*Note: Photos from the plant tour are prohibited. Photos of the factory in this post were taken from Toyota’s official youtube page and do not belong to me.
I was supposed to wake up at 6:30am but accidentally put my alarm for 5:30! I didn’t realise this until I saw the clock at the train station, but I was already up and running and with jet lag, so I didn’t mind too much.
My trip to Japan this year started with a reservation for a tour around Toyota’s automobile factory. Toyota, the company, is named after Toyoda, the founder, and the city of Toyota also took his name after the great success of his business. Toyota’s main plant is located in Toyota city with sections of it open to visitors.
Trains are frequent but getting to the tour requires a few connections, whether coming from Nagoya (the closest city), Tokyo or Chubu Airport. As such, I appreciated my earlier mistake and made the most of my early arrival to walk to the Toyota Museum from Suenohara station instead.
Around Suenohara there are quite a few tea fields, nice manhole covers and a completely different atmosphere from that of the main road around the museum.
Participants of the tour will meet up at the Toyota Museum, every morning at 11am. There are many interesting displays for an introduction or post-tour sightseeing. It is a popular place with school groups, car enthusiasts and even international business people, as well as more casual visitors like myself. They have multiple cars on display, as well as informational videos, engines and other car parts, futuristic car models and even a robot which plays the violin. I had a go at a seatbelt safety simulator but, since I crashed into every tree that came onto the screen, it may be more appropriate to call it a crash simulator! I had just enough time from the museum’s opening time until the tour’s start to have a full look at the museum. The robot plays the violin around 10:45am, so arrive early if you’d like to see that.
After roll call (we were a big group!), we hopped onto a bus that would take us to the factory itself.
During the ride through the city the guide pointed out many Toyota related buildings. Most people living in Toyota work for the company.
Inside the factory there are some elevated platforms attached to the ceiling to walk on, we were able to see the work from above and not bother any of the workers. The visit starts with the area where the trucks drop off all pieces, later the workers will come to pick them up in various trolleys.
Next we saw the line where they fixed the boot. The floor beneath the car moves slowly going from one worker to the next, each person stationed at one spot. They have a string hanging next to them and if they see a problem they pull the string. The manager comes and they try to fix it before the car moves onto the next worker. If they don’t manage in time, the full production line stops moving. Most problems are fixed by the manager in seconds, so the line stopping doesn’t happen much, but it seemed like a quick and stressful job!
They also had self-driving robots carrying different materials around the plant.
We saw the “door line” too, where they fix the doors onto the car’s body. Fixing the doors onto the car at the start makes the workers go slower, they keep getting in the way, so they have their separate construction line and are only attached to the car at the end.
We were showed many more areas of the assembly line, including car pieces moving around on a zipline attached to the ceiling. The tour lasted over an hour and was quite impressive.
They also test the cars before selling them. When checking the speed, rather than driving around a circuit, the car is placed on some rolling bars on the floor: when the car moves forward the rollers move backwards and this way the car stays in place. The testers were driving over 140km/h on these rollers!
After the tour they drove us back to the museum and gave us all a free pen. I must say this is one of Japan’s much-sees for fans of industry and cars. It’s not the type of thing most of us get to see often!