Farewell, Japan!

Over the past three weeks, we have explored many areas of Japan. Wrapping up our travels through the country, we drove more than 800 miles south to reach Mt. Aso, the country’s third largest active volcano. From there, we looped around and headed 1,000 miles North. If you add up this daily driving, we have reached a total of about 3,250 miles through Japan.  Our car and it’s bearings endured these miles just as easily as the 10,000 miles before. While driving North, we passed through the Miyagi prefecture. Located North of Tokyo, Miyagi was in the international headlines when a giant tsunami hit and destroyed large parts of its coastline in 2011. Near the shore, about 80% of some town’s buildings were destroyed. The blue sign on the building below marks the height of the wave as it crashed onto the area.

Farewell, Japan!

An astounding amount of reconstruction has happened in the area in the last three years. All the rubble was removed, and many new houses and buildings have popped up, including many with added safety features, like the one below. The wave signs on the this building signals that it was built to withstand a possible tsunami; in case of emergency, area residents can climb up to the roof.

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Life has continued on for the people of Miyagi. There are still some physical reminders of the terrible tsunami, like massive areas of former urban landscape, left truly abandoned, and many of the city’s houses still stand, but are not fit to live in.

Some citizens never returned after the wave, same for many businesses. Many facilities that were destroyed are either out of business, or have relocated to different areas of Japan. Some residents not only lost their home, but their jobs as well. Some are still living in temporary housing, which are often too small to provide adequate privacy.

The Hatachi fund is just one of the several foundations that is helping residents, children in particular, with the aftermath of the tragedy. Hatachi means “20 years old” in Japanese, named such because the foundation follows children until their 20th birthday, when they are legally officially an adult. The foundation serves as an umbrella for various other charity organizations, each specialized in a certain aspect of aid, one of which being the “Chance for Children” foundation, which focuses on education.

igus Japan is supporting CFC, donating one Euro for each km driven, and the money will be used to help with educational things like study rooms. In these rooms, children are able to learn, play, and get help with their schoolwork. Also, CFC gives “education vouchers,” which children can use as a form of payment at a wide range of institutions, such as tutoring centers, sporting clubs, museums, and music schools accept the voucher from children, then exchange the vouchers with CFC for their actual payment.

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Now, our time in Japan has come to an end. I want to take the time to say “arigato” to my Japanese colleagues, who showed me great hospitality and support during my time here. What a great tour!

We are now on the way back to Tokyo; from there the car will depart to the other side of the globe. The next time I write will be from Brazil!

See you soon,

Sascha

Driving North

We are still driving North, soon to reach our Northernmost destination – Sendai. Sendai is the capital city of Japan’s Mijagi prefecture. The coastal cities in this region were the most affected by the powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit in 2011.

Driving North

On the way to Sendai, we passed through Fukushima, where the tsunami hit and damaged a nuclear power plant, resulting in the meltdown of three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors. The cleanup is still ongoing, and expected to last at least a few more years. As radiation is high in the area, robots are replacing humans wherever possible. One robot, that us used to remove rubble, is making use of our Triflex R cable carrier system. Triflex R protects the energy supply by guiding and protecting the cable package in multi-dimensional movement.

https://youtu.be/j4pQ7AZ-Rvw

As we traveled North, we stopped for a visit to Mt. Fuji, the national symbol of Japan. At 12,388 feet, it is also the highest mountain in the country. The height does not sound very impressive, but seeing the mountain, which stands alone, is incredible. The mountain was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013, and rather than being considered a “natural site,” it was named a cultural heritage site. Mt. Fuji has not only inspired artists and poets, but has also been a pilgrimage destination for centuries. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to take the car up to the top, I really would have liked to place our iglide on tour flag at the summit! 😉

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The tour in Japan is wrapping up, in the next week the car will leave the land of the rising sun to make its way to Brazil!

Until then,

Sascha

Down into the Japanese Islands

When traveling for thousands of miles like we are, it’s important to have a comfy seat! Worldwide, many manufacturers use iglide bearings to improve their seats’ performance and durability, including a customer we met with along our tour!

Down into the Japanese Islands

Many seat makers are utilizing iglide bearings for the seat height adjustment, reclining functions, crash-active headrests, and adjustment motors.  The bearings are perfect with their smooth motion. We retrofit our orange car with iglide, too. They help keep the seat adjustable without any added noise or mess.

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Depending on the weight of the passenger, the bearings must endure high static loads. With the ability to support 100N/mm2, iglide bearings could carry even the heaviest sumo wrestler across Japan. While they are very strong, the bearings are also very lightweight, weighing in at 7x less than conventional metal bearings.

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Japan is comprised of four large islands, including the mainland, where Tokyo and Hiroshima are located. From the mainland, we continued our tour onto the island of Kyushu, the third largest of the islands.

Kyushu is famous for its hot springs – everywhere you look you see pillars of steam coming from the ground. The number of springs is due to Japan’s unique geography. Japan is situated at the edge of 3 techtonic plates, the Pacific, Phillippine, and Eurasian plates. This not only makes Japan a great location for hot springs, but for volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis.  We took our car to visit Mt. Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan.

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The land surrounding the volcano is extremely fertile, so it becomes very green and lush. The volcano had its last eruption in 2011.

From Mt. Aso, we headed back North; driving about 500 miles straight towards the city of Nagoya. This racks in nearly 2000 miles in our Japanese tour alone!

I’ll let you know where we head from here,

Sascha

300 miles through Japan

Immediately after the press conference, we left Tokyo for Isesako, about an hour East of the capital city. There, we started our visits to our Japanese customers. At our first stop, the entire R&D department were there to welcome us as the iglide car entered the grounds. About 20 people gathered to get a closer look at the car, and learn about igus products.

300 miles through Japan

Currently, the customer is testing where our bearings would work best in his exhaust system. Millions of iglide bearings are installed into new cars every year, so I am sure he and igus engineers will work together to find the perfect solution. Even though they are plastic, the iglide bearings are not affected by high temperatures, and are an inexpensive and lightweight alternative to metal. Believe us? We filmed the following clip in Taiwan, proving the resilience of iglide bearings in high temperatures.

https://youtu.be/FsuDpgZZlvc

Though the trip from Tokyo to Isesaki should have taken about an hour, it took us more than double that! First, we had to pass the suburbs of Tokyo, some were as large as major European cities!

As you leave the city behind, everything slowly turns a bright green. Our route brought us right to the center of the island – in the summer, the mountains are transformed into a famous ski area. For now, though, we  are able to see the real Japanese countryside.

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As more and more people move to the metropolitan areas, the rural areas become more and more abandoned. While they are shrinking, the cities are booming. Most Japanese people that grow up in the country leave their villages behind for the city. With their villages, they are leaving behind traditional cultural practices, like food. I had the chance to taste a traditional fish dinner, which was incredibly delicious.

One evening, we visited a restaurant and bar where an old woman both cooked and served traditional “Grandma food.” We all know that grandmothers are the best cooks, and she was no exception!

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After visiting “the grandmother bar,” we continued our journey towards the sea. Along the way, we stopped to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic village of Gokayama. The village is preserved as a traditional village with wooden houses and straw roofs.

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From Gokayama, we continued on to Hakui, which is located on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Seeing as iglide bearings are water resistant, we took the opportunity to take the car along the shores of the sea.

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iglide bearings are all water resistant and corrosion free. We also offer special bearings that are exclusively manufactured for meeting the demand of under-water applications. iglide H, our underwater specialist, is the perfect choice for water, but also a variety of chemicals and other fluids.

Currently, I’m writing to you from Kyoto, where we are going to visit a very traditional and important Japanese site. I’ll tell you all about it soon.

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Until then,

Sascha

 

Japan Press Conference and igus Social Responsibility

This morning we officially kicked off the Japanese leg of “iglide on tour!” igus Japan hosted a press conference at the luxurious Palace Hotel Tokyo, and 32 journalists came to get an up close look at our car and hear about our plans for the tour.

Kunihiko Kitagawa,  or Kenny, which is easier for us non-Japanese speakers, is the Country Manager for igus Japan. Kenny gave the journalists an overview of igus history, our line of iglide materials and products, and the plans for the Japanese leg of the tour.

Japan Press Conference and igus Social Responsibility

A highlight of the conference was the speech from a representative of the German Embassy to Japan, Mr. Sickert. He and the embassy helped us with the complicated registration process of the car.

Sickert referred to igus as a highly innovative company that represents the German “Mittlestand” business model. The Mittlestand is comprised of mid-sized companies that are considered to be the economic backbone of the German economy. Mr. Sickert went on, saying that “With its highly specialized products, sales, and production on several continents, and obvious knack for marketing, igus is a prime example of a successful Mittlestand.”

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After Mr. Sickert’s speech, the press had their chance to ask questions, as well as walk around and take a look at a wide range of igus products on display with information about their uses and applications.

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Following the press conference, we left Tokyo for Iseasaki, where we will begin three weeks of driving and customer visits tomorrow. We are going to explore the entire island, planning on completing a full lap along the coast of the island, about 2,800 miles. For each mile, igus will donate one Euro to a Japanese charity that is helping children affected by the 2011 tsunami.

igus has been coupling with a new charity organization in each country along the tour. While in Taiwan, we partnered with two organizations that help developmentally disabled children and their families, especially regarding education.  One of the organizations, Maria Social Welfare Foundation, came to visit at our Taiwanese Press conference.

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In Korea and China, we donated aid in the form of rice, giving 1 kg (2.2 lbs) for every kilometer driven.  The donations from the Korean leg weighed in at almost 4,500 pounds – almost 4 times as heavy as the iglide car!

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Each local igus branch decides how to best give back to their communities. We like to think that igus stands for not only high quality, but social responsibility as well!

I’ll keep you up to date on our Japanese adventures!

-Sascha

Land of the rising sun

We are staying in Tokyo: The most populated metropolis on Earth. About 36 million people live and work here. Try to imagine half the entire British population crammed into a city about 4 times the size of London… that’s about the scale of Tokyo!

(Photo from Amazing Maps)

Although we were able to get the iglide car through customs quickly, getting the proper permits is a long process, so our official Japanese tour isn’t scheduled to begin until May 28. Before we’re allowed to travel throughout the country, we need a crazy amount of documentation – a parking certificate for Tokyo, dozens of documents covering the retrofit and customization of the car, plus a Japanese inspection and exhaust test. I even had to travel to the German embassy to have my identity confirmed for my Japanese driver’s license. After all this is completed, we should be able to get on the road. In the meantime, the car has taken the stage as the star of our booth at an autoshow nearby.

My first impression of Tokyo is how clean and well organized the city is. You won’t find any dirt in Tokyo, at least not in the city center, and the metro stations are so clean you could eat off the ground.  Every train is exactly on time, and stops so precicely that you can stand on an arrow that says “door 5” and every time, door 5 will open directly in front of you. Perhaps in such a crowded city you need that level of organization to ensure everything runs smoothly. Here I can show you an example of how crowded the city is – the picture below is outside the Shibuya station. Every day, thousands and thousands of people cross through this area.

Land of the rising sun

On one hand, Tokyo is very modern, but you can still see the traditional old-world Japan. I had fun visiting one of the super modern areas, the Akihabara district, also know as the “electric city.” Here I found dozens of anime and electronics stores, like the Sega shop I stopped into.

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Only a few blocks away is the old, traditional area of the city, where the streets are very narrow and lined with traditional Japanese houses. At the core of this area of the city is a large temple. Seeing the overlap between old and new is a very interesting part of being in Tokyo. This photo shows the temple with modern cityscape, including the Skytree Tower in the background.

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At 2080 feet tall, the Skytree is the tallest building in Japan, and the second tallest in the world after China’s Shanghai Tower.

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A colleague invited me to participate in the annual Buddhist festival called Sanja Matsuri. The festival features about a hundred ‘mikoshi,’ or portable shrines, in which gods are symbollically placed and paraded about the streets to bring good fortune to the local residents and businesses. I had the honor to carry one of the shrines, which was incredibly heavy!

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It was only later that I learned what a rare chance I was given. A Japanese visitor told me that it is a very great honor for every Japanese person to participate – and he has never had the chance. What an honor, thank you Japan!

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Since I’m still waiting on all the paperwork, I’ll be sure to show you more of this amazing city!

-Sascha

Taiwan to Japan!

The Taiwanese leg of our tour has come to an end. For two weeks, we’ve been exploring the entire island, driving more than 1,670 miles. One thing I will surely remember, apart from the beautiful landscape, is the amount of scooters on the road! They are everywhere, ruling the street. igus can help increase the lifetime of the country’s most popular mode of transportation. AEON, a well-know scooter manufacturer, relied on igus bearings in the front and rear suspension, as well as the throttle valve of their scooters.

Taiwan to Japan!

The smooth movement of the throttle valve is ensured by two iglide bearings. They can not only stand the heat of the engine without a problem, but are also light in weight and low in price, making them a perfect alternative to conventional metal bearings. iglide bearings are not new to the automotive industry; they are being installed into new cars all over the world every day! The iglide on tour car is also relying on two iglide bearings in it’s throttle valve, it’s worked perfectly now for nearly 100,000 miles, driving through heavy tropical rains in Taiwan, incredible heat through the deserts, and cold temperatures in mountain regions.

Driving through Taiwan, we saw countless rice fields. Driving along the Southern coast they begin to appear, and become larger and more abundant as you head inland – some of the fields are so huge you can hardly see where they end.

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We drove to Kaohsiung, a major port city in Southern Taiwan. There, we had a booth set up at a famous boat show being held. As the last day of the show coincided with Mother’s Day, we had a special area where you could write a postcard to your mom, which even the city’s mayor took advantage of!

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We also paid a visit to a local kindergarten on our journey. A teacher reach and heard about the orange car traveling the world, got the children excited, and they all asked for a visit! More than 130 children between the ages of 3 and 6 were there to welcome us, and even performed some songs and dancing, and loaded up the iglide car with balloons to take back to the office!

https://youtu.be/H4A6HwHtDks

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After our travels across Taiwan, it was time to head to Tokyo!! I said my goodbyes to the car as it was loaded up, I would see it after arriving in Japan and having the proper modifications done (for example, Japanese regulations require the headlights must be moved, among other small changes.). Eventually, we received the proper permits, and were free to start exploring beautiful Japan!!

For now, we are mainly in the igus Tokyo office, putting the final preparations into effect for the tour.

I will keep you updated on our travels!

-Sascha