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Earthquake stopped the production of Toyota : Tohoku as a base of parts production

The 2011 East Japan Earthquake Bulletin of the Tohoku Geographical Association
9 April, 2011
Masateru HINO, Professor, Tohoku University
Email: masateru(a)m.tohoku.ac.jp

    The 2011 off the Pacific Ocean of Tohoku Earthquake stopped the operation of many assembly factories of Japanese automobile companies including Toyota, Honda and Nissan for over two weeks. The news was delivered to the world as a big economic news. The cause of stop of production was the shortage of parts. The earthquake damaged both factories producing parts and infrastructures such as roads and electricity in the Tohoku region. This occurrence taught us that Tohoku Region was an important base of parts production.
    However, Tohoku was the most backward region in industrialization in Japan until the 1970s. The share of Tohoku in employee in manufacturing in the country was only four percent in 1960, while the share in population was ten percent (Fig.1). After the late 1960s the industrialization of Tohoku was promoted by the branch factories of enterprises headquartered in the Tokyo metropolitan area. And then,the share of Tohoku in manufacturing was reached the same level in population in 1990.
    Fig.2 shows the distribution of manufacturing on number of employees in Japan. The manufacturing still concentrates remarkably into Tokai-do Megalopolis that extends from the Tokyo metropolitan area in the east to the Osaka metropolitan area in the west. The Tokai-do Megalopolis occupied 63 percent of all employees in manufacturing in Japan in 2005. On the other hand, the share of Tohoku remained only eight percent. The share of Tohoku, however, became 17 percent if industries were limited to the manufacturing of electronic parts and devices (Fig.3). Products in these industries are used as parts of automobiles. Furthermore, a lot of parts plants of key machinery apparatus of car are located in Tohoku, too.

    Fig. 4 shows locations of factories in Kakuda Basin at the end of 1990s. Kakuda Basin is located about forty kilometers south from Sendai. A lot of small and large factories producing car parts and electronic parts are located in this area. Alps, one of main Japanese companies producing electronic parts, established its branch factory in this area in 1967, and then Keihin, a subsidiary of Honda producing car parts, did its branch in 1969. These two companies formed the agglomeration of parts plants through organizing their own local production systems. At present, Keihin sets both some functions of headquarter and research and development section in addition to producing function in Kakuda. Both Alps and Keihin are international companies with their subsidiaries in the world now. When they established their branch factories in Kakuda, however, they were domestic companies whose factories were located in Eat Japan. Therefore, their production may be shifted more to the oversea with this earthquake as a trigger.

  • A. Takeuch & S.Ide eds.(1999): Nihon Keisai Chiri Tokuhon (Readings of Japanese economic geography), Toyokeizaishinposha(Tokyo)

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