"Have another drink, Boss!"

Yes, Saburo Yamada was the boss, the company president — and yes, he would have another drink. And why not? Business was good. His small but productive company made ships' propellers and marine metalwork and had contracts with Mitsubishi, one of the world's great conglomerates. Mitsubishi Shipbuilding here in Shimonoseki, the so-called Gateway to Japan on the southwestern tip of the main island of Honshu, was booming. Japanese tankers and freighters roamed the world. Japanese fishing boats and research vessels worked tirelessly to satisfy the appetite of the world's No. 1 consumer of fish.

Today Yamada and his employees were celebrating the delivery of twin propellers for the University of Tokyo's research vessel, Hakuho Maru. It had been a big job and a stressful one, especially creating a mechanism allowing the propellers to feather — to vary pitch — both in forward and reverse gears. But Yamada, who was a born mechanical engineer — at least that's what his workers said — had personally supervised the final operations and trials.