Kawasaki History

Discovering Potential




Shozo Kawasaki, the founder opens Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard (Tokyo).

Kawasaki’s origins go back to 1878, when Shozo Kawasaki established Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard in Tokyo. Eighteen years later, in 1896, it was incorporated as Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd.
Born in Kagoshima to a kimono merchant, Shozo Kawasaki became a tradesman at the age of 17 in Nagasaki, the only place in Japan then open to the West. He started a shipping business in Osaka at 27, which failed when his cargo ship sank during a storm. In 1869, he joined a company handling sugar from Ryukyu (currently Okinawa Prefecture), established by a Kagoshima samurai, and in 1893, researched Ryukyu sugar and sea routes to Ryukyu at the request of the Ministry of Finance. In 1894, he was appointed executive vice president of Japan Mail Steam-Powered Shipping Company, and succeeded in opening a sea route to Ryukyu and transporting sugar to mainland Japan.

Having experienced many sea accidents in his life, Kawasaki deepened his trust in Western ships because they were more spacious, stable and faster than typical Japanese ships. At the same time, he became very interested in the modern shipbuilding industry. In April 1878, supported by Masayoshi Matsukata, the Vice Minister of Finance, who was from the same province as Kawasaki, he established Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard on borrowed land from the government alongside the Sumidagawa River, Tsukiji Minami-Iizaka-cho (currently Tsukiji 7-chome, Chuo-ku), Tokyo, a major step forward as a shipbuilder.


Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd. is incorporated. Kojiro Matsukata is appointed as the first president of the new company.

In 1894, seven years after the establishment of Kawasaki Dockyard, the Sino-Japanese War started and the shipbuilding industry in Japan enjoyed sudden prosperity. Kawasaki was also very busy in receiving and finishing a rush of orders for ship repairs. Realizing the limitation of private management, Kawasaki decided to take the Company public right after the end of the war. Then close to 60 years old, without a son old enough to succeed him, Kawasaki chose Kojiro Matsukata, the third son of his business benefactor, Masayoshi Matsukata, as his successor.

Kojiro Matsukata, born in Satsuma (currently Kagoshima Prefecture) in 1865, became a secretary to Japan's prime minister during his father's administration between 1891 and 1892. In 1896, the younger Matsukata was appointed the first president of Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd., and maintained this position for 32 years until 1928. By expanding business into rolling stock, aircraft and shipping, and implementing Japan's first eight-hour day system and other measures, he nurtured and grew Kawasaki into a leading heavy industrial company in Japan.

Matsukata was also known as an art collector. The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo was established around the core of Matsukata's private collection. In addition, the Tokyo National Museum houses his extensive collection of Ukiyoe prints.


Finishes construction on Dry Dock at Kobe Shipyard.

Shozo Kawasaki had fully realized that the Company's shipyard needed a drastic increase in capacity since Kawasaki Dockyard was established in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. He planned to construct a dry dock by reclaiming land next to the shipyard. In 1892, a land survey began, and in 1895, boring tests were carried out. After the incorporation of Kawasaki Dockyard, Kojiro Matsukata pursued the plan.
Construction work faced rough going due to the extremely weak foundations of the site on the Minatogawa River delta. After a couple of failures, a new technique was adopted to harden the underwater foundation by pouring concrete. Six years later in 1902, the dry dock was completed at last, costing three times as much and taking three times longer than the construction of a dock under normal conditions.

Size of the dry dock:
Length: 130 m, width: 15.7 m, depth: 5.5 m
Maximum size of ships that can be docked: 6,000 GT

The dry dock (currently No. 1 Dock, Kobe Shipyard) was listed as a Registered Tangible Cultural Asset of Japan in 1998.


Completes the first Kawasaki-made locomotive.

In 1872, U.K.-made steam locomotives ran for the first time on Japan's first railway line between Shinagawa and Yokohama. Kawasaki started manufacturing rolling stock in 1907, and 4 years later produced its first steam locomotive, the Tender type locomotive (2B saturation steam type, No.6700-6704), for the Ministry of Railways. Its performance was highly acclaimed and the Ministry later praised the Company, saying that its locomotive had done even better than those made in foreign countries. Kawasaki manufactured 3,237 steam locomotives in total until 1971, greatly contributing to the development of railways in Japan.


Completes the first Kawasaki-made airplane.

In 1922, Kawasaki completed its first airplane at its Hyogo works, and conducted test flights in Sohara Village (currently Kakamigahara City), Gifu Prefecture. The Japanese Army admitted its excellence based on the test flights, and adopted it for the first military plane, the Type Otsu 1 surveillance plane. Kawasaki manufactured about 300 planes of this type until 1927.


Started producing and selling screw pumps

In 1936, Kawasaki with technological cooperation from Sweden’s IMO, began manufacturing screw pumps. This “KIMO Pump” was produced mainly as a lubricant pump and fuel oil pump. Until the end of World War II, lubricant pumps and fuel oil pumps were used for Kawasaki vessels.


Series 0 Shinkansen electric train delivered to the Japanese National Railways

On April 13th 1964, the first Shinkansen by Kawasaki was delivered from the Hyogo factory to the Japanese National Torikai Rail Yards. The train was carried in a trailer on the national highway after midnight.
The trailer traveled at 7km/h, with police cars guiding the whole 6 hour journey from Kobe to Osaka.
Kawasaki’s trains were given the letter R for their set formation and official test runs began between the Torikai Rail Yard and Maibara. On October 1st of that year, the “Dream Super Express” Shinkansen made possible for travelers to get from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka in 4 hours (3 hours and 10 minutes the next year).


Develops Kawasaki-Unimate 2000, the first Japan-made industrial robot

Kawasaki regarded the development and production of labor-saving machines and systems as an important mission, and became Japan's pioneer in the industrial robot field. In 1968, the Company (Kawasaki Aircraft) entered into a technical agreement with Unimation Inc., a U.S. company specializing in industrial robots, and began development work. In 1969, the Company succeeded in developing the Kawasaki-Unimate 2000, the first industrial robot ever produced in Japan.


Unveils Z1 motorcycle.

In 1972, the Company unveiled Japan's largest motorcycle of the day, the Kawasaki Z1, featuring an air-cooled, 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, 903 cm3, DOHC engine, which was Kawasaki's first 4-stroke engine with a state-of-the-art, unique mechanism. Code-named "New York Steak" as early as in the development stage, the Z1 became a "mouth-watering motorcycle," winning overwhelming popularity immediately after its introduction, and becoming a long-term bestseller. The Z1, a pioneer of Supersport models, not only solidified Kawasaki's reputation in large motorcycles, but remains deeply engraved in the public conscience as one of the most superlative models to date.


Begins selling Jet Ski® watercraft

Kawasaki sought to develop a new product powered by a gasoline engine other than motorcycles in order to expand its consumer product business. In 1971, management decided to enter the marine recreational product field and a Marine Project Team was formed at the Company. During team discussions, the concept of a new product gradually took shape. A product in a completely new category, which enables people to enjoy waterskiing, a popular marine sport of the day, by themselves, without a boat-that became the basic concept of the Jet Ski watercraft.
In 1973, at Akashi Works, Kawasaki developed a new product (product code: WSAA) by installing a 2-stroke, 2-cylinder, 398 cm3 engine designed based on those for snowmobiles. The product was named Jet Ski, and became a registered trademark of Kawasaki. After obtaining a positive response from trial sales in the U.S., the Company began mass production. In 1975, Jet Ski production was shifted to the Lincoln Plant, Nebraska, and full-scale manufacturing of the JS400 commenced. In 1980, Kawasaki started to sell Jet Ski watercraft in Japan.


Develops GPS200 gas turbine generator.

Utilizing its technology and experience in aircraft jet engines, Kawasaki pioneered Japan's gas turbine generator business. In 1972, the Company started developing industrial gas turbines based on its proprietary design. In 1976, the Kawasaki GPS200, Japan's first gas turbine generator, was produced and it attained type approval under the Fire Services Act. The next year, in 1977, the GPS200 won the Minister of Construction prize, top prize at the Electric Equipment Industry Exhibition. Kawasaki went on to expand Japan's market for gas turbine generators. The Company also developed proprietary cogeneration systems, the GPC series, in 1983.


The BK117 helicopter's first flight.

In 1977, Kawasaki started developing the BK117, a multipurpose twin-engine helicopter, with MBB (currently Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH) of Germany, and production began in 1982. The BK117, the first helicopter ever developed in Japan, offers a high standard of safety featuring twin engines, and easier operation using a jointless rotor system. Advanced technology also enables instrument flights even in inclement weather.


Delivers the first LNG carrier built in Japan.

Kawasaki not only aggressively pursued orders for VLCCs (very large crude-oil carriers) and other oil tankers, but also conducted R↦D activities to develop high-value-added ships. One example is its LNG (liquefied natural gas) carriers. In 1971, Kawasaki entered into a technical agreement with Moss Rosenberg Verft A.S. of Norway and accelerated the development of LNG carriers. In 1981, at the Sakaide Works, the Company delivered the Golar Spirit (129,000m3, 93,815 GT), the first LNG carrier ever built in Japan.


325 subway cars delivered to New York City Transit Authority

In July of 1983, Kawasaki built the first trial car for the New York City Subway (R-62). We challenge extensive innovations and improvements, succeeded in building 325 rail cars for the New York Subway by 1985. Kawasaki was the first to use stainless steel for the body, making possible for lightweight trains. Kawasaki also established a method of unstrained assembly of the car, and a system of overturning the body of the car for efficient maintenance. Introducing the tact line system, Kawasaki was able to assemble 1 car a day, which was accompanied by an efficient production management system.


Receives orders for construction work on the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge.

Spanning the Strait of Akashi, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge was the longest single span suspension bridge in the world at the time of its construction, with a total length of 3,910 meters and a distance between the two main towers of 1,990 meters. Kawasaki was the main contractor for the tower on the Awajishima Island side-283 meters tall and over 25,000 tons-which fully utilized its advanced technology for steel structures. The Company also produced and installed stiffening girders. The bridge opened in spring 1998.


Tunnel boring machines successfully complete work on the Eurotunnel.

In July 1987, Kawasaki received an order for two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) with diameters of 8.17 meters for the underwater railroad for the Channel Tunnel linking Great Britain and the European continent. These machines were to excavate part of the two underwater tunnels from the coast of Sangatte in Northern France to the British coast. Due to the chalk strata on the French coast partly leaking with some faults, a sudden inflow of high-pressure water was expected during construction. In addition to these complex strata 40 meters under the sea and a high water pressure of a maximum 10 atmospheres, continual high-speed boring of 16 km at 500 m per month was also required. The difficulties become clearer when compared with the commonly accepted conditions for a TBM project: several km of boring at 200 - 300 m per month under a pressure of 1 - 2 atmospheres.

Furthermore, the leadtime from contract to design, manufacture and delivery was also set at only 13 months. However, because Kawasaki is a leading manufacturer of shield machines and TBMs, it aggressively surmounted these difficulties, supported by its expertise and track record for around 1,000 of these products. It was in June 1988 that the two machines were shipped from Kawasaki's Harima Works with more than 10,000 parts and underwent test runs.


Ships first 700T train to Taiwan High Speed Rail

The Taiwan Shinkansen Corporation (TSC), comprising seven Japanese companies including Kawasaki, shipped the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation its first 12-car high-speed train. Taiwan High Speed Rail is the first overseas project to use Japan's Shinkansen technology, and the 700T-model train is the first Shinkansen train ever shipped overseas. The 700T, based on the 700-series Shinkansen train jointly developed by Central Japan Railway Company and Western Japan Railway Company, has been optimally configured for Taiwanese geography, climate, legal regulations, and so forth. It has a maximum speed of 300 km/h and will connect Taipei and Kaohsiung (345 km) in as little as 1.5 hours. While TSC has received orders beyond rolling stock for signaling systems, track, and so forth, Kawasaki was the primary contracting company for rolling stock and has manufactured 30 trains (360 cars) together with Nippon Sharyo Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd.


Kawasaki Green Gas Engine achieved world's highest 48.5% electrical efficiency.

Kawasaki GREEN gas engine achieved 48.5% electric generation efficiency and demonstrated excellent environmental performance with extremely low NOx emissions of 160 ppm at 0% O2 during test runs in combination with a power generator that began.

The engine features an optimized combustion chamber form and individual control of each cylinder to improve anti-knocking performance and cycle efficiency. The addition of a prechamber spark ignition system does away with the need for additional liquid fuel for ignition and realizes easy operations. Kawasaki’s fluid dynamics technology was employed in developing the prechamber to ensure stable combustion.