Photo/IllutrationKatsumi Takahashi, left, shows a visitor at a fair how to wind a string around a “beigoma” spinning top in Saitama in January. (Takeshi Aose)

  • Photo/Illustraion

TSUCHIURA, Ibaraki Prefecture--A former medical equipment engineer here has put a new spin on traditional "beigoma" tops, taking full advantage of his long-accumulated expertise in producing precision instruments for clinical use.

Following a series of upgrades, the high-quality spinning tops are to be marketed on a full-scale basis this year.

Katsumi Takahashi, 62, developed about 10 types of beigoma, including the Mechabey, consisting of three to four metal parts, and Mechabey Junior, with fewer components, for 1,850 yen to 12,400 yen ($16 to $112), excluding tax.

Customers can choose parts with different weights and sizes to create their own unique beigoma.

Takahashi’s beigoma are so stable that they even appear to be standing still.

To achieve this, the former engineer used patented technology to prevent the core of the tops from shaking even at high spinning rates, so they can continue spinning for up to eight minutes, according to Takahashi.

While ordinary beigoma are used by players to knock down opponents’ tops, the special beigoma made by Takahashi also allow users to compete for the longest spinning duration.

Born in 1956, Takahashi often played with beigoma when he was an elementary school student.

After studying electronics at university, he joined a medical equipment maker. When he was asked by a senior worker to “make something” during a training program, Takahashi created a beigoma by lathing metal.

Takahashi was again reunited with the traditional toy in 2016, when his eldest son, then a fourth-year elementary school student, brought one of them home. Top playing was popular among students at the time.

Although Takahashi tried to get the beigoma spinning, he could not. Because of that, he purchased another one, but the unbalanced, badly cast top did not spin well due to distortion in the body.

Takahashi had previously developed a fast-rotating tool that resembles a device used by dentists to shave teeth and is designed for cardiac valve surgery. As small problems with the tool could lead to major accidents, he needed to make an extremely high-precision one.

After he began working at another company, Takahashi was expected to further refine his skills, as he had to develop a cardiac surgery device consisting of a 1.6- to 2-millimeter-diameter tube and a metal drill on top.

The tube is designed to be inserted from an artery in the groin, while the drill can rotate 60,000 times a minute.

Inspired by the beigoma of his son, Takahashi then decided to create an original beigoma.

“I resolved to create a beigoma as high in precision as possible,” said Takahashi.

He thought beginners who had never used the toy would enjoy playing with a beigoma if the design was improved to make its core more stable and allow players to more easily wind the string around it.

Though Takahashi brought “kendama” bilboquet and beigoma with him as souvenirs several times a year on trips to the United States while working for a foreign-owned enterprise, beigoma did not prove popular owing to the difficulty in winding the string.

Based on such experience, Takahashi made efforts to improve not only the precision of beigoma, but also user-friendliness, such as adding a groove to a part of the top’s body to catch the string.

Takahashi founded his own company in January 2017 and finished developing and producing enough products to be shipped a few months ago.

When he started full-fledged efforts to promote his beigoma, such as by putting his tops on display at a commercial fair in late January and allowing residents of a care home to try the toys, he discovered that elderly people took a liking to them, too.

“I want people from many generations to try my products,” said Takahashi.

For more details on the high-precision beigoma, visit the website of Takahashi’s company at (https://www.spinningtop.co.jp/).