The influence of technology has deepened exponentially since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Important inventions in history were developed and created around this time. The steam engine, for instance, paved the way for new and more versatile methods of travel. Its applications range from steam locomotives to early automobiles. Machines constantly evolved and became more integral in almost every facet of human society.
There’s a certain belief, however, that technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) still hold undeniable limitations despite its centrality and level of advancement in modern society – limitations that may remind people of the irreplaceable impact of a humanistic touch, skill, and craftsmanship.
Premium Japanese marque Lexus is one entity whose philosophy proudly places human craftsmanship as an elemental doctrine. Toyota’s luxury vehicle division carries itself with a certain standard. If Toyota found success by a large part focusing on the sheer number of vehicles sold worldwide, Lexus was granted the freedom to develop luxury vehicles with indisputable character. This is what makes Lexus human.
In early 2019, Lexus released a 60,000-hour documentary on the world of Takumi – a story on the survival of human craft. The spectacle traces the stories of four Japanese artisans who have committed their lives to the arts. The group was composed of a traditional paper cutting artist, a double Michelin starred chef, a carpenter for one of the oldest construction companies in the world, and an automotive craftsman.
Takumi is the highest level of artisan in Japan, and it questions the future of craftsmanship in the midst of the rise of AI. The story includes interviews with experts from the world of craft and AI alike, asking how human craft can be preserved while modern technology continues to advance. For takumi masters, technology may learn in an instant, but a human being learns over a lifetime – and this phenomenon adds certain tones and qualities that technology can never match.
“While it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, becoming a takumi master takes over 60,000 hours of meticulous attention to detail, an extraordinary commitment to practice, and a pursuit of excellence without shortcuts.” These are the words used by Lexus to define Takumi Craftsmanship. In Japan, one could only be considered a master of a craft if the individual has spent 60,000 hours refining his or her skills, that’s the equivalent of working eight hours a day, 250 days a year for 30 years.
Lexus understands that the line dividing human craft and technology is dynamic. Nothing is conclusive. And this philosophy shows in the vehicles they present. The brand has found a way to integrate the quality and personality offered by Japanese craftsmanship while still being able to utilize modern technology. Henry Ford was the great mind responsible for revolutionizing car production process early in the 20th century. This is evidenced by the success of the Ford Model T. Since then, numerous other companies followed his steps to success.
Lexus’ production facility in Tahara, Japan is one of the most technologically advanced factories in the world. Sure, the level of level of progress may sound like an antithesis to brand’s high regard on human craft. But while the Tahara facility takes pride in the incredible precision of its AI machines, at its core are individuals who grew to become takumi experts in their respective fields through a lifetime of practice and learning. Takumi Katsuaki Suganuma, for instance, has committed to a life of building cars and has developed the senses required in detecting flaws that even most modern machines would not recognize. He can sense if the installation of doors and body panels are off by even the smallest millimeters – without using any tools.
Takumi Masters believe in the progress technology brings, but for them, humans still hold a crucial role. Final inspections and decisions still fall on people’s judgement and senses.
The arrival of the Lexus LFA was commanding not only because it served as the marque’s flagship model, but it also represented a turning point as the brand fully embraced the intricate marriage between human craft and technology. The Lexus LFA is powered by a 552 bhp 4.8-liter V10 engine and runs from zero to 100 km/h in just 3.7 seconds. Produced between 2010 and 2013, there are only 500 samples of this exotic. Years have passed but the LFA remains to be the ultimate Lexus. Interior design included bespoke materials and colors made with carbon fiber, leather, alcantara, and metallic components. Light composite materials were then utilized in the construction of the body.
In creating its greatest automobile, Lexus realized what they wanted to be as marque – a builder of artistic and flawless cars tailor-made for customers.
Traces of Takumi craftsmanship are visible in the current model range. Step inside a Lexus and you will be welcomed by a shimamoku wood ornamentation on the steering wheel, dashboard, and door panels. Such pieces are skillfully constructed by master craftsmen for 38 days and requires 67 specialized stages. The spindle grille, Lexus’ heart and soul, required an incredible amount of developmental work. Numerous models and drawings were drafted before finally coming up with the marque’s unique identity. The diamond-cut forged wheels found on the LS 500 were also crafted these takumi masters. Donning the side panels of the LS are origami-inspired pleats, which are artistic and exceptional on its own. The UX, Lexus’ smallest SUV offering, forms a warm ambiance inside with a dashboard inspired by Japanese paper grain called washi.
Craftsmanship has been around for as long as humans have existed. Even early tools used by our ancestors are considered craft. And by 2050, it is believed that machines will outperform humans in virtually every field. Still, the rise of AI should not be frowned upon, but there will always be specific events in life when the human touch and judgement will reign supreme. Living in an increasingly advancing world does not negate the significance of craftsmanship, which has been a cornerstone of our species for as long as we can remember.