • ships use a lot of champagne. though unfortunately for them, someone always breaks the bottle on their face, and it runs down the chin.

    By Kostya the Bear, at 5:32 AM  

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