The 50 Famous People series doesn’t dwell much on Japan’s scientific community. 10 of the 50 are Japanese, and of those, 3 are writers or artists, 2 are warlords or statesmen, 3 are inventor/scientist businessmen, 1 is a solo explorer and the last is the director of the Godzilla movies. Because I started this blog initially as a review site for the Gakken science kits (and I have an interest in various business practices), I wish that the Famous People series would spend more time on their scientific “local heroes”. We can see a little of them in the textbook sections of these mooks, but not enough to really learn anything about their accomplishments. And somehow, I’m not expecting a whole lot of scientific theory in the book on Andou Momofuku, inventor of cup ramen.
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Souichirou Honda is the founder of Honda Motors, makers of motorcycles, cars, jets and robots. Born in 1906 in Shizuoka (about 100 miles southwest from Tokyo), Soichiro grew up helping his blacksmith father. After finishing school, he went to Tokyo and got an apprenticeship at a garage repairing cars. After a few years, he returned to Shizuoka and opened his own branch of the repair chain, establishing a reputation for being able to repair anything and getting the name “the Edison of Shizuoka”. He continued working during WW II, but an earthquake destroyed one parts plant and a second was bombed. After the war, the American GHQ had a proscription against Japanese companies making cars, and Honda refused to do work that anyone else could do just as well. After a year, he started making gas engines for powering bicycles. After saturating the market, he and his group, now with 50 people, created Japan’s first real motorcycle. Unfortunately, Honda had no head for business and the company was losing money. He was introduced to Takeo Fujisawa, who then went on to handle the financial side of Honda Technical Research Institute. Eventually, Honda got to the “big fish in a small pond” stage and wanted to be known as the maker of the world’s fastest bikes. He set his sights on the Isle of Man TT, taking first place in its weightclass after a few years. Afterward, he moved into the automobile and airplane industries (he and his wife both owned pilot’s licenses). He died in 1991 at age 84 from liver disease.
The intro manga starts with Yoichiro, Mami and Merrino visiting Yutako’s family’s go cart track. Daichi is preparing for a race at the track, but he’s so nervous he throws up. Yoichi attempts to enter the race as well, but his bicycle doesn’t qualify as a go cart. Merrino breaks out his giant ladybug, but it’s disqualified for not having tires. Suddenly Yoichi and Daichi get inspired and start welding parts together. In the wrap-up, the ladybug now has a steering bar and a tire on the bottom. The race begins and Yochi is off to a flying start. Literally. Later, when the ladybug lands, Yoichi returns home to discover that Mami and Merrino are watching TV and eating snacks without him.
The main manga is unusual in that there are no flashbacks this time. Drawn by Kusa Shirotsume (Tears to Tiara), the artwork is simple yet detailed. Again, though, the faces have been westernized, with thinner noses, larger eyes and square chins. It’s not as bad as the Galileo mook, but Honda doesn’t look much like the photos at the time. The story picks up with Soichiro at age 40, talking to a friend just after WW II. He hasn’t decided what to do next, since his factories were destroyed and the U.S. Army won’t let the Japanese make their own cars again. He flat-out refuses to get back into machine repair because anyone can do that. He spies a piece of metal on the floor of the guy’s house – it’s a heat sink from an American wireless radio and looks like part of a motorcycle engine. This inspires him to start making engines for powering bicycles. A few months later, he’s founded Honda Technical Research and hired a few extra hands. When one of the men states that there aren’t any new customers and suggests making a new product copying the designs of the current one, Honda yells at him. Instead, he draws the design for a new engine on the floor and they go to work on making their first real motorcycle. Soon after, though, yet another customer goes belly up and is unable to pay for their order. Soichiro is in danger of going out of business as well, but a friend introduces him to Fujisawa and the two hit it off immediately. Honda decides that he’s going to put a bike in the Isle of Man TT, but once he’s actually at the race he gets cold feet because of the level of the competition. This does inspires him, though, and the team spends a few years testing designs on the track. After they do win, Soichiro tries to do the same thing for Formula 1, except that the Japanese government is about to pass a law protecting its existing car manufacturers by preventing any new entrants to the market. Honda goes into a rage and the company works to get a car on the streets before the law takes effect. The manga ends with Honda triumphant with a series of successful products behind him.
The textbook section focuses mainly on Soichiro’s upbringing, work experience, and his teaming up with Fujisawa to make Honda Motors one of the most profitable car companies in the world. There are pictures of old bikes and stills from various races, a photo of Ayrton Senna after winning a race, and shots of Honda at different ages. Sidebars describe the scars on Soichiro’s hand (from smashing it with a hammer or gouging it with a chisel), his friendship with Fujisawa, and some of Honda Motor’s other products such as a private jet and the Asimo robot. The last 2 pages highlight some of Japan’s other technological achievements, including a new process for making carbon tubes, the first realistic-looking female robot (HRP-4C), an anti-earthquake design where the house rides on an air cushion, the world’s smallest single-person helicopter and Hayabusa.
The TCG cards this time are for: Edmund Cartwright, Thomas Jefferson, Yemelyan Pugachev, Jeremy Bentham, Francisco Goya, Antoine Lavoisier, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Edward Jenner.
Summary: This mook for Souichirou Honda is a fairly well-drawn, simple overview of his life and the beginnings of Honda Motors. It doesn’t get into any of the details of his engine designs, and definitely ignores his personal and family life. The main impression I get is that he gets angry easily, yelling at people that don’t immediately see things from his point of view. The mook does repeat a couple of his more famous mottos, but there’s no description of his business philosophy (which may be for the best, since he was a better engineer than a businessman). If you’re not familiar with the person, this is as good a way as any to learn a little about him.
There’ll be a break until the next mook I want comes out in October. There are 18 issues left in the series, but I only care about 6 of them. In the meantime, I hope to get more information to write about regarding the Gakken kits (the Edison wax recorder comes out on the 25th, and I may get it in my hands by the 28th).