After a while Gihei opened a bicycle shop. Bicycles were at last starting to becomereally popular in Japan and when people asked Gihei to repair their machines, he sensed a business opportunity. As well as working as a blacksmith he put his natural skills and willingness to learn to good effect, repairing second-hand bicycles and re-selling them at competitive prices. From this moment his business began to be seen as the best bicycle store in the neighborhood.
When he was aboutto leave higher elementary school, Soichiro Honda saw an advertisement for Tokyo Art Shokai, an automobile servicing company, in a magazine called Bicycle World (Ringyo no sekai). The ad itself was not for bicycles but for “Manufacture and Repair of Automobiles, Motorcycles and Gasoline Engines”. Even as a toddler Honda had been thrilled by the first car that was ever seen in his village and oftenused to say in later life that he could never forget the smell of oil it gave off. So it is easy to imagine that when young Honda saw the ad he immediately decided that he had to work at Art Shokai.
Judged by the number of ads it placed in automobile and bicycle magazines, Art Shokai must have been one of Tokyo’s top automobile repair workshops and there were probably any number of young meneager to become apprentices there. Even though the ad Soichiro Honda saw was in fact not a recruitment ad, he plucked up the courage to submit a letter asking to become an apprentice. There is no way of knowing exactly what he wrote, but in any event it was very fortunate that he received a positive reply.
Soichiro Honda left elementary school in April 1922 at the age of fifteen and joined ArtShokai as an apprentice in the Yushima area of Hongo, Tokyo. Employment in those days was a world apart from what we now expect. Juniors were given board, lodging and a little pocket money, but they received no real wages. Mr. Honda’s books and biographies include many stories about his time at the company but the important point is that his experiences there exercised an enormous influence on hislater life.
Enthusiasm for hard work, a quick appreciation of the need to improvise, thinking for oneself, the ability to come up with a wealth of new ideas, a good feel for machines. The owner of Art Shokai, Yuzo Sakakibara, soon spotted the young man’s star qualities and began to take notice of him. Soichiro Honda, too, learned from his boss, not just how to do repairing work but how to dealwith customers and the importance of taking pride in one’s technical ability. Sakakibara was the ideal teacher, both as engineer and as businessman. As well as understanding repair work he was also skilled in more complicated processes such as the manufacturing of pistons.
Whenever Honda was asked who he respected the most, he would always mention his old boss Yuzo Sakakibara. It is importantto remember that Art Shokai’s repair work included motorcycles as well as automobiles. At that time ownership of automobiles and motorcycles was restricted to a limited social class and most automobiles were foreign-made. Compared to today, there were hosts of automobile manufacturing companies, large and small, all over the world and their output ranged from mass-produced models to high-quality...