Corporate museums are part academic and business and occupy the grey zone in between. It is an organization that works with several departments in a company including public relations, branding, advertising, and HR. This series aims to look at the role, function, and future of museums run by corporations through interviews with PR professionals.
Engagement Created by the Passion-Inspiring Experience of Yamaha Innovation Road
Yamaha is a leading company that shaped Japan’s modern music history. In 2018, Yamaha opened Innovation Road at its corporate headquarters in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where visitors can discover Yamaha’s journey in instrument and audio equipment innovation. Here, we take a look at how the museum showcases the concepts of Yamaha Quality and the Yamaha Way along with Yamaha’s corporate philosophy of “sharing passion & performance.”
Yuki Watanabe, PR Consulting Dentsu Inc.
Yamaha is known far and wide, but its history actually stretches back to 1887. That year, it all started when Yamaha founder Torakusu Yamaha had the opportunity to repair a reed organ at an elementary school. It sparked his decision to enter the organ manufacturing business, and two years later in 1889, he established the Yamaha Fukin Seizoujo in what is now Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture. In 1897, Torakusu established Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd. with a capital of 100,000 yen. 100 years from its founding in 1987, the company was renamed to the current Yamaha Corporation.
An early organ manufactured by Yamaha (Photo courtesy of Innovation Road)
Although Yamaha is most famous for its instruments and music-related products, the technological expertise cultivated over its history allowed the company to branch out into fields other than instruments. In 1955, its motorcycle division split off into an independent company, which now manufactures motorcycles and marine products as Yamaha Motor. Although no longer in production, there were also periods when Yamaha was involved in making items such as ski equipment and tennis rackets.
Applying the technology and knowhow developed in its primary field of instrument manufacture to various other fields arguably brought further acclaim to Yamaha’s technology and elevated the company to its current position. There is so much regard for the technology that it is used for the interior in high-end automobiles.
An operation split between multiple departments such as General Administration Division and marketing
Innovation Road spans an exhibition space of 1500 square meters (0.37 acres), and visitors are welcomed by reservation on days other than Sundays, Mondays, and public holidays. Yamaha’s General Administration Division operates the building, the marketing division is in charge of the planning, and the group company Yamaha Corporate Service mans the actual museum operations with six staff members including the museum director. There is no entry fee.
Although the museum was closed for some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has had more than 70,000 visitors since it opened in July 2018, including visits from Yamaha employees (as of June 2022). Before the pandemic, there were more than 1,000 international visitors in 2019 alone (not including those from Yamaha’s overseas offices or factories). Museum pamphlets are available in Japanese, English, and Chinese, the website is available in Japanese and English, and audio guidance in the museum is provided in four languages with the addition of Spanish.
The museum entrance (Photo courtesy of Innovation Road)
Also used for communication with employees
The museum is not solely for visitors from outside of the company. It also functions as a space for communication with Yamaha employees. During new employee training and whenever employees from domestic Yamaha group companies or those from overseas factories or offices come to Hamamatsu, a visit to the museum is used to promote a deeper understanding of Yamaha’s business.
Within the company, employees have commented that Innovation Road has helped them “rediscover the company’s history” and “get an understanding of Yamaha’s business beyond their field of business.” The ability to see past products arranged in a timeline also helps promote new innovation in Yamaha’s research & development and design divisions.
In 2021, the museum opened Virtual Innovation Road, which offers a 360-degree view of the exhibition space online. People can move within the virtual space as if actually walking through the museum, with access to video content and information on the artifacts on display. Virtual Innovation Road is great for visitors from the general public but was also a useful tool to encourage wider understanding of the company among overseas staff who could not come to Japan amidst the pandemic.
A feel for Yamaha’s innovation by tracing Yamaha’s journey
The museum is split into twelve display areas. True to its name, Innovation Road allows visitors to trace Yamaha’s path of innovation with a look at the actual products throughout its history. The twelve areas are as follows:
1. Concept Stage
3. Craftsmanship Walk
4. Musical Instrument Display Area
5. Life Scenes
6. Digital Library
7. Super Surround Theater
8. Innovation Road Map
9. History Walk
10. Innovation Lab.
11. Sound Solution Display Area
12. Virtual Stage
Concept Stage (Photo courtesy of Innovation Road)
In addition to experiencing the instrument and audio equipment through sight, sound, and touch, visitors can also discover what life looks like with Yamaha products, as well as innovation that utilizes the latest technology. The museum functions as a space for visitors to get a feel for the history and future possibilities of music as a culture through a hands-on experience.
In particular, the Innovation Road Map is an impressive sight. It illustrates Yamaha’s various innovations and business developments throughout its history in a continuous series of pictures and text to give a clear look at how Yamaha’s technology branched out in various ways from a single reed organ.
Innovation Road (Photo taken by author)
The instruments that are the main feature of Innovation Road aren’t simply on display. Visitors can see the fine craftsmanship involved in manufacturing pianos and brass instruments, demonstrating how each instrument is a culmination of artisanal meticulousness and remarkable skill.
While learning about the production process, visitors can also test out some of the instruments. One such instrument on display is lauded as one of the top three pianos in the world—a grand piano by Austrian manufacturer Bösendorfer, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of Yamaha in 2008. Visitors can try playing this beautifully ornate piano, allowing an extraordinary opportunity that isn’t ordinarily possible. Pianos aren’t the only instruments that visitors can play. A diverse range of instruments are available including guitars, electric violins, and electronic drums.
Craftsmanship Walk (Photo taken by author)
The latest in sound-related technology is another experience the museum offers. Yamaha’s proprietary AI singing synthesis technology (VOCALOID: AI™), in conjunction with newly developed AI musical instrument sound synthesis technology made possible by adapting Yamaha’s experience with VOCALOID: AI™ enable an exhibit called AI Artist Stage—Creating Music with AI. There, participants are invited to perform a song with either an AI singer or an AI saxophonist, with the ability to use hand gestures to request dynamics that shape the crescendos of the song as it plays. Meanwhile, AI technology synthesizes musical expression such as vibrato naturally and in real-time, making it seem as if a live human singer is actually singing along. The experience allows visitors to get a feel for just how extensive the potential is for music today, and this is technology that can only be experienced at Innovation Road.
Innovation that captivates both performer and audience
Each of the numerous instruments on display uniquely demonstrates Yamaha’s pursuit of “sharing passion & performance.” A couple of them in particular—the TransAcoustic Piano and the TransAcoustic Guitar—demonstrate the “innovation” part of the museum’s name. Both products make use of TransAcoustic™ technology, which offers the functionality of digital technology while producing the sound of an acoustic instrument.
TransAcoustic™ Piano (Photo courtesy of Innovation Road)
The TransAcoustic Piano can be played as any ordinary acoustic piano but can also be switched to TransAcoustic mode to enable volume adjustment and a myriad of instrument sounds just like on a digital piano.
The TransAcoustic Guitar allows the addition of reverb and chorus effects to the guitar’s natural sound without plugging the instrument into an amp or effects unit by attaching a device called an actuator to the inside of the guitar. The guitar’s natural sound and the effects vibrate as one throughout the entire guitar body, producing the sound of a live music club performance with just the single guitar.
TransAcoustic™ Guitar (Photo courtesy of Innovation Road)
In this way, Yamaha pioneers new frontiers of music by updating instrument sound output but maintaining the way the instruments are played. Of course, there is much more innovation that the company has to offer, so we urge you to actually visit Innovation Road to experience it firsthand. Yamaha creates the means to inspire passion not only for those playing music but also the audience listening to the performance, and the museum gives visitors a direct sense of how the company strives to fulfill its philosophy of “sharing passion & performance” through music.
Creation that transcends organizational boundaries
Innovation Road allows visitors a thorough look at Yamaha’s history and technology, but what is its central significance as a museum? According to museum director Yasushi Ito, “The idea behind Innovation Road was to generate creation that transcends organizational boundaries. When we first set up Building 21 that houses Innovation Road, we gathered all of the technicians who had been scattered across the various areas to the new location with state of the art facilities such as research labs. This building, along with our preexisting research facilities in Buildings 18 and 20, make up what we call our Innovation Center. The three buildings are connected via elevated corridors and such to encourage inter-organizational exchange, creating a research and development hub that constantly generates innovation. We try to make it easy for employees to visit Innovation Road to get in touch with the legacy that their predecessors have left them, but we also hope that the museum will provide hints for further innovation. That way, we believe we can get closer to manifesting our corporate philosophy of ‘sharing passion & performance’ through music.”
A display of Yamaha’s determination to share passion and performance
The museum’s mission is to increase Yamaha’s brand value and employee motivation, as well as to contribute to society. Its role as a hub that can communicate how Yamaha’s history connects from past to present should lead to generating excitement for visitors and deepen company engagement with both society and employees.
With reverence for its company history, Yamaha’s corporate museum reexamines the track record of its innovation as a way to generate further innovation and give back to society and the people who work at Yamaha. That not only serves to deliver passion through music but also shows Yamaha’s determination to share passion and performance, which is undoubtedly what Innovation Road stands for.
Provides enrichment and motivation to people’s lives
We also asked whether opening Innovation Road led to any new discoveries.
According to Mr. Ito, “Due in part to COVID-19, there are some limitations to our activities at the moment, but we still get a lot of visitors from the local area, as well as from around the Tokyo or Nagoya metropolitan areas and other places outside of our prefecture. A fair number of those visitors have said that although they gave up their instrument once, their experience at Innovation Road reminded them of how wonderful music can be and inspired them to get involved with music again. That kind of feedback gives me the sense that music really does generate inspiration and passion. It indicates the potential Innovation Road has for providing enrichment and motivation, perhaps not for everyone but at least for some people’s lives. As a corporate citizen, I hope to provide those kinds of opportunities as much as possible.”
A museum that perpetually updates itself
At the very end, we asked Mr. Ito about the future of Innovation Road, to which he replied, “I think the museum’s priority is to carry out its mission of elevating the Yamaha brand. Yamaha has produced many innovative products such as the Silent Piano and TransAcoustic technology, and has confidence in these achievements.
“However,” he adds, “on the other hand, it isn’t uncommon to see museum-goers surprised by instruments they never knew existed, so the reality is that many people have yet to discover the wonders of Yamaha instruments. We think the extent to which we can improve that situation lies in experience-based communication. We hope to keep updating Innovation Road to deliver amazing hands-on experiences that help people discover more about Yamaha. If that leads to helping Yamaha fulfill the mission and philosophy it upholds, we believe Innovation Road could truly be a place that encourages the sharing of passion and performance.
Passion born out of a hands-on experience generates engagement
Innovation Road continues to generate passion and excitement for visitors. It embodies the essence of what public relations is about by bringing the company message to life and spreading the word to make hearts quiver and deepen visitor engagement. Inspiring passion in many ways, Innovation Road will surely continue to communicate the innovation Yamaha offers as a museum that is essential to music culture.