Good Thinking, Good Products and Difficult Choices

With yet another tropical cyclone approaching, I want to tell you about the one that led to my first acquaintance with Nagoya. I was returning from Europe, and my flight was (un)expectedly re-routed to Nagoya instead of Tokyo Narita. It was a nice and sunny summer day in Nagoya, whereas Tokyo has been hit by a typhoon. A couple of hours observing Nagoya airport through the plane window, and I knew I had to come back (I am joking, of course!).

Yet, it happened to be the case that a few days later I was indeed traveling back to Nagoya, or to be more precise, to Toyota city via Nagoya. Visitors often pass Nagoya on the way to Kyoto, Osaka or Hiroshima, though it has places to visit and things to see as well, for instance, Nagoya castle, Science museum, or Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology to name a few.

Nagoya Castle

View from Nagoya Castle

Speaking of Toyota, it has its headquarters in Toyota city, about an hour by train from Nagoya. Most of local residents work at Toyota (makes sense, right?), while a number of visitors come to visit Toyota Kaikan museum and join a plant tour, which is available in Japanese or English for free, as long as you register in advance and find your way to get there.

On the way to Toyota HQ, Toyota City.

You do not have to be a car fan or auto industry professional to enjoy Toyota Kaikan museum and the plant tour, though if possible, do not plan this for August. While it gets hot and humid in Tokyo area, it gets even worse in Toyota city, where you may expect temperatures around +36C during this time.

Toyota GHQ, Toyota City.

Having started from Nagoya in the morning, we change train twice and walk for about 20 minutes (can be replaced by taxi), but are still on time to look around, sit in different cars and listen to a robot playing a violin. Then a group gathers for a plant tour and, and having left all the phones in lockers (no photos are allowed in the plant) we follow our guide – a nice Japanese lady – to the bus for a short ride to Motomachi plant.

Ready for the plant tour!

On the way she briefly tells us about Toyota company history, why the company name (Toyota) is different from the founder’s family name (Toyoda), and also talks about the plant we are going to visit. Motomachi plant is Toyota’s first passenger car plant in Japan, which started production in 1959 and now produces several luxury models and the fuel cell car called Mirai, which means “Future” if translated from Japanese.

Mirai – the fuel cell car in detail at Toyota Kaikan Museum.

In about 1.5-2 hours we drive around the plant’s territory and walk above assembly lines observing the Toyota Production System (TPS) in action under our feet. TPS is studied in many universities and business schools all around the world and is considered as one of or even the most well-run and efficient self-correcting production system. I have seen a car plant before, but even so, the focus on quality all along the line surprises – they stop the production line right away once any issue is detected, and employees are encouraged to signal all the potential problems as soon as they are identified.

On the way back, our guide does a small quiz and everyone receives a pen with Toyota Company’s moto – “Good thinking, Good products” to remember the tour, while our guide apologizes that we cannot get actual cars instead.Getting out of the bus, a few Italians in the group try to get her attention by saying “Ferrari!” instead of goodbye (or maybe as an invitation to Italy), but she is firm – “Toyota!” comes her reply without a second of doubt.

Difficult choice, I think to myself…

Toyota Kaikan museum, also the starting and the end point of the plant tour.

There must be something Kawaii (read: “cute”)!


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