A spirit passed down in an unbroken line: Untiring devotion to creating something from nothing.
Placing great value on the way of thinking embodied in the “cooperative-business-enterprise form of management,” Okamura founder Kenjiro Yoshiwara further developed the concept, in the process formulating a number of policies. These included: “Pass on to the next generation a ‘baton’ of which you would not be embarrassed as an engineer,” “Endeavor to bring stability to each person’s life through work,” and “Fairly distribute profit, harmonizing capital with the skills and working power of people.” The values expressed in these polices have taken root, being inherited by Okamura’s company creed, which comprises “creativity,” “cooperation,” “frugality,” “saving,” and “service.” The ideas contained here should also be an important part of the way of life of each individual employee, and in the years ahead they will continue to be at the core of our DNA as an unwavering ideal.
Assigned to aircraft design during World War II, founder Kenjiro Yoshiwara was an engineer at heart. Perhaps for this reason, the “spirit of monozukuri (product making)” is deeply engrained everywhere at Okamura. This is reflected not just in the height of our product technical expertise but also in the breadth of our business domain and in our efforts, from a very early stage, to strengthen our monozukuri foundation with initiatives such as the introduction of paperless and online operations. The history of Okamura can be said to be a history of taking on the challenge of “originality,” but hidden in that history are numerous instances of trial and error not apparent in any numerical table. This kind of spirit serves as the foundation for the Okamura brand motto: “Quality pays for itself.”
The war had just ended when in 1945 a company by the name of Okamura Seisakusho was established in the town of Okamura in Isogo Ward in the city of Yokohama. The central member of this group was Kenjiro Yoshiwara, who had worked as an engineer at Japan Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Ltd. Even before the company was founded, Yoshiwara and his colleagues and subordinates has gathered at a Japan Aircraft Manufacturing factory where they obtained equipment, machines, and materials that they used to independently begin working on the production of duralumin utensils and other items used in everyday life. This was a time when everything was in short supply, but there already existed at that place a culture in which people with skills in a variety of fields could work together to get things done. Including Yoshiwara, there were a total of 12 people involved at the point where operations moved out from under the organizational umbrella of Japan Aircraft Manufacturing. The “cooperative business enterprise” ideology existed from the very start.
Electric pots, frying pans, steamers, lunch boxes, ladles, pencil cases, seal inkpad holders, ash rakes, shoehorns, cigarette cases, etc.: For Japanese citizens starting to recover from the scorched earth of war damage, everyday-use items like these were indispensable. They were the main products of the company in its early period. The main material used was duralumin. Having engineers with press, sheet metal, and plating expertise, Okamura was quite at home manufacturing such everyday-use items. At the time, many steel makers also started producing similar products, but for Okamura, the experience served as a foundation for later entry into the steel furniture field.
In 1947, Okamura became an approved vendor of the U.S. occupation forces and orders were received for trunks, blinds, automobile number plates, radiator covers, etc. Then an order for club furniture was obtained, and the manufacturing of steel furniture began. Receiving high marks for its autonomous product-improvement efforts, Okamura later received an increasing volume of orders for furniture for U.S. armed forces officers clubs and base housing, and in 1957 it announced a new steel office desk series called “Office Master.” Steel furniture is easy to operate, sturdy, and moisture and fire resistant. Wood products had been the mainstream of the furniture market so steel offered customers new options to choose from. Okamura subsequently expanded its business to include products such as shelving for both homes and stores.
Sovereignty was restored to Japan when the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect in 1952, and at the time there was growing interest in producing aircraft through industry-university collaboration. Okamura’s founding members were primarily people who had worked in aircraft manufacturing so, naturally, the field in which they could best put their abilities to work was aircraft design and production. With this in mind, Okamura promoted a project with Nihon University, Professor Hidemasa Kimura, and others, and the following year (1953) the project completed the N-52, the first propeller aircraft approved by the Minister of International Trade and Industry in the postwar period. The fact that Okumura was able to successfully manufacture an aircraft ahead of the large manufacturing companies amply demonstrates its strong engineering expertise.
Okamura succeeded in the first domestic development of a torque converter in 1950, and because of the enthusiasm that existed for creating “products that move,” an in-house automobile development team was formed. In 1955, the “Mikasa” front-wheel-drive automatic was completed. Next, in 1957 a four-seater light van and a two-seater panel van were introduced. The following year a sports car model was introduced. Okamura was later forced to withdraw from automobile manufacturing but for a time its cars were objects of market adoration as models at the forefront of the era. Okamura continues to produce torque converters for use in construction equipment, etc. Japan’s first torque converter technology was born from the monozukuri curiosity of Okamura.
In 1970, Okamura opened a Tokyo showroom in the Nagata-cho district of Chiyoda-ku. This was a period in which the office furniture industry was going through major changes. The goal for the showroom was to create a space that would condense a specific urban environment and not just show the company’s products but also communicate the company’s approach. In 1974, the entire second floor of the Hotel New Otani tower was leased as a showroom, and subsequently showrooms were opened in major cities across the country. Boasting a widely varied furniture line that already included office, household, and imported furniture, Okamura followed its “Seeing is believing” doctrine by creating more opportunities to communicate the functional and design excellence of its products via a strategy of increasing points of contact with customers. Okamura has showrooms at six locations in Japan as well as showrooms overseas. In addition, there is also the Okamura Chair Museum , which presents office seating history and technology from a variety of perspectives.