NHK has some intriguing programs, Supreme Skills is one of them.
In this show, they ask two teams of master tradespeople to compete against an impossible request. It seems impossible every show but somehow those teams find a way to make it happen. For example, in the last show, they asked for a thin needle that could be driven through a plate of steel.
Every episode is fascinating. One team had the resources of a huge 100-year needle manufacturer. The other is an older man with just his experience and knowledge. The level of resources was completely uneven. The older man had to travel to test his designs, and the first team had a testing machine in-house with lots of expensive computer equipment. Guess who won? The team with the greater resources. However, the older man came very close and I am sure he would have beaten them had he had those resources to test.
What is important here is that during the show, the level of respect is touching. It is clear that both teams admire and value each of the approaches taken by their competitor. You never have the feeling like many US competitions where they trash their competitor. Indeed, they seem to appreciate and humbly regard their own approach to the problem.
At the end of the show, both competitors bow to each other showing their respect to them. It always is surprising how much they bow. In the US we might shake each other’s hand or say superficial friendly words, you get the sense in Japan that is it sincere. For example, the older man and the younger man both bowed to each other several times and the younger one wanted to seem to be the last one to bow. He won, and he clearly deserved it, but both competitors were worthy of winning.
It is remarkable but every person I saw on this show exhibits a level of hard work, determination, and creativity that deserves more. The camera only showed part of their hard work, but you could see from their reactions that every job they wanted was “just a little improvement.” It is completely different from most US businesses where the idea of improvement is advertised but actually ignored in operation.
Is it any wonder that Japanese luxury cars are so reliable? Lexus Corporation may not pursue perfection, but the average Japanese employee does.