Skill Science Laboratory of Tsutomu Fujinami @JAIST

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7th November, 2009

How did it start?

100_0065.JPG Our investigation into human skills began sometime around April 2002 when a student of mine, Ms. Mamiko Abe, proposed to study the kneading skill of ceramic artists. To be precise, our initial target was not ceramic artists, but bakers, because we started out investigation hinted by a case study by Prof. Nonaka and Prof. Takeuchi ("The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation"). It was easier for us to find well-trained ceramic artists than to find good bakers in our region as the region is known for producing Kutani-china. Ms. Abe could find an artist soon after we turned our eyes on Kutani-china because she was learning the art in a school held in a community centre. After several preparatory sessions of data collection among us, we invited the artist to perform the kneading. Luckily for us, he was very well-trained person and his body movements exhibited remarkable features, not found in novices. The finding encouraged us to look into human skills further.

The second cycle

DSC_0479.JPGAfter two years of blank, we restarted our research in spring of 2005. A student belonging to our school happened to be studying in the centre of Kutani china near our institute and we could ask a dozen of people whose ranges of skills varied to take part in our data collection. Two of them were very-well trained ceramic artists and taught in the centre. Other subjects were mostly young, female artists and were still developing their skills. This was the first time we seriously took a look of the kneading skill; We realized that their body movements could be affected by their hight, power, etc., that is, by their physical and physiological features. We somehow underestimated the variety of movements and realized that we needed to control the conditions of experiments more carefully.

The third cycle

IMG_3568.JPGThe third cycle started in March 2008 with an initiative by Mr. Shimamori, who carried out the research to write his mater's dissertation. The centre of Kutani china kindly allowed us to gather data of apprentices there. Nine students were being trained and we took pictures, movies, pressure data at hands and feet while they practice kneading. Three teachers, who were obviously trained very well, also provided us with data. The number of subjects led us to looking into variations among practitioners. They seemed to be categorized into two groups. People categorized into the first group tended to push the clay using both arms. People belonging to the other group utilized their body weight effectively by pushing the clay down mainly with their bodies. The difference can be explained to some extent by referring to their sex. All male students took the first approach while most female students took the second with only one exception. The result suggests that the different degree of power leads to different strategies in carrying out the task. If one is powerful , he tends to use his arms as his main tool in kneading the clay. If one lacks such an power, she ends up with kneading the clay by mostly moving her torso. This is an interesting result in that the cause is clear. The result also suggested that it is important to categorize subjects into several classes when we carry out an experiment. The result will, otherwise, be hard to interpret.