I was supposed to wake up at 6:30am but accidentally put my alarm for 5:30. I didn’t realise until I saw the clock at the train station, but with still a bit of jet lag I didn’t mind either way.
For my first full day in Japan I had a reservation for a tour around the Toyota factory! I did the reservation online before leaving and the tour is both free and in English.
Because I’d gotten the train early I had some spare time in Okazaki city (where I had to switch trains to go to Toyota). Everything was closed at that time so there wasn’t much to do but have a bit of a walk around town. I took a second train into Toyota, but instead of stopping at the nearest station to the museum, our meeting point, I decided to hop off one station earlier (Suenohara) and walk through the city 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.
Even then, I arrived to the Toyota Museum half an hour before opening time, so I sat down for some breakfast in a mosquito-infested park and had a fun time spotting electric cars!
The Toyota Museum is a popular place, with numerous school groups, car enthusiasts and even international business people, as well as everyone who’d be doing the tour. They had shiny cars on display that I could sit inside, videos about how cars are designed, some engines and other parts on display as well as a couple futuristic car ideas and a robot which plays the violin. I had a go at a seatbelt safety simulator, but because I crashed against every tree that came onto the screen, it may be more appropriate to call it a crash simulator. I had just enough time from opening time until the tour started (11am) to have a full look at the museum (the robot demonstration plays just before meeting time, so arrive early!), and then we were called to hop onto a bus that would take us to the factory.
During the 15min ride through the city the guide pointed out many Toyota related buildings to us, there were many of them considering over half the people living in Toyota work for Toyota. They actually changed the previous name of the city to Toyota.
Photos are strictly prohibited inside the plant area so I have nothing to show you, most of these photos are from the museum! There are some elevated platforms attached to the ceiling which we walked on, this way we got to see the work from above and not bother any of the workers. The first area was where the trucks dumped all of the pieces and then the workers came to pick them up while driving a little trolley, like those in airports that carry bags but slightly smaller.
We didn’t really see the things in order, next we saw the line where they fixed the boot (the plush walls, bolts, etc). The floor beneath the car moves slowly so it goes 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 it goes onto the next worker. If they don’t, there’s a mark on the floor and when the moving floor reaches that line then the full production line stops moving. Most problems are fixed by the manager in seconds, so the line stopping doesn’t happen much.
They also had automatic driving machines that followed black lines drawn on the floor!
We saw the “door line” too, where they fix the doors. Because having the doors on the car makes the workers go slower, they keep getting in the way, they have their separate line and are only attached to the car at the end.
We also got to see many more areas of the assembly line, including a machine that lifts the car hood up (before it being attached to the body) and they moved around on the ceiling. We only got to see the assembly line though, not the area where the machines press and shape the materials to build the car or the painting area, but the tour lasted more than an hour anyway and it was very impressive all the same.
They test the cars before selling them, obviously, and when they check the speed, instead of driving around a circuit or something, there are some bars on the floor that the car is placed on; when the car moves forward the rollers move backwards and this way the car stays in place even though it’s driving. The testers were going over 140km/h on the rollers.
After the tour they gave me a free pen too! I must say that this was one of my favourite days of the trip, I highly recommend a visit if you have the time since it’s not the type of thing most of us get to see often. But, my plans for the day weren’t over, so even though it was past 1pm I ran to the station and made it just in time for the next train (they leave every half hour) to take me back into Okazaki.