Shinkansen, also known as the Bullet train, is a high-speed railway in Japan operated since 1964.
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.
Shinkansen nose structure are designed by considering the aerodynamic characters, as to reduce aerodynamic drug, reduce aerodynamic noise, and reduce pressure wave passing through tunnels. By these reasons Shinkansen nose structure shape becomes high aspect ratio sharp shape, and complex shape combined with convex and concave surface. Up to now, these Shinkansen nose structure are manufactured by covering sheet metals with hand hammer work, on skeleton frames. These hammer work depends on human skill and needs skill-full workers.
At the small company named Yamashita Kogyo, 35 employees work to produce the noses for the N-700 series of Shinkansen.
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.
When engineers demand sudden design changes, the company does not have to rebuild elaborate machines. Workers simply pound out new shapes.
It is amazing that they are banged out — one piece at a time — with a hammer you can buy at the Home Depot. This fact surprised many people.
Like the automobile, Shinkansen represents ‘crystallization of cutting-edge technologies’, but what many people do not realize is that it is human hands, not precision machinery that fabricates many of its parts.
More surprisingly, Yamashita Kogyo is now managed to hammer a 4 millimeter thick piece of aluminum down to 1.6 millimeters. The company has built cellos and violins out of hammered aluminum. The instruments are sleek, handsome and light.
We call this ‘Takumi-no Waza” (匠の技）- Japanese craftsmanship.