Very interesting. Thanks for sharing the article.
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, Terry Thorne <oldgoaly@...> wrote:
> This is from John Washbush, I hope you find it interesting sorry I don't
> have a link, but will look for it. All credit to The Washington Post and its
> staff. tt
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> LETTER FROM JAPANA hammer -- yes, that low-tech tool -- helps mold noses of
> Japan's bullet trains
> Previous Next
> [image: A hammer-wielding craftsman at Yamashita Kogyosho Co. is fashioning
> a nose for the latest-model Japanese bullet train, the E-6 series, scheduled
> to go into service in 2013.]
> A hammer-wielding craftsman at Yamashita Kogyosho Co. is fashioning a nose
> for the latest-model Japanese bullet train, the E-6 series, scheduled to go
> into service in 2013. (Courtesy Of East Japan Railway Co. Courtesy Of
> Yamashita Kogyosho Co.)
> By Blaine Harden<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/staff/articles/blaine+harden/>
> Washington Post Foreign Service
> Sunday, March 28, 2010
> KUDAMATSU, JAPAN -- No objects in Japan embody sleek design and cutting-edge
> technology like the noses of bullet trains. Decades of computer-aided
> engineering have gone into those curvaceous snouts.
> 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.
> With diligence and good muscle memory, it takes a young man about 10 years
> to really know what he is doing with a hammer, to be able to intuitively
> sense from the sound and feel of a hammer's blow how each aluminum sheet is
> taking shape.
> It is manufacturing as performance art. There are no manuals. Perfection is
> never possible. One learns by banging. Over time, it makes you hard of
> That's what Kiyoto Yamashita says, and he ought to know. Fifty-six years
> ago, when he was 17, he created the only company in the world that makes
> bullet-train noses with hammers.
> Six generations of high-speed trains later, his company -- now run by his
> son, Tatsuto -- is still unique. It has just finished banging out a
> prototype for the E-6 series, the latest bullet-train design for the East
> Japan Railway Co.
> The elder Yamashita was swinging a sweet hammer back in the early '60s,
> knocking dents out of bumpers in a Kudamatsu auto body shop, when engineers
> from the local Hitachi train factory came looking for someone who could
> fashion a metal box that would fit on a steam locomotive.
> He hammered and welded together such a good box that Hitachi remembered him
> when Japanese National Railways was in a rush to build high-speed rail in
> time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
> As a subcontractor to Hitachi, Yamashita made prototypes for the first
> bullet train, Shinkansen. He built a company that thrived as high-speed
> passenger trains became a key factor in Japan's postwar economic rise.
> Shinkansen trains have carried more than 7 billion passengers without a
> fatal accident. They are fast and getting faster -- up to 200 miles an hour
> for the latest series, which will debut in 2013. They are also comfortable,
> elegant and energy-efficient, and they run on time.
> The nose of a bullet train is not particularly well-suited to the expensive
> and highly specialized mass-production machinery that molds and cuts metal
> to make hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks and toasters. The number of
> high-speed locomotives built for each bullet-train series in Japan is quite
> limited, from 40 to 120.
> In Yamashita's small factory, metal workers pound together a new nose every
> week or so. There are other ways to make one, but Yamashita's method is
> flexible, reliable and relatively cheap. When engineers demand sudden design
> changes, the company does not have to rebuild elaborate machines. Workers
> simply pound out new shapes.
> The company estimates that it has built noses for about 30 percent of all
> the bullet trains in Japan, as well as high-speed trains in China, South
> Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
> "The most cost-efficient way of transferring computer-assisted 3-D design to
> metal is with a hammer," said Tatsuto Yamashita, who, unlike his father,
> never spent much time swinging a hammer.
> "My father told me that if I took over the business, it would go broke," he
> So the son moved away from Kudamatsu, attended business school in Tokyo and
> worked in Australia and Europe. His parents invited him back home three
> years ago to run the company.
> Since his return, his most urgent concern has been finding more men -- and
> perhaps women -- who are willing to learn the craft of metal shaping. Most
> of his current workers are on the far side of 50, and it will take a decade
> for newcomers to acquire enough skills to replace them.
> "We cannot keep up with demand," he said. "It is not easy to find people to
> do this work because most Japanese have never even heard of this skill."
> Hoping to increase awareness, the company has built cellos and violins out
> of hammered aluminum and dispatched them as recruitment tools to exhibitions
> and events across Japan. The instruments are sleek, handsome and light, but
> they sound tinny.
> "We are working on that," Yamashita said.
> The company hopes to lure a world-famous cellist to perform with one of its
> instruments, which Yamashita thinks would be a sure-fire recruiting gambit.
> "Please tell Yo-Yo Ma he is welcome anytime," Yamashita said.
> *Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report*.