Have You Got The Time?

Returning to our Toyota/Lexus micro-theme, Andrew Miles takes a detailed look a the art of craftsmanship.

(c) Lexus.blog.com

Takumi is not a job description, nor a role you can apply for. Takumi is a state of mind, a calling, an undeniable load and bearing on your whole existence. Takumi is not for those faint of heart. 

Artisans by their very nature have dedication, but those who work in and around Lexus take those to unchartered levels. But with technology advancing at ever greater speed, the hand crafted arts are swiftly losing out. Automation, artificial intelligence and computer progress are threatening livelihoods. Lexus look at things differently. Of the seven thousand people, along with hundreds of robots who create the cars at Lexus’ Tahara factory in Aichi, Takumi number less than twenty.

One method to determine your Takumi mettle is the folding of paper. Make up an origami cat in less than ninety seconds with your non-dominant hand. I can struggle with a light switch with my left hand. The sensory level these masters have achieved is almost superhuman. Taste and smell are perhaps the only senses not utilised to the utmost degree.

Whilst Ole Henry gave the world the production line, it took the Japanese to not only refine but to try and obliterate any kind of fault, problem or defect in the whole process. No mean feat but to compare reasonably equipped factories in say the US, UK and Japan from the 1970s onwards would be an unfair fight. Look how many ’80s and ’90s Japanese cars are still trundling around today without much trouble.

As we now lurch into the 31st year of Lexus car production and their portfolio grows ever larger, the Takumi are not only revered but have been awarded film star status by their employers, with a film specially made to help us mere mortals understand a little of their craft. The West’s barometer is ten thousand hours to become skilled in your profession. 60,000 hours is the Takumi standard.

(c) Lexus.blog.com

This equates to eight hours per day, 250 days per year, for thirty years and is not one but two films. The first one indeed lasts for that exact time, which for those with little else to do is a soupçon short of seven years. The film by Netflix documentary fellow, Clay Jeter is looped ad-infinitum in order to run for that time. Don’t expect big box office takings.

The more real-world film lasts but one of those little hours, revealing the worlds of carpentry, Michelin starred cuisine, paper cutting and of course the building of a Lexus. It is compelling viewing. In our time restricted lives where everything is needed and expected instantly, the time invested in such a skill is becoming obsolescent. To empty the mind of everything but the task in hand (literally) requires strength of mind. All of which is hugely diverting from today’s manufacturing process, but arguably more necessary than ever.

Kiriko glass detail. (c) Lexus enthusiast.com.

Luckily, for those with a sense of calm, philosophy and understanding, Lexus Takumi display their unbending quest to achieve perfection. Any fool can argue the merits of styling or power plant – to be able to critique workmanship without fail by human sense borders on magical. No doubt someone will attempt to recreate the Takumi’s art in software form; an artisanal app in a state of the art factory but meanwhile, as purveyors of proficiency, as slaves to the sublime, as creatures craving human interaction as technology attempts to takeover, we should treasure the Takumi.

The delicacy taken over the bodywork is almost maternal, or in this silver screened instance, perhaps paternal. To feel for microscopic flaws, to reveal paint imperfections, caressed with white gloved care. To listen to engine revolutions, aiming to detect irregularities that no microphone could determine. To have the ability to not only see but feel and explain a nought point three millimetre gap in a panel and have the authority to rectify them are skills that I suspect none of the readership will ever posses. 

Whilst you may not appreciate the vehicles that Lexus are producing, it would be a cold heart that sees nothing of this dedication which this film portrays in a most balanced way.

Watch it here www.takumi-craft.com if only to observe devotion in everyday lives. 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

4 thoughts on “Have You Got The Time?”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. An insightful exposition of an interesting subject, thank you. I admire and applaud the way that human skills (and mindset) are still regarded as central to Japanese manufacturing whereas, in the West, the human element seems to be subordinated to computer and robotic technology in the quest to achieve consistently high quality. Not only does the Japanese approach demonstrably work, but I imagine it makes the workers feel more highly valued than their peers in the West.

    Allied to Takumi, Kaizen is another Japanese principle, one that concerns striving for continuous, incremental improvement. I think both principles apply not just to work, but more widely to life, where we try to achieve a state that Abraham Maslow dubbed ‘self-actualization’, to be the very best one can be.

  2. It´s interesting to see a moral dimension in what we prosaically call “manufacturing”. There is a strand of ethics in Western aesthetics – I know David Pye´s stance is at base a moral one. I have yet to find the source but I have read the German Meister Eckhart also indicated the moral value of formgiving; interestingly while Roger Scruton had a lot to say about aesthetics he didn´t address the moral dimension (leaving that to his political writing, alas). I think in north European craft there is the idea of doing it right for its own sake. It is a pity that outlook has been overshadowed by a banal process-orientated attitude; the best British craftsmen also aimed for quality as point of pride – again an attitude now living only inside Rolls Royce and Bentley, maybe, protected by an ample supply of money.
    The interesting thing is that if you help people achieve the best they can in their work they don´t feel the need to be compensated by money. You also make happier people. Eliminating the joy of craft in pursuit of profit is the dumbest saving to be made. And note, Toyota is rather consistently profitable. Anglo-Saxons, take note.

  3. On a trivial point, history might be bunk, as Ole Henry told us, but it does record that it was the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts that developed the art of assembly line production many years before Ford. Henry Ford pioneered process engineering, which might be regarded as an even greater triumph, at least from the stance of managing complexity.

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