Japan's bullet trains are a symbol of the country's high-tech prowess, but it still often takes a craftsperson relying just on a pair of skilled hands and a hammer to give them their "face."
Yamashita Kogyosho Co. in Yamaguchi Prefecture in western Japan, employs around 30 artisans to shape the long sleek aerodynamic noses of shinkansen -- the most distinctive feature of their appearance.
Founded in 1963, the year before bullet trains debuted on the Tokaido Shinkansen line connecting Tokyo and Osaka, the company has worked on trains from the first-generation "0 series" to the "E7 series" that now runs on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line in central Japan.
Utilizing a technique known as "3D sheet metal forming," individual craftsmen with hammers create three-dimensional shapes with subtly curved surfaces by stretching and shrinking the metal sheets.
The manufacturing method is ideal for small-volume custom products like the new models of shinkansen regularly rolled out, according to the company.
Hiroyuki Fujii, 78, a highly skilled craftsman at Yamashita Kogyosho, has been involved in the production of approximately 350 bullet train noses since the company's inception.
Renowned for his ability to bend the metal sheets with the fewest number of hits among his colleagues, Fujii was recognized as a contemporary master craftsperson by the Japanese government in 2010 -- an honor awarded to only 150 individuals each year.
Fujii continues to visit the company two or three times a week to pass on his knowledge and expertise to younger workers.
"I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment when I saw a train I had created running on its track," he tells them.
Some workers joined the company after they were inspired by the work of craftsmen such as Fujii.
Kensei Shiomi, 33, who heads the molding process, was one of them. While he incorporates the use of machines in the process, his hammering skills are said to be the "closest to Mr. Fujii's."
But Shiomi continues to work hard, saying, "I still have a long way to go."
Recent years, however, have seen a rise in the number of shinkansen built completely mechanically, such as the "N700" series that runs on the Tokaido Shinkansen line.
"We have no choice but to keep thinking about what can win against machines and improve our skills," Shiomi said.