A 3D Buddha statue created by automotive engineer‐artist. Part1

Zen and Innovation : Kouji Miki
13 min readDec 17, 2021

Table of Contents
Greetings and Introduction of Performers
Introduction of Issac Corporation
What I learned at zenschool Toyota City
About Polygon Ursula
▶Continue to Part 2
▶Video Conversation

Greetings and Introduction of Performers

Miki: Hello everyone. Today we have Mr. Imai, General Manager of the Business Operation Office of Issac Corporation, who is a metal Buddhist monk, and I would like to talk about how he planned and conceived this Ashura statue at zenschool Toyota City, which I attended in December 2016, and then spent about a year creating it.


I’m looking forward to working with you.

Imai: Thank you very much.

Introduction of Issac Corporation

Miki: Then, may I ask you to explain about your business?

Imai: Yes. My name is Imai, and I’m from Issac Corporation. The name of our company is Issac Corporation, and we are located in Hirokute-cho, Toyota City.

We have 62 employees, and there are two things that are our business and main products. We make automated equipment for large presses (distaff feeders). This is the line for the press, and this equipment separates the blank materials (bundles of steel plates cut to the same size) in front of it one by one and feeds them into the press. This is how it works.

The whole process of separating the blanks, or bundles of iron sheets, one by one and feeding them into the large press is a very large facility. We also manufacture knuckle link presses, which are smaller presses that achieve high precision, low noise, and low vibration through link motion and a rigid structure.

Miki: Originally, it was for digging wells…

Imai: That’s right. The name “AISAKU” was originally Aichi Chisen Kogyo, and the word “chisen” means “well digging…

Miki: Did you develop a well drilling device?

Imai: We probably started by digging wells by hand, and while we were working for Toyota, they asked us if we would make something like this. And that’s how we came to be involved in this kind of equipment.

Miki: Now in business…?

Imai: We’ve been in business for over 50 years.

Miki: I see. You went from drilling wells to feeders…that’s amazing.

Utsunomiya: You also make presses, and the automation equipment around the presses, right?

Imai: That’s right. The distaff feeder is designed for larger presses, but…

Utsunomiya: If people had to feed it in, it wouldn’t be ready in time…

Imai: That’s right. We have to feed materials for side members (structural parts of automobiles), which are very large, so if we had to feed them by hand, we would never be able to finish in time at all.

What I learned at zenschool Toyota City

Miki: Could you tell us why a company that makes such devices was interested in developing its own products and came to zenschool?

Imai: As an extension of my personal hobby, I’ve been interested in wood stoves and pelletizers, which are used to make wood pellets, and I’ve been working on the development of these products in my spare time, with the help of the company in terms of money. I was originally interested in camping, and I was able to make things by trial and error, but I had no know-how on how to connect that to commercialization. At that time, the president of the company told me about zenschool at the right time, and asked me if I wanted to attend a seminar like this. He asked me if I would like to attend such a seminar.

Utsunomiya: Was it around 2016?

Imai: I think it was around the spring of 2016 that we talked about it.

Miki: Toyota City contacted you, didn’t they?

Imai: That’s right. The president couldn’t attend the meeting, so he asked me if I wanted to participate. I asked him if he would like to participate. If it were up to me, I would have been very interested in taking the course, so the timing was just right.

Miki: What were your impressions of the course? Was it what you were expecting?

Imai: There were 5 applicants, but 6 of us applied, and we had an interview first. I read through the materials that were given to me beforehand, and they said that they would teach me everything from planning to sales, but I was very anxious because I didn’t have a clear image of what to expect. (laughs) …I wondered who he was, and he seemed a bit elusive (laughs)…

Everyone: (laughs)

Imai: I remember that a little bit, so I joined the five people who were actually going to receive the program.

Miki: In zenschool, we create an exciting treasure hunting chart, but before that, we meditate for about 10 minutes to remember when we were 10 years old, and then we think of new products using that excitement and the technology we have.

Imai: In my case, I was thinking about when I was 10 years old during meditation, and what came to mind was that there was a time when I really liked Buddhist statues until I was in the upper grades of elementary school and junior high school… I had forgotten about that until I started meditating, but when I think back, I remember going to Kyoto and Nara with my friends and visiting temples…

Miki: Were you really excited about those times?

Imai: Yes, I was. It was a memory of what I liked to do when I was 10 years old, and I decided to combine the strengths of our company and our specialty, which is assembling large facilities, with our various assembly techniques, and decided to try making a Buddhist statue out of scrap wood. The first thing we decided to do was to make a Buddha statue out of scrap wood. There are many kinds of scrap materials, from iron sheets to plastic tubes, and I brought them back to the office, but they didn’t seem to fit my image, so I did some research and found out that paper crafts can be made into three-dimensional objects, which I actually like, so I connected with them. In addition, I thought that if I made it out of aluminum, it would be stronger and larger, and if I made it out of aluminum, the surface would shine, so I could make it crunchy and it would reflect like a mirror ball. So I borrowed it and tried to make one. When I was in elementary school, my favorite statue was the Asura statue in Kofukuji Temple, so I wanted to make my favorite statue first, so I chose this one.

About Polygon Ursula

Miki: I’d like you to take a look at this picture. It’s very choppy and polygon-like, but paper crafts don’t have this kind of choppiness.

Imai: First of all, when you combine surfaces, light is reflected diffusely, and it is beautiful.

Miki: In the case of zenschool, the rule is that the students have to make a prototype in about a month after completing the entire program (intensive lecture), but I didn’t expect them to really make it this far, so the audience was quite surprised when it came out.

Imai: This one is completely original, but I made a paper craft of a commercially available Asura statue almost the same size as this one.

Miki: It appears on Facebook in some places. Just the feet, or the right foot, or “I’m making the hands now”, or “I’ve made the head”…

Imai: We were able to make it to the presentation and it was quite popular, so we decided how to develop it.

Miki: Did you talk to them over the phone?

Imai: We exchanged emails. They asked us to refrain from using it commercially, so we decided that we would have to change our minds and start all over again from the drawing board in order to commercialize it.

Miki: It was a tough job. It took about half a year.

Utsunomiya: Did you actually switch over in March or April?

Imai: Yes, I did. Luckily, there was a company near Nagoya that was willing to help us. They make paper crafts, but they had never made such a large, detailed one. They have made paper crafts, but never such a large and detailed one.

But in the end, they made a wonderful product.

Miki: So you were able to get a grant from the city to make this?

Imai: Yes, we did. I think it was just around June, when I was doing some research, I found out that there is a subsidy for newly developed products like this, and half of the cost is covered. I had never tried anything like that before, and I hadn’t even thought about it when I was working on the stove. I think it was probably because I had learned so much about planning, sales, and other know-how at zenschool, but when I applied for the subsidy, I was able to write the business plan and other things I had learned without any stress, and with the help of the city officials, I was able to do things I had never done before with ease.

Miki: That’s amazing, zenschool.

Utsunomiya: I could use a lot of help. Know-how.

Imai: That’s right. What worried me the most was that Toyota City is famous for its manufacturing, but when it comes to Buddhist statues, there is nothing practical… nothing that makes life easier or more fun to use…

Miki: Fun to display…

Imai: I was wondering if this would be accepted, but I think people found it very interesting. I wondered if they would approve of it, but I think they found it very interesting. Some other companies were too technical, and I thought, “This is an asura statue made of aluminum…

Utsunomiya: So it was very unique (laughs).

(laughs) Imai: When many of our vendors saw the statue, they asked what we were doing (laughs). (laughs) On the contrary, I thought such reactions would be interesting.

Miki: Mr. Imai, there is an anecdote that you went all the way to Kofukuji Temple to see the real thing when you were working on the version before this one.

Imai: Yes, that’s true. When I was on a business trip to Osaka, I asked the company to let me stay there for a night. I used to go there when I was in elementary school and junior high school, but since then I forgot all about Buddhist statues, and when I remembered, I still had an interest in them in my heart, so I went there to see them and motivate myself before I made another one.

Utsunomiya: Was it in the summer of 2017?

Imai: No, it was around February of 2017. I went once before I made the one where I used the previous commercial one instead of the original one.

Utsunomiya: What was it like? The actual Kofukuji temple?

Imai: It’s so famous that you could stand in front of it for 10 minutes or even an hour and never get tired of it.

Utsunomiya: Is it possible to take pictures?

Imai: No filming is allowed at all.

Miki: When you let it soak into you and assemble it…

Utsunomiya: Did you soak it in?

Imai: Yes.

Miki: What surprised me was that there was a photo of the real thing, and when I took a photo of version 1 from almost the same angle, the position of the hands and everything was exactly the same. Maybe the blueprints for the paper craft were good, or maybe you were able to make it look exactly the same because you had a sense of what was going on inside you.

Imai: I actually went to see it and said, “Please let me make it. Please let me make it.” I think that was a blessing.

Utsunomiya: The expression on the face and the eyes are amazing.

Miki: Today is the first time I’ve seen version 2, and it has a lot of expression. The front, left and right sides are slightly different. The hands are very expressive. Version 1 didn’t have this much expression in the hands.

Imai: Actually, when I was working on version 1, I was looking at some of the adjustments…

Miki: Adjusting it for paper craft?

Imai: Yes, that’s right. I made it easier to assemble, and the face was cut down a lot…

Miki: Is this one more realistic, or closer to the real thing?

Imai: When you compare it with the real thing and look at the materials, you realize that we want to make it as close to the real thing as possible. Of course, the size is the same, and this hand was just a tube in version 1.

Miki: The bangles are well represented in this one, aren’t they? Also, the expression of the clothes is richer in this version.

Imai: That’s right. There are more parts in this version, so I think it’s more realistic than version 1.

Miki: I see. In version 1, the size of the right side of the face was not that different from the front, but did you change the size to make it more realistic?

Imai: If you take a picture of this from the same angle as the real thing, it will probably overlap quite a bit.

Utsunomiya: Since this is made of aluminum, it looks completely different depending on the lighting. It looks different when viewed at night and in the daytime. It’s amazing how it looks different every time you look at it.

Imai: In a cool way, it’s like a living thing…

Miki: What was interesting for us was that Imai-san became more and more like a Buddhist monk, and his face became more and more like a Buddhist monk… (laughs)

Utsunomiya: He was becoming less like an engineer (laughs).

Imai: I’m going to get angry.

Utsunomiya: But the craftsmanship that lies at the heart of an engineer is close to that of a Buddhist monk…

Imai: I want to be particular about everything I do, so I don’t like to cheat because I don’t like to do things in a random way.

Utsunomiya: That’s the craftsmanship, isn’t it?

Imai: Yes, it is.

Utsunomiya: Using CAD as an output is more of a manual skill this time, isn’t it?

Imai: I’ve always liked to do detailed work quietly. I thought people probably wouldn’t say anything about it because it was their free time, but on the contrary, as I kept working on it, some people started to look forward to it, asking, “What can you make? On the other hand, the more I worked on it, the more people started to look forward to it. I was able to clear that up, and we were able to do it.

Miki: The expressions on the arms are probably more realistic in this one. The expression of the arms when they split into three is a nice touch.

Imai: We worked with a contractor, but since it was the first time we actually put it together, some things didn’t add up, or the angles of the hands were different.

Utsunomiya: Finally, in December 2017, you participated in an exhibition at the Creators Market.

Imai: Yes, that’s right. It’s held twice a year in June and December at a place called Port Messe Nagoya…

Utsunomiya: Did you exhibit this one?

Imai: I exhibited this one at the beginning of December, but I finished it at the very last minute, at noon the day before I was to deliver it to Port Messe.

Miki: What was the response like?

Imai: At first, I couldn’t imagine what the response would be like, because it was the first time for me to participate in such an exhibition…

Utsunomiya: You had never been to an exhibition as a visitor before?

Imai: No, I had not. When I actually went to the exhibition, I saw a huge number of people. What I didn’t expect was that it would be popular among older people, but when I walked past people of all ages, regardless of gender, they would definitely stop when they saw it, their faces would smile a little, and they would say, “Wow, that’s amazing! I’m sure they’ll stop and smile and say, “Wow!

Miki: Does it feel like something is coming to you? Like they’re staring at me.

Imai: Yes, they do.

Utsunomiya: Does it make you smile?

Imai: My mouth loosens up and I say, “Wow! or “Wow! I didn’t display anything at the beginning, so I put up a sign saying, “Photos and cameras are OK,” and a lot of people started taking pictures.

Utsunomiya: Was it like looking at the whole body?

Imai: The booth was surrounded on three sides by this black cloth, and there was a little lighting behind it. For the first time, I think we were able to create an exhibition with quite an impact.

▶Continue to Part 2

▶Video Conversation




Zen and Innovation : Kouji Miki

A school of innovation based on the Zen philosophy that overcame unemployment and depression through zazen. https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikikouj