[From December Issue 2010]
KURUMAYA Co., Ltd.
Jinrikisha, or the “rickshaw” in English, were created in 1870 in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. They became a popular means of transportation that soon faded after the advent of the train and automobile. Today, rickshaws are still seen at places of scenic beauty and historical interest such as Asakusa, Hakone and Kamakura, where they are used by guided sightseeing tours for visitors. Three years ago, KURUMAYA Co., Ltd., a new breed of rickshaw company, started spinning its wheels.
Kurumaya’s key difference is that in addition to providing guided sightseeing tours mainly around Asakusa, they also manufacture, sell and service rickshaws. “Our objective is to develop various different types of rickshaws while also providing support for them,” says company founder MATSUOKA Fumitake. He thinks that his company’s role should be to respond to the needs of the changing times. “We believe that by providing new products, new needs and new services will develop.”
Matsuoka is one of only four rickshaw-meisters left in Japan, and as Kurumaya’s lead rickshaw developer, he says that “We have received orders from tourism bureaus, an Edo Period Japanese theme park, and the chairperson of a senior citizens’ group who wanted to entertain their elderly homebodies, all while doing something good for his own health.”
Matsuoka says that his hobby of collecting antiques when he was younger eventually led to his fascination with the rickshaw, or what he calls, “a running antique.” “Although they were made more than 130 years ago, I think they were quite close to perfection. We add small improvements, but remain careful about keeping their original form in order to maintain the riding comfort and the ease of operation,” he explains.
Their popular guided tours mainly around Asakusa and Nihonbashi take people to shrines, temples and other historical buildings, and they now also visit Tokyo Sky Tree, presently under construction but scheduled for completion sometime next year. Kurumaya rickshaws also take newlyweds between the hotel where their reception is hosted and the shrine where their wedding ceremony takes place. Responding to the demand, Kurumaya provides service right across Japan.
Matsuoka calls himself a “rickshaw meister,” and manages the company while working as both rickshaw driver and craftsman. He actively promotes his business at festivals and other events by offering opportunities to ride on and pull rickshaws, with the aim of increasing the rickshaw’s appeal. And his efforts have not gone unnoticed, as Kurumaya now services various kinds of events, including trade shows.
With inquiries coming from as far away as South Korea and Australia, Matsuoka has realized his dream of “creating a small, but world-famous company.” Quite recently he has even exported a rickshaw to an individual customer in China who placed an order via the Internet. But he resolves that “making high-quality rickshaws and providing better service” is much more important than merely growing the business.