I enjoy a story that depends on a contrarian bent.
If someone revealed that Steve Jobs prefers Bad Religion on vinyl or that Michael Arrington leads a Bible study group, I would read those stories.
So naturally, I gravitated to the piece “A hammer — yes, that low-tech tool — helps mold noses of Japan’s bullet trains” in The Washington Post.
Is there any image that screams high-tech more than the Japanese bullet train?
As The Post points out, “Decades of computer-aided engineering have gone into those curvaceous snouts.”
Which leads to the entertaining payoff:
It is a shock, then, to learn that they are banged out — one piece at a time — with a hammer you can buy at the Home Depot.
The banging happens here in Kudamatsu, a small factory town at the southern end of Japan’s main island. Eight craftsmen use hammers to bend and twist thin sheets of aluminum, which are then welded together to create the graceful swoops of metal that cover the front of a bullet train.
The next time I’m at Home Depot, I’m asking for one of those.
The narrative then takes us to Kiyoto Yamashita who, 56 years ago at the age of 17, started the only company in the world that hammers out bullet train noses.
Here, we encounter the first of several anecdotes.
How do you think Mr. Yamashita earned a living before train schnozes came calling?
Listen up, Hollywood. He worked for an auto body shop applying his magic on Hondas, Toyotas and the occassional Beemer to rid them of unsightly dents.
There’s also a prodigal-son-returns dimension to the story.
After being told he couldn’t cut it in the family business, Master Yamashita left Kudamatsu for Tokyo to attend business school and then took jobs in Australia and Europe.
But three years ago, the parents had a change of heart, asking him back to run the operation.
Since taking over, his greatest challenge has been dealing with an aging workforce, a genuine quandary given that it takes a good 10 years for a newcomer to be anointed “bullet train nose jedi.”
As Master Yamashita puts it:
“It is not easy to find people to do this work because most Japanese have never even heard of this skill.”
I suspect most Americans, Italians and Slavakians, etc. haven’t heard of this skill either.
Global issues aside, I don’t think this YouTube video is the answer to attracting the youth of Japan:
Another recruitment idea implemented under Master Yamashita involves creating cellos and violins out of hammered aluminum to create awareness for the company and its unique craft.
I don’t know.
Do 17-year-old kids who favor string instruments have the right demeanor for this gig? Before jumping on me for stereotyping, take a look at how these disparate areas are linked at Kids Web Japan.
I rest my case.
But here’s an idea –
Create a new line of aluminum baseball bats.
Now there’s a connection to Japanese youngsters that would trigger buzz.
I can see The Washington Post revisiting this story in 10-15 years with the feel-good angle, baseball players who can’t achieve Pro Yakyu find satisfying career in the bullet train biz.