OUR NEW SHITAMACHI SLEDS
How did we get started?
The 4,000 factories of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMES) nestled within Tokyo’s Ota district may very possibly represent the most cutting-edge development zone on the planet. Yet, prior to 2011, this cluster of ingenuity hadn’t built even one bobsleigh. The idea probably never even came to mind. Then disaster struck in the form of the fourth largest earthquake ever recorded, followed by a devastating tsunami. The entire region suffered. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.
The country yearned for inspiration. They got a big chunk of it from an out-of-the-box thinker named Satoshi Kosugi. His task: promote the unique genius of the Ota District SME.
His brainchild?… The Shitamachi Bobsleigh.
Racing from despair on the wings of a bobsleigh…
The region needed something to strive for - a goal, a victory, a win that would fill the Japanese soul with the “happy hormone” dopamine! The perfect vehicle - SPORTS! But Ota Ward is not populated with Samurais and Sumo wrestlers who could compete with their bare hands. It is populated with techno-wizards and computer savvy craftsmen who compete and create with their enterprising minds.
After deciding that sports should be the metaphorical vehicle to drive the region out of its state of gloom, Kosugi looked to the Olympics. Japan had a proud history of Olympic bobsleigh competition, but Japan’s teams had never raced with a purely Japanese made sled.
This was the perfect opportunity to make a very special Japanese manufactured bobsleigh. It’s engine is human. But in the case of the Shitamachi Bobsleigh, it’s design would approach the divine. The building of it would be a labor of love. In fact, its laborers are volunteers and the materials are donated by companies within Ota Ward. Along with the volunteer spirit, came the fire and passion of people working from their hearts!
They quickly built Unit 1 and its companion. Honed to perfection. The region had its uplifting story, its public relations boost. Mission accomplished? Yes!… Well, not quite. Despite the beginning of a working relationship with the Japan Bobsleigh Federation, the Federation declined to use the Shitamachi built bobsleigh in the 2014 Olympic Games. After all, they were a world class competitor and Shitamachi was… an unknown, not a traditional titan of the sport.
Disappointed, the collective of craftsmen and dreamers from Shitamachi - which literally means “under city” - would not go under. They would not accept “defeat”.
Fate brings a kindred spirit…
At the Sochi Games, Shitamachi took note of another team from beyond the traditional bobsleigh track. This team was making a dramatic comeback. They felt the energy and saw the excitement surrounding the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team returning to the Olympics. They had missed out on the two previous Olympic Games largely due to a lack of funding. But now, despite their financial woes, with the tenacity of a Samurai, had once again willed their way to the pinnacle of sports --the Olympic Games.
Though on a mission to return pride to Japan, the Shitamachi observers became electrified by Team Jamaica and began rooting for theses underdogs from the other side of the world.
Their parallel journeys were evident. The team from the tropics striving to compete in the world of winter ice. The team from the “under city”, the outsiders, striving to compete against the traditional bobsleigh builders of alpine and nordic countries. Jamaica’s team featured raw athleticism outside the bobsleigh boundaries but no sled—no money to buy one; in fact they had to borrow their sled. Shitamachi featured brilliant innovators outside the culture of bobsleigh building with belief they could build a world class sled.
As the Ota district battled to recover from the devastating earthquake, they found their strength in service. Their mission—help another island. In the spring of 2015, at the Jamaican Embassy in Tokyo, the two most spirited and untraditional players in the world of bobsleigh racing met and have since fused their parallel paths into one noble journey. Over 80 business from the region pooled their resources to design and build a world class carbon fiber Shitamachi bobsled. With world-class Japanese engineering supporting them, the Jamaicans will not only be competitive but have a shot at an Olympic medal!
It is a match forged from the highest ideals of sports and humanity itself-shared pride in human athletic prowess and a sense that we are our brothers keeper. The Edo - strong sense of community - of Shitamachi and the credo - yes, we can attitude - of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team race in harmony. Path jumpers, pioneers, hearts and souls with indomitable spirits and big dreams are partners on a mission to be the fastest thing on ice!
Editor’s note: By 2017, Shitamachi will have provided us with 5 brand new state of the art bobsleds. They are literally our ride to the future.