Photo/Illutration The Brake Museum is a highly specialized mini-museum located on the second floor of a brake manufacturer. The exhibit floor is filled with brakes from all sorts of vehicles. Visitors can experience a simulation of an anti-lock braking system to prevent skids. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

Screeeeeeech, bam. Oh, God, Almighty! Brakes are indispensable; an important unsung hero in our daily lives. Yet, how many of us have given much thought to them?

I was flipping through a Japanese flier titled “Sumida 3M--Monozukuri Tanbou Gaido Mappu” (in English, “Sumida Manufacturing Exploration Guide Map”). Sumida Ward used to be a manufacturing hub.

In its heyday, it was humming with manifold small factories.

I read that the three “Ms” in “Sumida 3M” are “small museum,” “meister” (craftsman) and “manufacturing” (kobo). The ward is promoting an economic revitalization movement, intending to regain its former liveliness.

There was a list of things to see, like Edo "kiriko" glassware, "kanzashi" hair ornaments, doll-making, leatherworks and such. But gathering from my previous walks around downtown Tokyo, I thought I could well imagine most of these places without actually trekking out to see them.

Then “Bureiki Hakubutsukan Sasga--Naze Tomaru!--Bureiki no Himitsu” caught my eye. A brake museum? The secret to stopping? Now that’s something different.

Following the map, I arrived at a nondescript building with a simple signboard telling me to take the narrow steps to the second floor.

When I got there, I must have triggered a motion sensor or something because a chime rang and a man entered through another door. He welcomed me to the “brake mini-museum” as he called it and showed me around.

Prior to this visit, I didn’t know a thing about brakes, except that the brake pads I had recently replaced on my 4WD were expensive.

Now, I can tell you about drum, disc, hydraulic, wire, air, parking, ABS (anti-lock braking system) brakes and more, if you like. But Asahi Weekly will have to give me two full pages to do all that.

Visitors can learn the history of brakes, from paintings by 3000 B.C. Sumerians, which consisted of a jammed stick to stop a wooden wheel, to regenerative brakes that are found on late-model Shinkansen trains. You can sit in a mock car and see what happens when you step on the brake.

Trust me, personally experience this because you’ll find the chain of events that enable the vehicle to halt priceless, though reading or writing about the mechanism would be grueling!

The company that runs the museum uses “Sasga” as its brand name. The man who showed me around not only knew his stuff but could explain things in a way that even I could grasp, and that’s no ordinary feat. Really, "sasuga"!

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the April 19 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.