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Hit the brakes at Sumida Ward museum

  • JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI

    A working model demonstrates a braking mechanism. Visitors can step on a brake pedal while sitting in a replica driver’s seat and see how the brake pads tighten on a disc.

TOKYO >> The Nakayama Brake Museum in Sumida Ward — a part of Tokyo renowned for craftsmanship — sits amid small factories on a street corner facing Tokyo Skytree. After visitors ascend a narrow staircase in an office building, they encounter a handmade model of the Skytree assembled from a variety of different brake parts.

The museum’s name says it all. Its artifacts include palm-sized bicycle brake units, 16-inch parts from the brakes of large vehicles, and brakes from a Nozomi Shinkansen train. Visitors can also view brake rotors and pads used in the legendary 24 hours of the Le Mans automobile endurance competition.

The museum’s most attractive display is a working model of the undercarriage system of a whole automobile.

Visitors can understand the mechanisms for controlling speed, accelerating and braking as they sit in the driver’s seat and “drive” the automobile.

“Please step on the brakes as much as possible,” said Hiroshi Sugimoto, the museum’s 67-year-old acting curator.

When I did as he instructed, I experienced a simulation of the anti-lock brake system to prevent slip, which made a noise, and I felt vibrations in my foot. When a vapor lock phenomenon — in which the brakes lose efficiency due to the heating of brake oil — occurred artificially, I got goose bumps. I felt as if my vehicle was slipping and I couldn’t control the brakes.

A series of displays tells visitors the importance of the inspection and maintenance of automobiles. The museum was opened in 2000 through the initiative of Sakae Nakayama, the 81-year-old Nakayama Lining Industries Co. chairman.

The company mainly rebuilds automobile parts. It opened the museum because it frequently found brakes being used in dangerous conditions following the revision of the Road Transport Vehicle Law in 1995, which allows owners to take their cars in for automobile safety inspections (without prior maintenance).

Many elementary and junior high school students visit the museum.

“We hope students understand the importance of maintenance when they drive in the future,” said Sugimoto.

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