Quarrying & Mining Magazine

Reflections on Japanese Culture – why Aunty Netta likes ‘simple’

Netta Burnside files her report from the second-hand machinery auction frontline in Japan.

Japan is an incredibly advanced country. As well as designing some of the best heavy machinery in the world including CAT, Komatsu, Hitachi, Kobelco etc – their transport and electronics systems are first class.

If the Shinkansen (320km/hr bullet train) is scheduled to arrive at 3.03pm that’s when it arrives, and then everyone shuffles on in a very quiet ‘Japanese’ organised manner. The train departs and you arrive at your destination exactly on time. It’s truly a pleasure to travel in Japan and the simplicity is beautiful…unless you catch a Cab.

The taxis themselves are great. They are mostly black Toyota Crowns that are comfortable yet uninspiring, but very fit for purpose.

Catching one, however, is Japanese taxi roulette. The drivers are mostly retired older gentleman with an aggregate age of 80, and who don’t bother with electronics systems.

Although they all have their version of Navman in their cabs, they neither understand or ignore them, relying mostly on the maps in their heads to navigate the 1.2 million kilometres of ever increasing Japanese roading network (which is also why they use so much heavy machinery).

You can also ‘roll the dice’ on how long a journey will take and how much it will cost. I travel to the same auction houses each time I am there, and swear I’ve never been taken the same way twice.

Sitting in a Taxi wondering if this journey will take 15 or 45 minutes, I am always slightly envious of motorbikes carving up the traffic, and there are some really beautiful bikes. Unlike here, where our Kiwi bikers prefer newer bikes, the Japanese have a passion for old classic machines, such as Kawasaki VN 800 cruisers, Honda CB750s, Suzuki GS1100s, and Yamaha ZX750s. Of course, there are many Harleys there, and beautifully optioned but rarely used other than by weekend warriors adorned with bike run badges that you just know were not earned but merely embroidered and purchased.

My own clan here in New Zealand have a love of motorbikes, owning more than we should, so when a friend in Japan mentioned a seemingly abandoned building with bikes in the window my redneck/bogan/trader ears pricked up.

I travel to Japan every two to three months to buy heavy machinery for our clients, which involves a 10.5 hour flight (plus hours of airport process) and then a two week buying trip, and I have been doing this for over 20 years.

Each trip, machine, deal (and taxi ride) is different. It is fun but kind’a a little same-same (with the exception of the taxis), so when my good friend mentioned the old bikes I couldn’t help but go for a nosey.

There, sitting silently in a crusty dusty building waiting to be loved, was a collection of stunning bikes. Old and beautiful apparently forgotten mostly Hondas; including a Jim Redmam RC166 race bike and Royal Enfields. For 10 months I had been coveting these bikes and was super excited last month to head back to the bike lock up.

Yes, I went via taxi roulette, with no Navman – just lots of gesturing, hand signals and pidgin English. Arriving at the location thinking of ways I could possibly score these bikes that didn’t involve wearing a balaclava and using a hammer in the wee hours of the morning, I took a video of the collection to ogle and daydream about how to acquire one of these classic bikes in the future.

Imagine my surprise when watching the video later, I discovered nestled amongst these masterpieces of two wheeling freedom – the building’s owner also had a CAT stashed in there. For an incredibly advanced technological country I am reminded it is a very old country, with an appreciation of simplicity beauty and enjoyment of things that are designed and work well. Like the Bullet train, this place works well just like their machinery.

And, like their taxis, there is tradition and a unique way of doing things – their way. And all reason why I will continue to travel there buying machines for this industry, and hopefully, one day soon, manage to get my hands on one of those beautiful motorbikes, because at heart I love ‘simple’.

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