Japan: An End to Pessimism

A flock of pigeons burst skyward into the midday Yokohama sun, released in celebration from their papier-mâché prison. Bands blared and confetti swirled over the waters of Tokyo Bay. Japan, the world's biggest shipbuilder, was launching the world's biggest ship: the Tokyo Maru, a bulb-nosed 1,006-ft.-long, 150,000-ton oil tanker.

The ship, built by Ishikawajima-Harima for the U.S.'s Caltex Corp. at a cost of $12 million, is notable for more than its size. Its valves, pumps and winches are so automated that the giant vessel requires only a 29-man crew. Its construction, from keel laying to launching, was accomplished in an extraordinarily...

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