1 May 2009. Are You Neglecting A Perfectly Good Crisis?


For all things made, we are more spoiled with choice than ever before in this generation. Few young people know how to ignite something from scratch in this age, a worrying thought for the minority who traditionally opt for a beginning involving the tested measure of rubbing twigs together. In many ways, choice has become a proverbial enemy for the modern day inventor. This caused me to ask the deeper question, what of those who are still starting life with their bare hands? The generation without money is one that choice has no authority to obliterate. Without inspirational leaders the world has no example to follow for hope. Revered figures who were unafraid to get their hands dirty are all but died out. As a person drawn to legendary figures with explosive and often controversial, hardworking personalities, I harbour a great disappointment that the batons of the previous age have been left to diffuse on the ground. And so I found myself returning to the drawing board of those who picked up the first spanners of our civilisation, in particular one man I admire and liken much to my own father.

The bicycle shops of the Far East are filled with the stuff of young boys’ dreams, often being the backdrop for childhoods filled with excitement in it’s simplicity; the endless supply of opportunity found in nuts, bolts and mechanisms. Children fortunate enough to be taught by their mechanic fathers are often regarded as particular sorts of keyholders for the next generation. My own father grew up under this privilege, watching and helping his father repair a number of things besides bicycles in his repair shop. What is fascinating about this, is that this early stimulation of curiosity proved influential in shaping much of my father’s professional aptitude for application today. It caused him to flourish in the idea that in all things, there are limitless opportunities for growth and experimentation. Sadly, to the mind conquered by the new age, such menial tasks no longer have a place in association with excitement and thrill; we have pivoted past the point that almost everything we know has been replaced by electricity. Yet, there is still a growing need for the reliability, functionality and framework of honesty that physical mechanisms provide us with on a daily basis. One such pragmatist fulfilled this need many years ago, from which we continue to reap bountifully from today.

In 1906 a boy of simple background was born to a blacksmith in Hamamatzu, Shizuoka, Japan. Much like my own father’s early years, he too spent his humble childhood helping his father’s bicycle repair business with much intrigue.  A fascination with mechanics was stirred up during these formative years; as his understanding grew, forthwith sprung an unbridled passion for the motor engine in all regards. The boy would ask his grandfather to take him to watch the rice mill engine in a farm nearby for the simple pleasure of watching it in action. He often chased after cars in his neighbourhood, amazed by the power of their engines and the smell of hot fumes. Eventually he began to experiment with fashioning his own toys with materials and instruments found in his father’s workshop. And on one occasion much later on, he took one of his father’s bicycles to ride to the Wachiyama military airfield and climb a tree just to watch a biplane military demonstration. The love of all things mechanical drew him towards engineering; with drive, determination and focus, he grew to eventually forsake his formal education, move to downtown Tokyo and steadily become a respected mechanic. It was much later that this man experimented with a small engine-powered bicycle in an attempt to create a forward-thinking commuter vehicle. Together with his best friend, they created the first, humble 98 cc two-stroke motorcycle named “Dream”. Thus were the beginnings of the great empire of one man who dared to dream, named Sōichirō Honda.

Why is this story even relevant to us today?

Today in the world, there are societies in certain parts of the globe that jealously and deliberately seek to strangle the hope, joy and determination for success out of those who dare to dream. It is those societies which will reap the miserable shortcomings of such oppression. Without the boldness to experiment, the dreams of this next generation will never get off the ground. In every leap of faith there is an equal chance of failure and success, and there will always be the overwhelming notion that living by safe measures of practicality is the only safeguard for your life.

But to those whose only hope now, is to take the chance to be something you could only dream of becoming, I hold up before you Sōichirō Honda. Looking simply at just the facts, the odds were stacked against him in great numbers: at the time of Honda’s emergence it was 1946, the war had ended a year ago; the transportation industry was already at a level of previously unmatched maturity, smaller fish who had tried to break fresh into the market failed miserably, no new contenders were wanted. Looking at the climate and the facts before him, Sōichirō Honda had no good reason to try and open his company at a time like this, much less all by himself and with nothing but a dream. But this was the only moment he had. If he didn’t seize it, it would vanish from underneath him.

In this current climate of doom and gloom, I take great courage from this man and urge you to too.

  1. Diane Fernandez said:

    Seems to me an opportune time for some mechanically inclined individual(s) to get on with it! Now that the US govt and the trade union are owners of GM, it’s only a matter of time until Chevy, Buick & Olds will follow Pontiac on the road to demise.

    I’m really gonna hate to see GM’s big-ass truck line go….

    • thebritishmittentree said:

      History repeats itself, or so they say. Some of the greatest inventions were borne out of tragedy, so the bright sparks of this generation had better dose themselves to the eyeballs with courage and get scribbling!

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