The pursuit of perfection as an obsession

29 01 2012

Every so often you come across an individual who can turn what others see as just a job into a true vocation–a person who approaches his trade with the attitude and skill of an artist. I have nothing but respect for these all-too-rare individuals, and I try to learn about them whenever I am able. Over the past few months, I’ve heard of two–and they share an interesting connection.

First, I stumbled upon the work of a certain Shin Yoshikawa. He runs a shop called “Studio Time Capsule” out in California. He also creates insanely intricate cutaway technical drawings of vintage cars. He recently built fabricated a replica Toyota 2000GT body. By hand. From aluminum. Shin’s English may not be great, but the same cannot be said about his craftsmanship.

No words.

A few weeks ago, my dad handed me an article about Hidetaka Takasaki. “Taka” specializes in the repair of old Japanese motorcycles (much like my 1980 Honda CB 750K). But he doesn’t advertise his services, and he doesn’t pride himself on his speed or efficiency–his reputation has spread on the strength of his artistry.

It should obvious to even the most casual observer that both Shin Yoshikawa and Hidetaka Takasaki are Japanese. And though it is no secret that the Japanese value quality workmanship, a new article in the Wall Street Journal  attempts to explain the phenomenon while highlighting a fascinating trend: the production of better-than-authentic international goods. From the article:

High-end consumer culture in Japan survived 20 years of economic decline and has actually become much better, in critical terms, though also less profitable than it was when Japan, Inc., ruled the world. The Japanese, animated by the principles of perfection, specialization, craft and obsession that they have long brought to their own culture, have applied the same standards to Basque cuisine, Rhum Agricole cocktails, American-style outerwear, and almost everything else wondrous and obscure from the rest of the world.

It’s a bit lengthy but well worth a read. The Japanese obsession with perfection finds a staggeringly wide range of often surprising outlets: tiny, Michelin-starred Tokyo restaurants; replica bomber jackets far better than anything available to American pilots in WWII; the ideal cocktail.

Though the article focuses on high-end goods, there is no reason that a similar level of devotion and appreciation cannot be applied to even the most mundane tasks.

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