Japan Blog Study Tour

Byebye Kyoto, hello Toyota

IMG_2951 Today is the last day we started out in Kyoto. I will miss the Palace Side hotel with their staff that spoke decent English and their food which was decent every time (something you shouldn’t take for granted when you are in Japan, or so we found out). We started out by hoisting our luggage down using the elevators and sticking on a delivery tag so they would be delivered to the next hotel in Tokyo. After some problems with mislabeled addresses we finally got the right address and I started breakfast 15 minutes late which meant I had only 15 minutes left. After 10 minutes I walked outside to smoke and I found a big touring bus waiting there for us. For some reason if you rent a bus in Japan you get 2 stewardesses for free with the bus. Both of them spoke pretty decent English and besides translating for us they didn’t had to do much (makes you wonder what the Japanese make them do…).

IMG_2895 We left for Tokyo after everyone had showed up but first we would make a small detour to a Toyota plant. Just after we left I fell asleep and we started out in sunny weather but when I woke up a short while later we were suddenly driving in the snow and the weather was cloudy. After two quick stops where we got our lunch (I found some ichigo-bread, aka strawberry bread, at the freeway supermarket which made a nice lunch and once again an excuse not to try the local cuisine) and then arrived at the Toyota plant where we were told we couldn’t take pictures.

We started out at the assembly shop where they make all kinds of Toyota cars (3 types I think) including the Toyota Prius. Its pretty cool to see how the whole plant works. From assorting parts to putting the cars together. Toyota works with the JIT principle: Just In Time. Cars are ordered and build exactly to the specifications of the customer. This means that on each assembly line each car is different. Its fun to hear all the happy tunes and see all the (autonomous or manually driven) trolleys wiz around the plant delivering parts and components to each station at the time they are needed.

IMG_2900 Next we went to visit the body shop where the dangerous welding is automated by robots. You observe everything during the tours from suspended walkways high above the work floor but I would not like to be walking around the body shop while all the robots are doing their thing. The walkways are shielded from sparks and with colored shields from high intensity flames but still you get a warning to watch out for welding sparks that manage to jump over the shielding and not to look into the welding torches.

IMG_2915 After the plant tour we used the touring car to get to the Toyota demonstration building (we even used the bus to travel between the assembly shop and the body shop, go figure how large these facilities are). Most of the demonstrations were either old news or we had just seen it for real so we quickly skipped down to the showroom where they had some racing cars, new Toyota’s and even some Lexus cars. Which we ofcourse had to try ^-^.

I will summarize by saying that Lexus is pretty nice but with my length you have to set the seat all the way back to be able to fit in there properly. Once seated its pretty comfortable but when you compare this to a BMW I’d say the Germans have sized their cars a bit better (except for the Z-series but those a made for rich leprechauns anyway).

IMG_2924 After we had checked out the show room we assembled in a meeting room on the second floor to talk with someone from Toyota PR. Even though he didn’t specifically say he was from Public Relations we quickly fired a lot of technical questions which he wasn’t able to answer so he finally said he did PR so we would stop asking difficult questions (that’s what you get for having 25 IT students coming over).

Toyota has some interesting visions for the future but most of the visions are pretty practical: smart safety systems everywhere. Most of which we know from Discovery Channel but still pretty cool.

After the Toyota visit the bus brought us to Nagoya where we had reserved at a local restaurant but we had some spare time. As small group decided to find a Star Bucks or compatible and we finally settled for a Tully’s Coffee a few blocks from the rendes-vous spot. After we had gulped down the coffee we hurried back to the crossing where we found the rest of the group.

IMG_2958Someone from the restaurant came to pick us up and guide us to the restaurant. Once there we had to take off our shoes on the second floor for a traditional style meal. I was lucky enough to be sitting at the corner of one of the tables so I could sit sideways. The food consisted of some cold bowl of noodles, brown stuff, some funky sauce and a giant shrimp. It looked so good I decided to just eat the white rice and wash it down with beer.

IMG_2964After this delicious meal we went to the station where we took the Shinkansen to Tokyo. From Tokyo central we took the subway to Jimbocho where we walked to Sakura Hotel.

Well hotel, it was supposed to be Sakura Hotel if not for the fact that the hotel was not in Jimbocho but the hostel was. Once we entered the hostel and found our rooms we found out that toilets, showers and sinks where in fact all shared for each floor. The room I slept in with Roel, Guido and Jip was barely big enough to fit 2 tower beds, a door and a small table between the beds with a TV on it that didn’t work. Great.

After some bitching (and some irritation from some idiots who had deployed the fire exist from the 4th floor within 4 minutes after arriving) we found out that the committee had not booked this ho(s)tel directly and that every room was supposed to have its own shower and toilet. They would try to get it sorted and relocate us. The only problem is that the criteria are pretty hard: large group, cheap hotel and in Jimbocho otherwise the travel guide would be useless as all times and stations would change.

We finally decided to ignore the problem for now and head for bed as it would be an early start the next morning.

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