Hurricane lamps are gaining prominence against the backdrop of the camping boom. The sole manufacturer of these lamps in Japan is WINGED WHEEL, located in Osaka. We interviewed the representative and the only female lamp craftsman in Japan about her thoughts on manufacturing.

High quality called "Imperial Lamp"

As its name suggests, the hurricane lamp is an oil lamp so tough that its flame is said to remain unquenchable even in a storm. They were used on battlefields and at sea, and were a favorite daily necessity in the days when there was no electric lighting. In particular, hurricane lamps manufactured by Bessho Lamp, founded in 1924, were popular not only in Japan but also around the world for their high quality. Tomekichi Bessho's great-grandfather, Tomekichi, spent 10 years developing these lamps. At the request of a wholesaler who wanted something better than what was made overseas, I dismantled and studied overseas products and completed the first hurricane lamp in Japan. It is the willpower of a craftsman," says Representative Bessho.

It was called "Mikado Lamp" because of its beautiful form resembling the shape of the Chinese character for emperor. It was probably because it was a product that reigned at the top of its class, including its high functionality in maintaining a beautiful flame. When I actually made the lamp, I could understand the persistence of the first generation in the development of the lamp, including the number and position of the holes, and how much attention they paid to the form and the beauty of the flame," he said.

Even after 100 years, the form and the beauty of the flame have not changed. The manufacturing process is almost the same as it was back then. Starting with the material cutting of a single sheet of tinplate, the lamps are pressed using hundreds of different dies, and then assembled using specialized machines and hand processing to create approximately 20 parts. However, manufacturing as it was back then became a huge obstacle for Representative Bessho, who started making hurricane lamps 12 years ago.

"I'll make it." A 20-year-old's decision.

Due to the spread of electric lights and other factors, Bessho Lamp, which was run by his grandfather, was dissolved in 2004. Then, the mother of the representative of Bessho stood up. She decided to rebuild the company in response to the words of a supporter who urged her, "There is only one lamp shop in Japan, so what are you going to do? At the time, Representative Bessho was in the sixth grade. I heard later that my mother, who was the mainstay of the family, had no choice but to take care of me and my grandparents, who were in poor health.

The factory manager and the few remaining craftsmen resumed production the following year, and in 2007 the company restarted under the new company name WINGEDWHEEL. However, four years later, the craftsman in charge of manufacturing passed away, and the company faced the greatest crisis of all: the inability to produce anything. All the techniques were passed on orally, and the manufacturing process was completely undocumented. The only person who had some grasp of the process was the elderly factory manager.

Then, 20-year-old Representative Bessho made a decision. It is now or never that I will take over the technology from the factory manager. I will learn it and I will make it. Although he faced fierce opposition from those around him, including the decision to quit college, he decided to make a living making lamps.

Although he asked to be allowed into the company, he was struck by the harshness of the work site, where he had to watch, steal, and make something of himself. The factory manager was originally a painter, not a pressman, who had learned his craft on his own. Anyway, I also stuck with the factory manager, writing down all of his actions in a notebook and copying his procedures every day. But it wasn't that easy," he says.

There are at least six processes for each of the 20 parts to be made, and the work is carried out using a combination of 35-ton, 60-ton, and 110-ton presses and hundreds of dies. Many of the dies, however, are handmade and modified for ease of use by craftsmen. The same is true of the specialized machines, which are extremely difficult to repair. The excellence of our craftsmen has strangled me," Bessho says with a wry smile. People tell me that I should replace the machine with a new one," he says, "but each part is made from a different mold, so if I replace a part of the machine and there is an error, the balance of the machine will be off. It is almost one-of-a-kind. Above all, we have no intention of replacing machines like our grandfathers and grandmothers, who fought together. The old machines are strong. When you get along with them, they work well and in a good mood. Currently, he is operating the machine by himself, while working on the data processing of the process.

Lamps are warm and comforting

The camping boom has been so popular that the online store has stopped taking reservations. But we are wary of the boom. We need to get a firm grip on our fans, because that is the only way for the company to survive. Bessho is pursuing a path for the survival of luxury goods.

For me, a lamp is not a camping equipment, but something comforting and warm. I want to make lamps that people can use in various situations in their daily lives. I myself love flames, and I am happiest when I am looking at the flame of a lamp while drinking. But I never drink on weekdays. If I cause an accident while pressing, I will regret it for the rest of my life. Behind his smile, his gaze shines sharply.

WINGED WHEEL Corporation

WINGED WHEEL Corporation
Manufacturing and sales of lamps
Head office:
2-5-5, Kitakamei-cho, Yao, Osaka, Japan
TEL. 072-925-6780

This article was published in 2021.