JAPANESE  ENGLISH

PEOPLE

2022.02.17
Vol. 43

An Imperial Company named the Yawata Steel Works became a World Heritage Site from a Single Old Photo!

Mr. Masayoshi Minakuchi

The Former Employee of Nippon Steel Corporation

Mr. Masayoshi Minakuchi
PROFILE

April 1974: Graduated from the Department of Industrial Chemistry, Faculty of Engineering, Yamaguchi University. Later on, joined the old Nippon Steel Corporation (currently known as Nippon Steel Corporation), where he was assigned to the Thermal Engineering Section of the Equipment Department in Yawata Steel Works.

July 1983: Assigned as the Section Manager of the Thermal Engineering Section

July 1990: Assigned as the Deputy General Manager of the Process Engineering Office of the Equipment Department

April 1996: Assigned as the Deputy General Manager of the Development Planning Office of the General Affairs Department

August 2005: Assigned as an assistant to the section manager of the Development Planning Office of the General Affairs Department

August 2010: Retired from Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Co., Ltd.

March 2015: Joined Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Business Service Yawata Works Corporation (currently known as Nippon Steel Business Service Kyushu Works Co., Ltd.) after working as a temporary employee of the company

July 2020: Also retired from the aforementioned company

 One old photo became the "trump card" for this site to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site. The photo was of the Onga River Pumping Station at the steel mill (commonly known as a government-owned company named Imperial Steel Works), taken in 1910. The person who found it was named Mr. Masayoshi Minakuchi, who was in charge of old historical documents at the Development Planning Office of the General Affairs Department in Yawata Steel Works of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Co., Ltd. (then known as the Yahata District of the Kyushu Steel Works of Nippon Steel Corporation). Koko Kato, who is Director of the Industrial Heritage Information Center and Executive Director of the National Congress of Industrial Heritage (NCIH), recalls, "If it were not for the quick thinking of Mr. Minakuchi, the steel mill might not have been added to the list of component parts. At the Industrial Heritage Information Center in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Mr. Minakuchi and Ms. Kato, the director of the center, met again after a long absence and discussed episodes from those days and issues that the "Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution" might come to face in the future.

How to Make a “Steel Mill without a Blast Furnace” a World Heritage Site?

Kato  When I look back on the efforts to inscribe the "Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution" as a World Heritage Site, I think that without Mr. Minakuchi, the steel mill would not have been included in the list of component parts. Initially, we were thinking that we could inscribe the site of Higashida No. 1 Blast Furnace and the former main office as part of the historical heritage of Yawata. Nonetheless, it does not seem to be going so well, as we hoped...

Minakuchi  In the beginning, we had four candidates for the component parts: the site of Higashida No. 1 Blast Furnace (the Higashida No. 1 Commemorative Blast Furnace), the former main office, the former forge, and the Nishida Quay. However, overseas experts told me that it would be "difficult to inscribe" the site of No. 1 Blast Furnace due to the fact that there were almost no items left from its founding period, and hence, it was "not very authentic." We thought to ourselves, "If we do not include the blast furnace, the other heritage sites alone will be too weak." Everyone involved was in a state of confusion, wondering what to do.

Kato It was, in fact, Mr. Minakuchi himself who saved the day.

Minakuchi Sometime after the site of Higashida No. 1 Blast Furnace was abandoned, Ms. Kato contacted me and said, "I am going to Chikuho with some overseas professors on a tour for inspection, but we have some time to spare and would like to stop by." Therefore, I asked if she would like to take a look at the Onga River Pumping Station on the way to Chikuho, and so I guided her there.

 To tell you the truth, I myself did not know much about the Onga River Pumping Station. Shortly before that, I heard from someone that there was an old pumping station made of bricks along the Onga River, and on Sunday, my wife and I drove there to look for it. It took us until late in the evening to finally find it, and we waded through the thick grass and took many photos from outside the fence. I actually do not remember any of this, and this is, in fact, just a memory my wife told me (laughs).

 So, I thought to myself "why not then," and suggested to Ms. Kato that she visit the site. When I did, Dr. Steuart Smith and other overseas experts praised our work, and we were able to revive our business.

Kato To reiterate what was going on at that time, the original concept of the "Group of Industrial Heritage Sites in Kyushu and Yamaguchi Region" was to include these four sites as candidates for the component parts. In particular, the site of Higashida No. 1 Blast Furnace was donated to the City of Kitakyushu by Yawata Steel Works, thanks to the enthusiastic campaign for its preservation by the local citizens of Kitakyushu City, and furthermore, the surrounding area has been developed into a park as a symbol of the birthplace of the first steel and iron-producing continuous plant in Japan. Hence, we really wanted to include it in the list of component parts, but according to the standard set by UNESCO, monuments that have been modified later cannot be registered due to the fact that they cannot be "proven to be true."

 So, what do we do? The old main office has been preserved as it was in the past, but this alone does not make it a heritage site of the steelworks, does it? If we do not do something about it, the whole of Yawata will end up being excluded from the list of candidates. If that happens, we would not be able to tell the "story of iron" to the people. When I was in a desperate situation, Mr. Minakuchi produced an old photo of the pumping station at the source of the Onga River. Hence, I hurriedly went to the site to inspect it and decided that this could actually work. This was around 2012. Therefore, you are the person behind the scenes who helped make this World Heritage Site come to a reality. 

Minakuchi  That was just a coincidence, but I think the most important factor in getting the "Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution" inscribed on the list was the combined wisdom of three parties: the local government and private companies that own the component parts, the cabinet, and the experts from Japan and abroad—who worked together to create new rules for preserving industrial heritage in operation.

Kato That is right. If we can achieve regulatory reform, we can protect the values of World Heritage Sites under laws other than the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties, such as the Landscape Act and the Port and Harbor Act. Thanks to the efforts of many people involved, we were able to open up such a new path. In particular, the unprecedented challenge of adding an active heritage site owned by a private company would not have been possible without the understanding and power of Nippon Steel Corporation.

Minakuchi  If the Operational Heritage were subject to the conventional restrictions of the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties, I do not think Nippon Steel Corporation would have been able to give the go sign. Internally speaking, the biggest challenge was how to explain the project to the top corporate executives and how to gain their understanding in the end. In this respect, I think my boss at the time, Mr. Kenji Amioka (the General Manager of General Affairs Department's Development Planning Office in Yawata Steel Works of Nippon Steel Corporation at the time), played a major role. Mr. Amioka, with his understanding of World Heritage Sites and his leadership, lobbied enthusiastically both inside and outside the company, which led to the wise decision to inscribe the facility--which is still in operation today--a World Heritage Site. I was just doing my job as a mere businessman under Mr. Amioka.

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