AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Nagoya & Toyota

We were staying in Nagoya for no other reason than to visit the Toyota factory in the nearby city of Toyota. Nagoya has a castle, but we’ve seen many more which are better, and that’s about it. There’s nothing else there of any real interest. We arrived by Shinkansen from Hikone, which we’d visited on the way from Kyoto to Nagoya and it was an easy subway ride to the hotel. Near the hotel therr was a restaurant chain which we have eaten at a few times since we discovered them in Kyoto, it’s called Curry House CoCo Ichibanya. The curry and rice with battered chicken is very filling and pretty good tasting, but best of all is the price. For two curries, a salad and chips we usually spend about £12, not bad in a country where food costs a fortune.

Curry House CoCo Ichibanya

And that was our evening, a trip to the curry house and then the convenience store to buy breakfast for the next morning.

We were up rather early to go to the Toyota factory. Although it wasn’t far out of the city it would require taking the subway to Nagoya station, then getting on a local train for about half an hour, followed by changing to another local train to Toyota city, followed by a half hour walk to the head office. To get there for 10:30am meant leaving the hotel not long after 8am.

We entered the subway and walked onto the platform to join the few people standing around waiting. It wasn’t long before the train pulled up. It was packed, absolutely packed to the brim! There was almost no space on it and this is by far the most crowded train we’d ever been on. We stood in a tiny gap by the door and hoped we’d be OK. Luckily it wasn’t too bad and after a few minutes the train pulled into a station and almost everyone got off. We had one more stop on a now nearly empty train. At the train station we had problems finding where the line we wanted was. It turns out Nagoya Station is one of the largest in the world (although the 55 story tower blocks which are considered part of the station are a bit of a cheat). We finally found where to buy the tickets and where the platforms were and went to wait for the train. We weren’t the only westerners on the platform, two Americans were also there and obviously going to the same place we were. The rest of the journey went without a hitch and we arrived in Toyota city. The city was renamed Toyota in 1959 because the Toyota car company has its headquarters and major car assembly plant, the Tsutsumi plant, here. It was this assembly line that we were here to see.

We arrived in good time and had half an hour to wander around the museum before the tour started. It’s less a museum than an advertising section for Toyota and all the things they have done to make cars better. Fuel efficiency, performance, safety, security, etc. We don’t really care, all car manufactures are basically the same and Japanese cars although well known for reliability are not fuel efficient when compared to the VWs, Audis and Fords. At the end of the museum was a ‘showroom’ of Toyotas. Special Toyotas? No. Just ordinary cars that you can sit in and test drive at any Toyota showroom around the world. Yawn. They did have a sports car that raced in the Nurburgring 24 hour endurance race in 2012.

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Toyota 86

Apart from that there was a robot on show which could play the trumpet. Why are Toyota practising making robots? Been the largest car company in the world isn’t enough? Maybe it’s world domination next and this is the start of their robot army? You heard it here first people!

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The tour was pretty good. It had been well thought out and the gangway we walked along gave us a good view of the assembly line below us and the workers. Some information boards and TV screens hung from the ceiling giving more information as to what we were looking at. The tour leader had a microphone and there were speakers above the gangway so everyone in the group could hear. We learnt about the kanban process, created by Toyota in 1954 to aid the just in time production line. We saw this in action with individual parts been placed in boxes then the computer was updated with the location of the each part. Then pickers would be shown which parts to select by a flashing light over the shelf with the part needed. This is linked to the suppliers, so when parts are low they are automatically ordered in a small enough quantity to not take up a huge amount of space. This is far quicker and more efficient for the company. We saw workers putting together dashboards very quickly, no stopping for a quick chat with a friend here. Although, I guess once you’ve done exactly the same task all day, every day, for years on end you’d end up pretty fast at it. Large screens are over each area and usually lit up green. If anyone has a problem they press the call button and the screen shows yellow. This slows down the conveyor belt to enable the supervisor to come and help. If the problem is not fixed in a set time then the screen goes red and the assembly line stops moving. Stopping the production line in one place means stopping the whole factory, so solutions are probably quite fast here, no discussion. The tour finished with the quality team looking over the cars, driving them on a rolling road, testing the lights and brakes, etc.

The tour was good and we did learn a few things from it. Plus we saw the assembly line in much more detail and for far longer than at the Mazda factory. The boards and the tour guide were very good in explaining what we were looking at and giving out some interesting bits of information. We both enjoyed it.

By the time we were back in central Nagoya it was turned 4pm and the usual tiredness which has plagued us since we arrived in Japan was kicking in. We went back to the hotel to have a late afternoon nap and then plan how we were going to tackle the Japanese Alps. The Toyota factory proved to be some inspiration, we decided to hire a car for a week to tour the Japanese Alps and I decided that a Toyota Prius should be the car to do it in.

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