Heritage Stories - Parts 1-4

May 25, 2020
Where Our Story Began (Part 1) 
A place of innovation and corporate spinoffs, and a land in which the culture, techniques and technologies of manufacturing and craftsmanship are deeply rooted

An aerial view of Yamaha Motor headquarters 

The birthplace of the Yamaha brand is an area located in the western part of Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan. This region wrote its own pages of history as a gathering place for various different industries and developed its own unique culture of craftsmanship over time. 

The area has been known for the cultivation of cotton since ancient times. As the textile industry began to prosper from using the area’s specialty cotton, this eventually led to the creation of automatic looms in the surrounding areas. Further, the machining technology amassed through the development and production of these looms later found its way into auto manufacturing. 

Up in the mountainous regions of northern Shizuoka stood beautiful forests full of Japanese cedar trees. A lumber industry sprang up there and with it came the growth of woodworking technology and skills. The advancements to woodworking equipment for this in turn helped spur the rapid rise of Japan’s musical instrument industry. In a similar pattern, the process of manufacturing musical instruments led to new metalworking techniques and technologies. 

Blessed with a mild climate, the locals cultivated their own specialty crop and used it to manufacture consumer products. Even the tools and technology needed for that manufacturing were created locally, and then those were eventually repurposed and gave birth to new industries. This repeated process of innovation and spinoffs led to the unique culture of craftsmanship that took root here, and the driving force behind it was the time-honored Yaramaika spirit. Yaramaika means “Let’s give it a shot!” in the local dialect and is a major part of what led the region to become what it is today. 

The Founder – Genichi Kawakami (Part 2) 
A unique view of the world, foresight and initiative, and above all, strong leadership

Yamaha Motor founder, Genichi Kawakami 

Genichi Kawakami, the fourth president of Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd. (today’s Yamaha Corporation), once said, “I have a clear responsibility as the head of the company’s management to seek out and research the company’s next business ventures and then sow the seeds for them. ” 

Based on that belief and with the company’s musical instrument business flourishing, he decided to enter the motorcycle industry. 

“To work carefully is to work quickly” was among his many maxims and he took charge on the factory floor himself as the engineering team put together a prototype machine in a mere 10 months.  

On July 1, 1955, the Nippon Gakki’s motorcycle division was spun off and founded as Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd., an independent company with Genichi Kawakami serving as its first president. 

Yamaha Enters the Motorcycle Industry (Part 3) 
A new venture to supplement musical instruments and the message of Ju An Si Wei

A monument at the Communication Plaza explaining the message of Ju An Si Wei

Genichi Kawakami, who also served as the president of Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd., took to heart the Chinese idiom of Ju An Si Wei, meaning to think of danger in times of safety or to be vigilant in peacetime.  

This made him consider it important to make preparations for the future even when business is otherwise stable, and was a factor in Kawakami’s concerns about the natural resource needed to produce numerous musical instruments—wood.  

When considering beginning a new enterprise, what led him to choose the motorcycle industry from among several other options was his judgement that even as a latecomer to the industry, if the company could build a product that was truly world-class, they would still be able to be competitive in the market. 

Gathering the company’s management together, he directed them to begin work on a prototype motorcycle engine and that full-on production was to begin in a year’s time. 

Our First Product: The YA-1 (Part 4) 
“If you’re going to do it, try to be the best.” The arrival of a beautiful and sporty motorcycle that defied convention

Yamaha Motor’s first product, the YA-1  

Back when the prevailing wisdom was that home electronics should be white and motorcycles should be black, Yamaha’s first motorcycle—the 125cc YA-1—went to market with its slim chassis sporting a vibrant maroon color.  

Its exterior and agile ride earned it the nickname Akatombo (Red Dragonfly) and it was beloved by many.  

It was developed taking the German DKW RT125 as an example, but the engineers embarked on additional challenges, incorporating their own designs for the transmission, shift pedals and more.  

At a time when the starting monthly salary for a college graduate was about 10,000 yen, the YA-1 was priced at 138,000 yen, which was considerably more than competing models. 

Still, the market saw the value behind the price and some 11,000 YA-1s were sold in its first three years of production.