Gasoline Engines in Japan

| October/November 1990

805 Nagatani Mansion, 3-42-13 Nishiogikita Suginami-ku, Tokyo-to 167 Japan.

I met Mr. Kiyoshi Sugiyama while working as an English teacher in Kagawa prefecture on the island of Shikoku in southern Japan. Mr. Sugiyama is a farmer and grows blooms for the cut flower market. He looks for and restores old engines during his spare time, which, as we all know, is always in short supply. He likes to keep his engines in 'as found' condition as far as possible, but, who knows, he might get around to doing a paint job on one of them one day!

I collect old engines in Britain, but never expected to get involved in my favorite hobby in Japan. However, living and working in a rural community I found several old engines to restore, and eventually met Mr. Sugiyama, quite by chance, through a mutual acquaintance. When I first visited Mr. Sugiyama's farm, he had five old engines, and was surprised to meet someone sharing the same interest. Now, however, he has over thirty engines, and we are in touch with a number of other enthusiasts, both locally on the island of Shikoku, and in other parts of the country.

Engine manufacture in Japan seems to have begun in the early years of this century, with large stationary engines for industrial use. The first engines aimed at the agricultural market were imported from America, and we have found Stover, International Harvester Model M, Fairbanks-Morse Model Z, Witte, and Little Jumbo engines here in Japan. These imported engines were highly priced, however, and beyond the means of the average farmer with his small acreage of land. So it is perhaps not surprising that a lot of domestic manufacturers jumped into the market, with such names as Strong, King, Best, First, Speed, Orient, Yashima, Yunkeru, Sato, Kubota, Tobatta, and Yanmar to name but a few. Many of the small engine manufacturers were located in Okayama prefecture, which is just across the Inland Sea from Mr. Sugiyama's home in Kagawa, and that district has proved to be a happy hunting ground for us, with its many rice paddies dependent on water pumped up from the rivers for irrigation in the spring and early summer.

One of the pleasures of looking for old engines is that you never know what you will discover next, and this is particularly true of Japan. I remember an old farmer telling me about the 'WICO' engine. Of course, I tried to explain to him that it was not the engine itself, but the magneto that was so named, the familiar box magneto being sold in Japan. These days, however, I'm prepared to listen to any story which an old timer has to tell! The 'WICO' engine is typical of the first generation of farm engines made in Japan, open crank, and bearing a close resemblance to its American roots.

Japanese engines rapidly evolved into a fairly standard design, influenced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Safety and reliability were the order of the day, as for many rural people the stationary engine represented their first encounter with dangerous, moving machinery. Engines were fitted with hinged crank covers, centrifugal crank pin lubrication, and Wico type magnetos. Mr. Sugiyama's 'Three Star' and 'Strong' engines are typical examples. Not all makers followed the standard design, however. The two-cycle, hot tube 'Sato' engine is as unique as they come. This little engine was designed to be heated up using charcoal, a common cooking and heating fuel in the days before rural electricity, and run on kerosene. The charcoal was packed into the brazier on top of the cylinder head, and heated a hollow cast iron tube protruding from the head itself. The ash fell into the surrounding ash pan below. You can imagine the sales patter-'no plug, no points, no expensive magneto to go wrong...!' This little engine runs good and blows perfect smoke rings.


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