Fuji friend Sherm has been kind enough to share his recollections of his visit to the Fuji factory. Lucky guy Sherm!
"In the mid and late ‘70’s, I was an active (and rather slow) Category 4 racer as well as the president of a local Connecticut cycling club, the Nutmeg Wheelmen. This was in the heyday of the bike boom; we had good fit riders and racers from all over central Connecticut. One of the more energetic and passionate club members was Elin Larsen, a very strong rider who raced on Fuji’s women’s team and also worked for Fuji for a number of years as their New England sales rep. Elin even successfully raced the Red Zinger stage race in Colorado on at least one occasion.
My fiancé and I were married in 1983. After tossing around a few ideas for honeymoon spots, we settled on Japan, a somewhat exotic destination that appealed to my interests in Zen, culture, traditional architecture, and above all…sushi. We decided on two main destinations in Japan, Tokyo and Kyoto, the modern and ancient centers of the country.
Knowing that the Fuji factory was on the outskirts of Tokyo, I got in touch with Elin. She was well-connected to all things Fuji and made a few phone calls to set up a factory tour for us. The deal was done. We were ready for the trip and we were psyched for the visit to Fuji. While my wife did not quite share my enthusiasm for the factory visit, she was a good sport about it and up for the adventure.
Don’t let anyone tell you that the flight to Japan is easy or comfortable. It’s not. It is a long, long journey and the time difference and jet lag is just brutal. Fourteen straight hours is a helluva long time to sit in a chair, no matter how cushioned or comfortable. At that time, my wife worked for American Airlines (hence the cheap airfare) and was able to arrange a great hotel for us at the tall and fashionable Akasaka Prince Hotel. Out of our hotel window was a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji, a dramatic and perfectly symmetrical snow-capped cone of a mountain. Seeing this symbol of Japan, it is no wonder that Fuji bikes chose this mountain as their symbol of strength, majesty, and beauty.
After several days adjusting to the new time zone, it was time for us to take the train to the Fuji factory. We had a small handwritten note in Japanese with some cryptic directions in English and contact information at the factory. The local 45 minute train ride was memorable only because we left the cosmopolitan (and English speaking) city of Tokyo to venture in the hinterlands, the working class commuting outskirts of the city where all businessmen wear dark suits and no one speaks a word of English. Our directions were simple: just count railway platforms and get off at the fifth one. We panicked a bit when we realized that the train didn’t stop at every platform we passed; did we count every single platform or just where the train actually stopped?
It all worked out in the end and we arrived at the destination train station in one piece and on time. There, we were met by a gracious manager from Fuji who drove us to the factory for the tour. I remember the facilities as somewhat plain and utilitarian, not the glitzy display of bicycle technology and marketing sizzle you came to expect at trade-only bike shows. We all sat down in a conference room and some introductions were made. Large posters of Fuji bikes encircled the walls. Tea was poured all around and a small moment of contemplation and tranquility ensued. Time to just be and enjoy the moment, to soak in the ambiance and really engage all our senses. So perhaps Fuji bicycles are a bit like the tea ceremony, not rushed, but artfully created and beautifully presented. After all, riding definitely puts you in the moment. As part of their customs, the Japanese love to present visitors and business colleagues with a small gift. As a present, we were given a small ceramic replica of a high wheeler bicycle.
Lots of automation at the factory. I remember seeing some of production setups for some of the lower end, mass-produced models. The seat tube, bottom bracket, and chainstay assembly was brazed up all at once, using a type of circular ring brazing fixture that heated everything to the right temperature and fed brass into the joints for brazing. Sort of a precursor to a robotic welding robot. Painting was also automated. A conveyor system carried the finished frames through the air into a set of spray booths, where primer and color coats were applied. The paint colors were rich and wet.
By now, I was getting anxious to see the good stuff, those hand built Fuji Finest frames with the beautiful chrome plating and lustrous silver paint jobs. We went into another room and saw these high-end frames being built by hand, one at a time. Volume was low, quality was high. I remember a large thick slab of steel that was the cold setting table. The bottom bracket of each frame was inserted onto a steel post in the middle of the table and the frame was checked for alignment all around. If it was off by a millimeter or two, a long bending rod and a few well-placed tweaks were all that was needed to get everything perfectly aligned.
You could tell that Fuji had a special relationship with SunTour, their components and boxes were just about everywhere. We were brought to a small asphalt lot on the company grounds and shown what looked like an ordinary English style 3-speed urban bike. Our guide explained to us, however, that this was actually a test prototype with a new rear hub created by SunTour. With this bike, you could propel yourself in one of two different ways. Pedaling forward worked just like a regular bike, but back pedaling wasn’t for freewheeling. Pedaling backwards also applied power to the rear wheel and moved the bike. I took the bike out for a few quick loops around the lot, quite the novel pedaling experience. These days, when the legs are burning after a hard sustained effort, I still think it would be great to pedal backwards and kick-in a new set of muscles.
The factory was abuzz with activity. There were bikes everywhere and the operation seemed very efficient and productive. You could also tell that quality was held in high regard, even the low-end models received proper care and attention. Having worked as a bike mechanic in my late teens and early twenties, I remember how well even inexpensive models like the Fuji S-10S went together. There was no tweaking or fumbling needed, all the components fit perfectly and adjustments were a breeze. Of course, the SunTour derailleurs were light years ahead of the dated Simplex and Huret derailleurs of the same era.
I still love to going on factory tours to soak in the all the mechanical beauty, sound, and commotion of a busy production floor. Even to this day, every time I see a Fuji, I am brought back to that sunny day in September, 1983, when I saw the Japanese spirit of pride and craftsmanship for myself!"