Translating Diverse Challenges into Everyday Life: Insights from Yanmar Museum

Passion for manufacturing,” “culture that promotes challenge, “and “the lasting spirit of the founder” are all common phrases found in stories about corporate museums. The museum I visited this time seemed to be trying not just to showcase its founder’s spirit of taking on challenges but rather to demonstrate it as its work culture and connect it to the future. In this article, we will visit Yanmar Museum and take a closer look at the spirit and culture of Yanmar, which develops solutions for the land, the sea, and the city, based on its engine technology. We will look for some hints on how businesses should share their culture and spirit through experiences offered at their museums.


Yuna Mori, PR Consulting Dentsu Inc.



Exterior view of Yanmar Museum (Photo courtesy of Yanmar Museum)



Making people's work easier by mechanizing agriculture

Yanmar Museum is located on the shore of Lake Biwa in Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture. About a 10-minute walk from Nagahama Station on the JR Hokuriku Main Line, the museum was established in a part of the former Nagahama factory located across the Hokuriku Main Line from Lake Biwa. In the Edo period, Nagahama flourished as a temple town around Daitsuji Temple and as a post station on the Hokkoku Kaido Road. Even today, it is still a tourist destination that makes the most of the townscape, and several famous townhouses and the historic Kurokabe Square can still be seen. In 1882, just ten years after the first railway in Japan opened between Shimbashi and Yokohama and before the Tokaido Line was completed, the railway from Nagahama Station opened and Nagahama prospered as an important railway station.

Magokichi Yamaoka, the founder of Yanmar, was born in 1888 to a poor farming family in Nagahama, six years after the steam locomotive started running in Nagahama.

Yanmar Holdings Co., Ltd., which operates Yanmar Museum, was formerly Yanmar Co., Ltd. and Yanmar Diesel Co., Ltd. before that. As the name suggests, the development and manufacturing of diesel engines has long been the backbone of Yanmar’s business. Magokichi was fascinated by the safety, efficiency, and durability of diesel engines, and the development and manufacturing of compact diesel engines became a starting point for Yanmar.

During his childhood, Magokichi experienced a Japan with minimal engine-powered elements.  Raised in a region that pioneered steam locomotives in the country, the sight of these mighty machines hauling people and cargo with remarkable power and speed ignited a vision of harnessing such energy to elevate human lives to new heights.

Magokichi wanted to make the work of farmers easier by mechanizing agriculture. That’s why before the development of compact diesel engines, the company produced a series of oil-powered rice hullers, rice millers, and pumps. Later, he encountered a diesel engine in Germany while on a visited in search of inspiration for his new business. After returning to Japan, he devoted himself to the development of the world’s first compact diesel engine. On December 23, 1933, he finally succeeded with the Yanmar HB horizontal water-cooled diesel engine.

The diesel engine he came across in Germany was 3.2 meters high and weighed 5.8 tons. It was too large for widespread use. Magokichi wanted to develop a more compact model so it could provide power for people to use in a variety of situations. While he was successful in making the more compact HB model, it was still 95 centimeters high and weighed 500 kilograms and was not easy for a person to move alone. The S model was an improvement over the HB and was installed in ready-to-use equipment such as fully automatic rice hullers, which gradually changed people’s lives.

Through constant experimentation, Magokichi continued to take on challenges based on the spirit of “to conserve fuel is to serve mankind,” which continues to this day in Yanmar’s brand statement, “A Sustainable Future.”


The Yanmar HB horizontal water-cooled diesel engine (front view). It has been designated Mechanical Engineering Heritage by the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers, Heritage of Industrial Modernization by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and Essential Historical Materials for Science and Technology by the National Museum of Nature and Science. (Photo courtesy of Yanmar Museum)


Construction of Yanmar Museum began in 2012 as part of a project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Yanmar’s founding and it opened in March 2013. At first, the exhibitions focused on agriculture and manufacturing but in October 2019, it was renovated and reopened as an interactive “Challenge” museum, where visitors could now learn through experiences offered at the museum. The concept of “New Value through Technology” was announced and launched as the new brand statement in 2015 and is the basis of the experience offered at Yanmar Museum.

The renewal was designed to embody this spirit, encapsulated in the concept of “Embrace the exciting challenges of the future!” This approach is aimed at imparting valuable lessons to the children who will shape our future society, allowing them to learn through observation, emotion, and hands-on experiences about persevering through initial challenges without giving up. This article will delve into how the museum conveys “A Sustainable Future” and the founder’s spirit of “to conserve fuel is to serve mankind.” It will explore these themes from the perspectives of engaging visitors, fostering return visits, and establishing connections with daily life.


The target is families with fifth graders

Following the renewal, Yanmar Museum’s target audience became families with fifth graders. Prior to the renewal, the museum housed product displays, the achievements of the founder, and the history of the company. As a result, demand was high for training trips and the majority of the visitors were adults. For the renovation, planners deliberated how they could convey Magokichi’s desire to help people in need, create a new future, and his spirit of challenge. The result was a redesign that considered users such as elementary school fifth graders so as to be a place where visitors could experience hands-on the thrill of taking on challenges.

Nurturing a culture of embracing challenge is a process that requires time and careful cultivation. It is important to possess the eagerness to tackle new endeavors, a supportive environment that provides room for failure, and an environment that allows second chances. The museum posed the question, “What age group could still be inspired by a day-long experience, or even just a few hours, to believe that taking on challenges can lead to a brighter future?” This question led the museum to consider fifth graders as the ideal candidates who would be receptive to these ideas and embrace challenge.

One thing to note is that families with the fifth graders were set as the target, not fifth graders themselves. Students in Shiga Prefecture have the opportunity to visit the museum on field trips, but they would have to go with their families on personal visits, which is why it is important to include their families. In reality, about half of the visitors are adults, about a quarter are elementary and junior high school students, and the rest are preschoolers.

I saw many little details that showed the museum is family friendly. For example, the sinks are low enough for small children to wash their hands without help. This encourages them to try doing it themselves. There are also baby changing tables and nursing rooms so that visitors know that they are welcome to bring infants with them too. The museum also takes into consideration parents who want to visit with their older children but hesitate because of the facilities and although it is a small point, it is likely to lead to repeat visits.

Before entering the Challenge Area, the main part of the museum, visitors watch a projection mapping presentation of the founder’s story of challenges. Even though it is difficult for preschoolers to fully understand the story, the presentation makes it easy to see that taking on challenges will make the future exciting. This is another aspect of the museum that highlights its focus on engaging fifth graders and their families.

The Challenge Area is broadly divided into three areas: land, sea, and city. Each area offers activities targeted at elementary students and older and children aged three and up, as well as some without a specific target age. Even content designed for children three years old or older can be adjusted to offer varying degrees of difficulty, so that children of different ages can share the same learning experience according to their respective levels.

The land, the sea, and the city are the fields in which Yanmar operates its business. In the city area is Sustainable Energy Climbing where children climb up a wall that looks like a building and the energy exerted in doing so illuminates the building. This activity is unique because it combines challenges with energy, one of the domains where Yanmar operates its business.


Sustainable Energy Climbing (Photo courtesy of Yanmar Museum)


How the museum attracts repeat visitors

Let’s take a look at how the museum encourages repeat visits. Visitors receive a Yanmar Card at the reception desk when they purchase a ticket. By scanning the QR code printed on the card, visitors can experience the attractions in the museum and are awarded Yanmar Points according to the results of their experiences.

Points earned that day are shown on a large screen called My Earth and can be seen from the Challenge Area, allowing visitors to see how they stack up with other people and encouraging them to challenge more. In addition, visitors can use a machine in the Challenge Area to register a nickname to their Yanmar Card and the card can be used on subsequent trips to the museum.

Points accumulated are valid for one year. Yanmar Points are not limited to the challenge area. Visitors are awarded a rank according to how many points they accumulate, and discounts based on their rank are applied at shops and restaurants in the museum. These are the benefits of tackling the challenges and are sure to make parents happy.

The museum has two floors. The second floor features an exhibition area and a Challenge Room. The outside area called Yanmar Terrace features a rooftop biotope. I visited in February and was greeted by a serene winter biotope. This is only one face of the biotope, and it made me want to visit in other seasons. There is also a footbath in front of the biotope called the Oniyanma Footbath. This uses water that is heated using the heat produced during power generation. This kind of rest area invites visitors to come again for another visit.


Biotope on the roof (Photo courtesy of Yanmar Museum)


There is also a restaurant on the first floor near the entrance that visitors can use without paying the museum entrance fee. I felt that the design of the menu and the set prices of the restaurant are also one of the ways the museum encourages visitors to return.

The Tractor Plate (900 yen, including tax), a plate shaped like a Yanmar tractor, will excite and amuse kids and adults alike. Visitors that want to tackle a lot of challenges and have less of an appetite can snack on a rice ball. To be more specific, the rice ball ingredients are standard ingredients, but there are also items on the menu that incorporate regional and seasonal characteristics, and people who come from far away or in different seasons can enjoy these without getting bored. With cards and points that encourage taking on challenges, as well as biotopes and restaurants, it is easy to see the ingenuity that makes people want to visit the museum again in different seasons.


Applying the challenges to daily life

Finally, we will look at Connectivity with Everyday Life. The Bento Challenge displays a bento box that visitors fill on a touch-screen panel. Visitors first enter their age and gender, and they can see their daily energy requirement. They are then tasked with putting boiled, steamed, fried, and other dishes made in different ways into the bento box.

The food is scored based on nutritional balance and color, and this shows that there are various cooking methods that change the number of calories in a dish and that making a bento is very exciting when keeping color in mind. This can be incorporated into daily life. Kids can, for example, say, “Today’s shumai is steamed.” before eating dinner. Then maybe say, “You can also fry shumai. When you fry it, it has more calories and gets a crispy texture,” possibly raising their interest in food.


Bento Challenge (Photo taken by the writer)


While this is just one example, the challenges at the museum do not end at the museum. They continue by connecting them to activities in daily life. As mentioned earlier, it is important that there is a desire to take on challenges, a foundation that provides room for failure, and an environment that allows second chances. Yanmar Museum offers a lot of opportunities to incorporate this in everyday life.


Creating fans of the company and inspiring change

Companies have various reasons for establishing museums but conveying the spirit of their founder is common to many of them. However, it is difficult to show that at museums while also incorporating the culture of the company for visitors to experience.

Junichi Tamura, the director of the museum, said, “People from outside often say that Yanmar is a kind company. It enables people to try things. I’ve never heard of anyone being blamed for failing. Don’t be afraid of failure. In our culture, everyone works together so that they can grow to be that kind of person. The president’s greeting at the beginning of this year said just that, and we are trying to create such a system.”


My guide through the museum, Ms. Izumi Kawase (left) and the director, Mr. Junichi Tamura (right) (Photo taken by the writer)


I could see his words not only in what the museum has to offer but also in how it looks. I think that is the culture of Yanmar, and I felt that this is embodied in Yanmar Museum. In fact, I would now consider myself a Yanmar fan.

It takes a lot of money, time, and people to establish and operate a corporate museum. When you put in the effort and create fans of the company, making it a catalyst for change, people will truly appreciate the museum.