Day 3: The Toyota Factory Tour

April 12, 2017

The email reservation from Toyota for our plant tour

Toyota Tuesday! This day was one I was super excited for. When I was a missionary living in Meito, Nagoya in summer of 2000, we were lucky to get a pass to go tour the Toyota Factory. When I returned to Japan with my dad in 2005, we weren’t so lucky. This time, I made sure to plan around and get reservations. Toyota suggest getting them 3 months in advance!

Side story: When I went to book this tour 3 months in advance, the day I had planned on going was already booked out solid! I ended up having to rearrange our entire trip to make our tour happen, as the only available day was at the beginning instead of the end as I was originally planning.

Looking off the balcony of our AirBNB in the morning
This is city life in Japan. Power lines, narrow streets and roads, lots of trees and plants, and oddly all the signs are in Kanji.

Anyway! Wake up, get ready, and walk the short trip to the Subway station. It was 8:00-something in the morning, and the rush was on to Nagoya. Thankfully a new train arrives every 3-5 minutes, so there is never much of a wait. But I will say this – every train is packed! PACKED! And we were still about 20 minutes and several stops away from downtown.

Waiting at a crosswalk in Japan
Waiting at the crosswalk to go to Issha Station of the Higashiyama Subway Line. The station doesn’t look like much across the street because it’s all underground!
The train platform at Issha Station
The platform at Issha Station for trains heading to Nagoya

Eventually Alicia and I are stuffed face to face at the door end of the car, getting nice and cozy. As we got closer to town, the trains were getting a little backed up and we had to stop once or twice before we actually got to the station. When you’re humming along down the tracks there’s a lot of ambient noise, and when you stop at a station there’s doors opening, chimes ringing, people bustling in and out – it’s plenty noisy. But, when you stop between all the noise… wow it was quiet. It was crazy quiet. No sounds from phones, nobody talking on the phone, nobody playing music, it was really crazy quiet. I almost felt like I was yelling by just breathing! Crazy!

Alicia
See. Face to face. Literally.

A few minutes later we arrive at the hustle and bustle of Nagoya Station. We rode in on the subway and needed to transfer to a JR Express train bound for Toyohashi. I scanned the Train platform signs and about put us on the JR Local, which would have added too much to our commute to arrive to the tour on time – thankfully Alicia managed to catch my mistake and we hopped on the Express. We got off the train at Okazaki and hopped on the Aichi Loop Railway bound for Mikawa-Toyota station. 

When buying our tickets, I bought the wrong ones and overpaid the fare that we should have spent. As Alicia and I sat and enjoyed the view of the local area, I sat there wondering how to ask the station master how to get a refund and was stuck because I would need words I didn’t know. So, it was time to get a little outgoing. There was a college-age girl sitting across from me, so I busted out my Japanese and tried a conversation. She quickly helped me learn the right phrase to say, and then we spent the next 20 minutes or so chit-chatting. That was the longest conversation in Japanese I’d had in a long, long time. It was so much fun! 

Soon we arrived at Mikawa-Toyota station and I managed to get the refund without a hiccup. Woohoo! Once there, we had about a 10-15 minute walk to Toyota HQ to begin our tour. The weather was so perfect, an absolutely fantastic spring day. Clear skies, perfect temperature.

We arrived at Toyota HQ with a little bit to spare, and spent some time looking at all the cars in the showroom. The main area has several of their newest models on display to look into and climb around. Naturally I drifted to the Land Cruiser on display. The showroom has a few rooms off from it with different displays of old and new Toyota tech. A pretty cool place to hang out, but we were both excited for what was next.

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Welcome to Toyota.

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A Toyota van covered in fake dog fur with ears
I have no idea what this is, but it was front and center at the entrance. #dumbanddumber
A Lexus LFA on display at Toyota HQ in Toyota, Japan
The Lexus LFA. Jeremy Clarkson’s favorite supercar. Sure wish I could’ve taken this for a drive…
Alicia peeking inside a car
A Lexus racecar
Toyota Land Cruiser
Yes please
Inside the Land Cruiser
Steering wheel is on the wrong side.

Finally it was time for the tour to start. After a quick welcome and introduction we were instructed to put our bags into some lockers since cameras are quite forbidden inside the factory. Sad. Face. After that we boarded a bus for a trip across town to the Tsutsumi plant.

Toyota offers tours at 3 different final assembly plants and rotates through them. Each one has a pathway elevated above the assembly line where you walk along and watch what’s happening down below. It’s really, really cool. The tour guide stops every few minutes and lets us know what’s happening down below us. We got to see the parts arrival area where you get to see the Just in Time methodology that Toyota developed in play. That was pretty cool. This plant is the final assembly, so it’s where all the parts made at the other factories around Toyota (engine, transmission, axles, etc) arrive and are put on the assembly line to be built. At the beginning we saw chassis and suspension hitting the ground and at the end we saw finished cars driving off. Crazy! They put an entire car together faster that it takes me to change my oil at home. I wish I had photos to show. It’s a really cool experience and you should definitely give it a go if you can make it work.

After the tour was over we took a bus ride back to HQ. We grabbed our stuff and then went out for more walking. We walked past the original headquarters building that had the original Toyota logo on the outside, so I had to stop and take a photo with my matching logo shirt. Right around the corner was the Motomachi plant – the very first Toyota factory where my 1972 Land Cruiser was born (I think). It was so cool!

The Toyota Motomachi Plant
Me in front of the original Toyota HQ Building
Pose like a idiot! Notice the logo at the top of the building matches my shirt. Thanks to my cool wife for making me the shirt.

From there we continued our walk through Toyota winding and weaving our way around the little streets on our way to a mall with a food court inside where we could finally grab some lunch. I ended up going with some authentic McDonald’s cuisine. 😂On the way out we noticed a Mr. Donut’s so we had to indulge with one of those.

This is a Toyota 86, in Toyota Japan, with a Toyota License Plate that says 86 on it. IT’S SO META I CAN’T HANDLE IT.
This is a Volkswagen dealership in Toyota Japan. An abomination!

Right down the street from the mall was a salon and it was finally time for me to get a haircut. I’d purposefully been letting my hair grow out longer than I like because getting your haircut in Japan is quite an experience! And I was not disappointed! It was fun.

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Finally got my haircut in Japan!

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It was getting later in the afternoon and was becoming time to head on back to Nagoya and – you guessed it – we walked back to the station. We got there and had a little bit of a wait before our train arrived and so I wandered around the platform taking some photos and just enjoying the weather.

I love this. This is Japan scenery that gives me a flood of memory and emotions.
Alllllll the working dudes wear suits. All of ’em.

At some point you transfer off the local line (Aichi Loop Line) back to the JR Tokaido line at Okazaki that runs up to Nagoya. About halfway to Nagoya we realized we were quite hungry again so we got off and went for some Gyudon. I love Gyudon.

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Beef Bowl

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On the final leg back to Nagoya we discussed what to do that night, and decided on hitting up Eikaiwa (English Class) that the missionaries teach every week. I sent a message to my friend Taka seeing if he’d want to join us, and he sounded a little reluctant but said he’d try.

We pulled into Nagoya station and it was starting to get dark. Eikaiwa starts at 7 and we were gonna be cutting it close as we still had a ~30 minute subway ride to go, and then a good 10 or 15 minutes of more walking to the church. But, that didn’t stop us! We hopped on the Chikatetsu Higashiyama line and zipped on out to Issha station. We were headed to the Meito ward building where the Nagoya Mission Home and Office is, an area that I served in for 5 months as a missionary.

It’d been at least a decade since I had last been there, but I still remembered where to go. About 15 minutes of walking later in the dark we found the chapel, and my heart skipped a beat. I was home. We went inside and joined a Sister missionary teaching english. It was fun. Taka showed up as class was wrapping up and we all hung out with the missionaries for a few moments.

A sister missionary teaching kids English in Meito Ku, Japan.
English Class was something we’d do week in and week out as missionaries, and I was happy to see it was still being done today. It was always fun.

After Eikaiwa we were beat, it had been a long day with a lot of walking. Thankfully, we only had 1 stop back to where our place was, so we were home pretty quickly. Bedtime came soon after and Day 3 was over!

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