Photo/IllutrationUkio Obata at his table tennis facility on the second floor of his factory building (Mayuri Ito)

  • Photo/Illustraion

NAKAMA, Fukuoka Prefecture--Hidden among the warehouses and assembly plants here stands a outer stairwell that leads to the expansion plans of a manufacturer of garbage disposal units.

But instead of grinding gears and metal lathes, bouncing table tennis balls are constantly heard at From Industry Co.’s facility in an industrial park.

Ukio Obata, 70, the founder and chairman of the company, set up pingpong tables on the second floor of a factory building in a project that he admits spun out of control.

Sixteen pingpong tables are available, more than enough for all From Industry employees to play singles matches simultaneously.

However, the tables above the company’s factory are not only for employees. Obata hopes the From Ishida Table Tennis Facility can produce the best players in the world while giving his small company some publicity.

The facility is used almost around the clock. In the mornings, homemakers use the tables while company employees play during their lunch break.

In the afternoon, students from elementary school to senior high school gather at the facility for practice.

Springs were installed in the concrete floor to prevent players from hurting their knees.

Hina Hayata, from Kita-Kyushu, began visiting the site when she was in junior high school.

Now 17, Hayata has made a splash on the international table tennis scene, winning the bronze medal in women’s doubles at the world championships held in June.

Although competition overseas means she has less time to practice at the Nakama facility, Hayata occasionally stops by even though she is in her second year of senior high school.

Born in Nakama, Obata developed an interest in table tennis and started a club when he was attending the National Institute of Technology, Sasebo College, in neighboring Nagasaki Prefecture.

After a long absence from the sport, he picked up the paddle again when he was 61, and began visiting a table tennis club in Kita-Kyushu run by Mayuki and Chieko Ishida.

The couple were behind the development of such top-notch players as Seiya Kishikawa, who represented Japan at the London Olympics, and Kenta Tazoe and Miyu Maeda, who reached the quarterfinals of the mixed doubles category at this year’s world championships.

Obata was impressed by the manner in which Mayuki and Chieko, both 64, taught club members. He began offering his assistance to the couple about seven years ago.

In 2012, he reconstructed the second floor of his company factory into the table tennis practice facility. Construction costs exceeded initial estimates and eventually reached about 50 million yen ($457,000).

Obata at one time thought about abandoning the project, but he had passed the point of no return. A number of top athletes had already decided to practice at the facility, and he felt he could not turn them away.

Obata established From Industry when he was in his 30s in the garage of a friend. The company is now one of the top producers of garbage disposal units in Japan.

Still, the company only has 25 employees. Obata laughingly says From Industry is tinier than a small business.

But he still has big dreams.

Last year, he acquired about 5,000 square meters of land near his company where he plans to construct a new table tennis facility next fiscal year.

He also wants to form a corporate table tennis team and dreams of having his players make the Olympic squad.

Obata has asked Hayata for help in publicizing the company to make From Industry the top in its field in Japan.

In August, a video featuring Hayata was posted to the Internet to serve as a PR tool for From Industry.

Obata says it is all worth it.

“I really enjoy watching children enjoy themselves,” he said. “The greatest joy I have is watching them grow.”