Tokuji Hayakawa: Invention of a buckle that could secure a belt without using fastening holes

Tokuji Hayakawa, founder of Hayakawa Kinzoku Kougyou (the present Sharp Corporation) invented and patented in 1912 the “Tokubijo” belt buckle that could fasten a belt without perforating it. When he introduced it to the market, it led to such large orders that he started his own metallurgical processing, which then developed into the present Sharp Corporation.

Tokuji Hayakawa

Tokuji Hayakawa was born in Tokyo in 1893. Due to difficult domestic circumstances, he was adopted by the Sato family. It was not until he grew up, however, that he learned of this. He left primary school after second grade due to his family’s poverty, and was apprenticed to a maker of metallic ornaments. He worked diligently there to improve both his skill in metalwork and understanding of the trade, earning the trust of his master.

Though the buckle had been used since ancient times for such accessories as armor and shoes, it started to be used on belts for boys’ trousers in the 15th century and came to be used in women’s clothes in the 19th century. It took two forms: practical and decorated.  When Tokuji launched his buckle in 1912 (Meiji 45 and Taishou 1,) demand in Japan for the buckle increased with the spread of Western-style fashions.

Tokuji and other artisans, however, had not yet had a chance to wear Western-style clothes and belts.

Tokuji happened to notice a silent film actor whose belt had come undone. 
This inspired him to spend time after work inventing a new belt that could be fastened to any length.

As a result, he developed a buckle that used a roller to fasten a belt without puncturing it. His master admired his inventiveness and recommended that Tokuji apply for a patent. He suggested the name “Tokubijo” adopting one character of Tokuji.

The first order for the Tokubijo buckle was huge — 33gross (one gross = 12 dozen) or 4,752 in total. Because of the pressures to deliver his product on time, Tokuji decided to go independent. He borrowed most of the capital independently and launched his own shop in September, 1912. He introduced industrial presses, hired workmen and delivered new orders with no interruption. He was able to promptly retire his debt. He continued to improve his manufacturing process and expand his business into a bigger plant.

In 1913, he acquired the patent of an innovative water faucet, and in 1915, he developed the prototype of the sharp automatic pencil still sold today.
Afterwards he demonstrated managerial genius, expanding his enterprise into electronics manufacturing of world-famous radios, tape-recorders and televisions. He was active in social welfare programs. He died in 1980 at the age of 86.