From its ‘Workshop in the Woods’, Kawai’s Master Piano Artisans combine new technologies and traditional craftsmanship to ensure flawless results.
What are the strengths of your company that make Kawai’s pianos unlike any other piano in the world?
In our quest for “building the world’s best piano”, we established our Ryuyo factory equipped with a state-of-the-art R&D facility. We continually conduct investigations into material properties, as well as develop new technologies that evolve and advance our pianos.
Japan has the oldest population in the world with the average life expectancy at 84 years, and by 2035 one in three people will be over 65. How is your business reacting to the demographic changes taking place in Japan?
We definitely have felt a deficit in human power because of many reasons over the past few years. Social problems and the increasing age of the population are key factors and very problematic points. To solve this problem we have tried to balance the number of men and women working in the factories. Traditionally women tend to work more office-related jobs, but in recent years we have actively encouraged women to pursue careers working in our production facilities.
For 100 years now Kawai Musical Instruments has operated under the presidency of only yourself, your father, and the founder your grandfather. Can you walk us through the development history of the company, and what you think are some of the key moments or milestones for Kawai Musical Instruments?
Mr. Koichi Kawai, my grandfather was the founder way back in 1927, and my father Mr. Shigeru Kawai succeeded him in 1955. It was over 30 years later in 1989 that my father passed the baton to me, and I took over the presidency of the company. My father established the Piano Factory & Piano Research Laboratory in Ryuyo, Japan, which became a very key location for our company.
Decades ago, my father and I visited Warsaw, Poland, to view the Chopin International Piano Competition. While there, we decided to build a concert grand piano which could qualify for this world-class competition. That is one of the reasons for building the Piano Research Laboratory.
After repeated attempts, it was in 1985 that the Kawai Grand Piano "EX" was first selected as an official piano of the Chopin Competition.
At the latest Chopin Competition held in 2021, two of the finalists gave outstanding performances, placing both 2nd and 6th respectively.
Can you tell us more about how you are striking a balance between the traditional elements of music with the new elements in your pianos?
Keeping our abiding policy that pianos could be evolved in mind, we have been investigating the design and material of each part that functions the best within a piano. We use state-of-the-art ABS Carbon components for our actions for faster repetition and better control.
In production, we use machines for the initial stages of production and then skillful technicians to assemble and make adjustments. Our factory embodies the perfect marriage of advanced technology and hand-craftsmanship.
What would you do for customers’ satisfaction?
We always try to understand the needs of the customer. Through our technical expertise, we have tried to reach the level of a traditional concert piano, and on a personal level, I think our staff has achieved that. No matter what the needs of the customer are, our ultimate goal is to satisfy. Obviously, the needs of the performers are always changing, and with that their preferences are changing too. It doesn’t matter whether it is acoustic or digital, satisfying the customer's needs is what the piano manufacturing spirit is all about. Demand comes in from all around the world, and our job is to make the most suitable type of piano to meet those demands whether that is a digital piano or alternatively a more traditional acoustic piano.
Can you tell us what the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on your business?
The COVID-19 created strong “stay-at-home” demands on pianos and digital pianos all over the world. Many people wanted new challenges and decided to either renew their piano skills or start afresh. All of our factories were in full operation.
Another complication that came about due to the COVID-19 pandemic was certain logistics disruptions, in terms of shipping, or in terms of container availability. Can you tell us more about how these logistics disruptions have affected your business?
Yes, it has affected our business by way of increasing freight costs and causing delays in container arrivals. But we could manage them by using various routes to destinations.
Your company is present in so many countries around the world, not only in terms of your pianos but also in your schools. Which market outside of Japan would you say is the main market that you are looking to strengthen?
We foresee the growth in Asian markets which includes China and strong potential of the Shigeru Kawai pianos in the matured markets such as Europe and Northern America.
Do you have a sentimental favorite?
I think it would be somewhere in Europe, perhaps Spain. One of my favorite cities in Spain is Granada in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The piano is such a versatile instrument with so many diverse music cultures and musical styles. Through the career you’ve had as president of this company, is there a style of music that you’ve been introduced to that you particularly love?
I really like the style of Mikhail Pletnev, who is a Russian-born pianist that now lives in Switzerland. I particularly like the style of music he performs on the piano, and he tends to perform the classics such as Chopin, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich.
Imagine a person that is not familiar with your company and what you do. Could you explain to them or summarize what Kawai is?
That is a good question and is very hard to answer. I think it comes down to building the most beautiful pianos that can fit in any kind of environment, any conditions, and any place in which a piano can be played. I would like to highlight the “Shigeru Kawai” series which is the premium concert piano line-up created by my father. His name is where the brand “Shigeru Kawai” comes from. I do believe this particular piano demonstrates that Kawai is one the best pianos of all.
We have always followed our own way and that is very clear. We don’t have any frustrations and we are quite steady on our feet. Our philosophy has always been to not really worry about what the other makers are doing and concentrate more on our own business. We don’t really fluctuate and have held steady for many years now.