Takiron was one of the first Japanese manufacturers to set up in the UK, in 1972. It was the first Japanese company to come to Wales and the third to start production in the UK, in 1974, after YKK and Nittan. It manufactured PVC corrugated sheeting after acquiring an existing factory in Bedwas, Gwent, mostly for export to Europe and America.
The Times in 1972 saw this investment as Japanese chemical and trading companies (Itochu and Chugai Boeki were also investors) “launching a big attack” on the European PVC sheet market through a UK subsidiary. (1) Just before it started operations, a spokesman for Takiron said they had been able to hire British workers at 10%-30% lower rates than they would in Japan, thanks to the current exchange rate, so even with the high cost of raw materials in the UK, it would be possible to export to Europe and America at a competitive price. The president of Takiron at the time, Matsui Yanosuke, even thought exports to Japan from the UK would be a possibility. (2)
One of the first employees was also one of the first Japanese people to be “locally hired” in the UK by a Japanese company – Midori Matsui. She had been visiting the UK on a break from teaching English at junior high school in Japan when a childhood friend at Takiron called her to offer her a job at the new company, teaching English to the new expatriates and helping them to set up the business.
She ended up staying at Takiron for 29 years, becoming a director of the company, until retiring in 2000. According to an interview with her in the Japan Times in 2001, she was thinking of returning to Japan, but was expecting to keep visiting Wales, as she said she would miss the warmth of the Welsh people, and the green fields and open skies. Clearly their appeal was too strong, and she continued to live in Wales, until her death in 2016 at the age of 80. She helped to organise the Japan 2001 celebrations and other local Japan related activities, and was awarded an MBE and a Japanese Foreign Minister’s commendation.
Although she says in the interview that the British lack of commitment to deadlines and work was “different now”, it’s a comment still heard regularly from Japanese working in the UK. But so is her point that the British are forgiving of mistakes and differences, unlike in Japan.
Former Wales rugby player Ken Jones was managing director and then chairman in the 1980s and 1990s. When the pound began to strengthen so that by January 1980 it was around Y550 compared to Y350 in 1979, and the UK went into recession, Jones was upbeat in a Daily Mirror interview: “we have invested £120,000 in new machinery” and added that the staff identified themselves closely with the company – “there’s a high degree of participation here. ” (3)
By 1991 Takiron UK employed 68 people (3) but from the mid 1990s it began to lose money and had shrunk to 57 employees by 2001. Takiron blamed the strong pound and continued high price of raw materials for its difficulties and decided to close in 2001.
The plant was supposed to be taken over by a manufacturer of roller doors in 2006 but was still empty in 2007, when it was taken over for the “biggest rave in South Wales.”
Takiron started as Takigawa in 1919, changing its name to Takiron in 1959. It is owned by the Japanese trading house Itochu and in 2017 it merged with C.I. Kasei (itself a merger between Hama Kasei and Kobe Resin) to form C.I. Takiron. C.I. Kasei had invested 32m euros in setting up a factory in Treviso, Italy in 2007, under the name of Bonlex Europe. The local vocational school was one of the key factors for choosing the location, providing courses in woodworking and automotive, relevant to the plastic films to decorate wood panels and car interiors that the factory produces.
Bonlex is the only subsidiary C.I. Takiron now has in Europe.
(1) The Times, October 4 1972 p 20
(2) The Times, June 7 1973 p 25
(3) The Daily Mirror, 27 November 1980 p 6
(3) Japanese Manufacturing Investment in Europe: Its impact on the UK economy, Roger Strange, Routledge, 1993
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