We recently came across a news item about a new system in Japan that washes coronavirus off of your clothes and shoes. You walk through a metal frame while nozzles spray chemicals all over you, in droplets too small to feel any wetness, to sterilize. If that sounds like a car wash for humans, it’s because it was developed by the same company that built Japan’s first car wash, and that sent us down a weird rabbit hole.
Nihon Sharyo Senjoki Co., Ltd., translated as Japan Car Wash (JCW), was founded in 1947 as the country’s first maker of vehicle cleaning machines. The history is a bit murky, but it seems that originally JCW’s contraptions were built for buses and trains. This would align with the dominant forms of wheeled transportation present in Japan at the time.
The train washers were particularly impressive, giant booths straddling tracks at depots. They served everyone from he Tokyo Monorail company to Japan Rail, operators of the Shinkansen bullet trains. JCW exported their machines to 18 countries, mostly in Asia and the Middle East.
The first passenger car washes came out in 1962. Early systems had brushes, something that we would later learn damages paint. So in 1983 JCW came debuted the world’s first brush-less washing system. Anyone who doesn’t want their shiny finish to be scrubbed by abrasive bristles covered in other cars’ dirt can thank them.
In the 70s, machines that both washed and waxed started to appear. However, other companies in the passenger car washing game had grown even faster, and JCW fell behind. Luckily, it could rely on its main focus, the industrial machines that cleaned mass transit vehicles.
In their 73 years of business, JCW has built washers for taxi companies, bus companies, and a 200-meter movable machine for rail carriages. They’ve also supplied factories with industrial bearing washers, restaurants with meat grill washers, and the Kyowa Town Potato Epidemic Prevention Association with Japan’s first washer for stopping potato cyst nematodes dead in their tracks.
One of the striking things about Japan is that almost all vehicles are kept sparkling clean. As long as they are regularly driven, even the lowliest kei cars are usually maintained with pride, and JCW played an important role in keeping Japan’s vehicles looking fresh.