How Japanese Things Are Made in 309 Videos: Bamboo Tea Whisks, Hina Dolls, Steel Balls & More

The Japan­ese term kaizen, which just means some­thing like “good change,” has come to sig­ni­fy in glob­al man­age­ment cul­ture a process of con­tin­u­ous small-scale improve­ment — an ele­ment of the “Japan­ese busi­ness phi­los­o­phy” so envi­ous­ly scru­ti­nized dur­ing that coun­try’s post­war eco­nom­ic boom. Toy­ota has done the most to asso­ciate them­selves with the idea of kaizen-as-con­tin­u­ous-improve­ment, but it has made its way to count­less oth­er busi­ness­es, includ­ing for­eign ones sell­ing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent prod­ucts; even the Amer­i­can gro­cery store Trad­er Joe’s has worked the word into their inter­nal cus­tomer-ser­vice lex­i­con.

But the nature of kaizen comes most clear­ly into view in the sys­tems of Japan­ese man­u­fac­tur­ing. Japan has long pos­sessed a strong cul­ture of hand-crafts­man­ship, and, for almost as long, a strong cul­ture of automa­tion as well. You can see both at work in The Mak­ing, a series of videos from the Japan Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Agen­cy’s Sci­ence Chan­nel on Youtube. “There are from 2 to 150, and 151 to 309 videos to choose from,” writes Metafil­ter user arowe­of­shale, who high­lights the episodes on may­on­naise, “the mak­ing of steel balls (avail­able in Eng­lish), the con­struc­tion and test­ing of sewing machines, how rice crack­ers are made, a ther­mos fac­to­ry, the recy­cling of PET bot­tles, a matcha tea fac­to­ry and the cre­ation of bam­boo whisks.”

These mini-doc­u­men­taries take in-depth looks at the nuts and bolts (some­times lit­er­al­ly) of pro­duc­tion sys­tems that have evolved, small improve­ment after small improve­ment, over decades or indeed cen­turies. You can see in action every stage of these hybrid process­es of advanced and high­ly spe­cial­ized tech­nol­o­gy with skilled and some­times even arti­sanal human labor, some­how at once elab­o­rate and ele­gant. This goes for every prod­uct fea­tured, no mat­ter how impor­tant or triv­ial it may seem. (I got hooked myself after watch­ing one on chick­en-shaped sweets.)

Even non-Japan­ese-speak­ers can enjoy all of The Mak­ing’s clear and almost com­plete­ly visu­al-dri­ven episodes, but the JST has also made select ones avail­able with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles (see top playlist) in order to tell the world all about what it takes to make what it has come to see as quin­tes­sen­tial­ly Japan­ese, like urban rail­road cars, steel balls (of many uses, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to pachinko machines), and Hina dolls.

Any Amer­i­can old-timer will tell you that, back in their day — a time when the Unit­ed States’ for­mer ene­my had yet to ful­ly rebuild its econ­o­my, let alone to become a tech­no­log­i­cal leader — the “made in Japan” stamp sig­ni­fied a piece of junk. These videos show us, in detail, what it took to refute that notion for good.

via metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er Japan’s Earth­quake Proof Under­ground Bike Stor­age Sys­tem: The Future is Now

Watch a Japan­ese Crafts­man Lov­ing­ly Bring a Tat­tered Old Book Back to Near Mint Con­di­tion

Cook­pad, the Largest Recipe Site in Japan, Launch­es New Site in Eng­lish

Let’s Learn Japan­ese: Two Clas­sic Video Series to Get You Start­ed in the Lan­guage

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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