There is something going on in Japan. After years of economic decline, the Japanese, animated by the principles of perfection, specialization, craft and obsession that they have long brought to their own culture, are now applying the same standards to craft, approaching it on their own terms, venturing abroad and returning home with increasingly international tastes and much higher standards. The most educated and sophisticated consumers are becoming makers again.
Such obsessive—some might say insane—pursuit of perfection, manifests itself in anything from blue jeans, coffee and cuisine, to clothes and comforts. Take the example of the barista at No. 8 Bear Pond in Shibuya, who says his boss won't let him make espresso: "I need a year more, maybe two, before I’m ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos." Unsurprising, perhaps, given that his boss practiced for 18 years as an NYC barista before “feeling qualified enough” to return to Japan and show off his coffee-making skills.
Whether or not the customers appreciate this level of obsession is beside the point. It's the idea of making better that matters. Japan has a culture of technical devotion and if the trend showing a resurgence of making and manufacturing is indeed confirmed as more than a mere by-product of an authenticity quest, Japan is where we will need to go, not for tourism, but for education.