The Best Carpenter
Recently I watched a Japanese TV variety show featuring a competition among carpenters to be hailed the best carpenter in Japan. Well, I suppose it could not be comprehensive contest since there were only five competitors, but even so that was the gimmick of this entertainment stunt. I never thought much of carpentry before, but I really got into it watching this variety show, and began rooting for my preferred candidate. It started with five carpenters and the first contest was simply driving a nail into a piece of wood with a hammer. Immediately the five were reduced to three as one carpenter took two strokes to drive it in, one choked and missed completely, and the winners all drove it in completely with a single stroke.
After that came the contest of joining two 4x4 beams together without using nails, and then testing the strength of the joints by hooking a net onto the joined beam and dropping bowling balls into the net to see how much weight could be supported. The winner endured 41 balls before collapsing, the runner up held 40, and the loser fell apart at 31.
Then came the third and final contest between the remaining two (male) competitors, a 61-year old and a 46-year old. They each had to build a dog house. Both chose a traditional Japanese design, the older re-creating a model of the main gate of the Heian Shrine in Kyoto, and the young executing a miniature “minka” style farm house with interior plastered walls and thatched roof. The judges were three men from a professional carpentry association, and I immediately suspected that the winner would be the 46-year old farmhouse builder, because in their hearts Japanese are a nation of rice-farming peasants more than cosmopolitan technocrats. I was correct, the farmhouse won. I felt badly for the older man because in Japan’s hierarchical society the older person is the “sempai,” or senior and, in the case of professionals, the older is the “sensei,” the teacher or master. But in this case the older man lost out to the younger, which struck me as contrary.
Through the course of the one-hour show I saw the competitors using various tools and advancing with the sophistication of the project. They started with a simple hammer and nail. Then came the wooden mallets, chisels and Japanese style saws. In the dog house phase they were using the whole gamut of tools, from traditional Japanese tools and techniques to electrical appliances familiar to any North American builder.