There's a certain Wow Factor involved with a visit to Aichi Prefecture, home of the Toyota Motor Corporation. Aichi is known as the heart of Japan, but it also serves as the brain, being base to not just Toyota, but some of the other biggest and best industries and companies. For starters, Aichi's Toyota City is well off the proverbial beaten track, and so few venture to this area, giving you early bragging rights.
Secondly, it is a historical region, boasting a rich history, along with a particularly bright future. Toyota City was originally known as the feudal castle town of Koromo, and was watched over by the successive lords of the Naito clan from Koromo Castle, also known as Shichi-shu, or Seven States Castle, as seven surrounding provinces could be seen from the castle's watchtowers. While the castle ruins remain, the township below it is now very much different. In 1959, the town changed its name from Koromo to that of the largest local employer, Toyota.
Toyota Motor Corporation is Japan's biggest company, and currently the world's 6th largest company by revenue. It is the world's largest vehicle manufacturer, creating some of the world's best designed, highest quality, finest produced motor vehicles. It is the first motor company to have produced more than 10 million vehicles annually, a feat it has achieved since 2012, and it is the market leader in the sales and production of futuristic hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell eco-cars.
If that doesn't impress you enough, then here are a few Toyota related ideas that are sure to open your eyes as to why Toyota is such a worldwide success, and why you should visit Aichi Prefecture and Toyota-City!
The Toyota company originally began in 1924 as Toyoda Loom Works, a cloth weaving loom manufacturer. Businessman and innovator Sakichi Toyoda developed an innovative automatic loom that stopped when a thread breakage or technical fault occurred. In 1929 the rights to this ingenious loom were sold to a British company, and the sale of the patent generated the funds necessary for Sakichi Toyoda's son, Kiichiro Toyoda, to follow his dreams and enter the motor vehicle manufacturing industry.
It appears Kiichiro Toyoda had inherited his father's natural curiosity and drive for the development and improvement of machinery. Having visited the United States and Europe he was aware of the impact automobiles had on society there and imagined a Japan along similar lines. He also recognized the inefficiencies of the foreign production lines he had seen on his travels and was determined that he could improve on this.
Returning to Japan, he immersed himself in the research and production of gasoline driven engines. One of his biggest challenges was the casting of the cylinder block. Time and again Kiichiro and his team built block after block until they finally succeeded in perfecting their techniques. The family business then took a huge risk and invested in Kiichiro's dreams, establishing an automobile production division as part of the Toyoda Loom Works company, and Toyoda commenced production work in 1933. By 1934, Kiichiro had produced the Type A Engine, which was fitted to the initial Model A1 passenger car, and the following year to the G1 truck. Soon the Model AA passenger vehicle entered full production, and sales started to pick up. Despite motor vehicles having become it's major industry, the Toyota company remains in the weaving loom business to this day.
Incidentally, the earlier vehicles were produced under the family name of Toyoda. Kiichiro's brother-in-law suggested the sound of a "T" rather than the "D" at the end of the name was not only clearer, but the number of pen strokes used to write the name in Japanese could be reduced from ten to eight, which was considered an auspicious number. Also, he suggested, to separate the family from the business, perhaps "Toyota" was a better name for the new cars. The rest is history, and to discover more of that fascinating history, here are a few places to go see.
Start at the beginning. The early Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd. plant (transferred from Toyoda Spinning & Weaving Co., Ltd.) was based in Nagoya City's Nishi Ward, just north of the train station. The old Toyoda factory has been preserved and refitted to become one of the most fascinating museums regarding Japan's proud manufacturing industry. Long ranked among Japan's top 30 most visited spots, the first stage of the museum, the Textiles Machinery Pavilion, outlines the history of spinning and weaving machines and looms, and displays various machines designed and created by Sakichi Toyoda.
The next stage of the museum involves the company's launch into the automobile manufacturing industry. Large scale dioramas show the steps taken and the challenges faced by Kiichiro Toyoda in developing the engines and automobiles that would carry his name.
Metalwork exhibits lead to the popular automobile pavilions, where a range of historical to new, popular and rare Toyota models are on display.
Sakichi Toyoda's residence, which doubled as an office, research and development facility has also been preserved here, along with an extensive library of books, magazines and audio-visual format resources covering science, technology, industry and manufacturing.
Motoring fanatic or not, the Toyota Automobile Museum just outside of Nagoya-City in the Nagakute region is a MUST see. I repeat, a MUST see! Over 140 vehicles in pristine condition are on display in the Automobile Gallery, and not just Toyotas, but American and European vehicles too, including many different and famous brands such as Mercedez Benz, Ford, Mazda, Porsche, Subaru, Isuzu, Rolls Royce, De Soto, Jaguar, Nissan and more. Vehicles from all eras from across the world , and 98% are original! This is probably THE BEST car museum in Japan, if not the world, showing the diversity and evolution of motor vehicles from the 19th century on.
What's more, you're allowed to take photos! And there's plenty to take! Highlights include a bright red and gold trim 1910 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, an early Toyoda Model AA from 1939, a classic 1955 Ford Thunderbird in fire engine red with white walled tires, U.S. President Roosevelt's 12 cylinder armor-plated, bullet-proof Packard Twelve, a white, open top 1965 Jaguar E-Type, and even a pink Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz with huge rear fins and tons of blinding chrome!
The displays are magnificent! You'll be impressed by the scale, range and beauty of the cars. The adjoining Cultural Gallery features approximately 4,000 automobile-related cultural artifacts in the "Automobile Culture Showroom." See miniature toy cars, car badges, posters, and more, with connections to both domestic and international automobiles.
The museum provides cafes, restaurants and shops to check out too. Bring plenty of memory space in your camera, you're going to need it!
Just outside of Toyota-City is the Toyota Kuragaike Commemorative Hall, constructed in commemoration of Toyota's 10 millionth vehicle in 1974. The pavilion is akin to a shrine dedicated to the Toyota Company's brilliant founder, Kiichiro Toyoda. The Toyota Establishment Exhibit Room explains the companies' origins as a weaving loom manufacturer, and proceeds to take the visitor on an audio-visual journey through the early years of the company, in particular the challenges faced by Kiichiro and his dedicated team in developing early engines and designing production techniques to build better cars. Old photographs, detailed explanations, intricate models and a special video presentation outlines Kiichiro Toyoda's story in an informative and easy to understand manner.
A number of old production cars and Toyota race team vehicles are on display within the hall, including an early Toyoda Model AA. The main hall's rear section contains a photo gallery covering Kiichiro Toyoda's life, from his humble beginnings in a reed-thatch roofed house, to Toyota's early successes.
This main pavilion also houses the Kuragaike Art Salon, a gallery displaying the extensive collection of fine artworks purchased and owned by the company for decorating board rooms, conference rooms, receptions, foyers and offices. Displays of the extensive collection are revised on average four to five times a year, with 20 to 30 specially selected pieces put on display for the public to enjoy.
Just behind the hall is the relocated and fully preserved former residence of Kiichiro Toyoda. Originally designed and built in 1933 by one of the leading architects of the time in Nagoya's Yagoto region, the fully-furnished three-story home has an attached greenhouse.
The Toyota Kaikan Museum introduces Toyota's wide range of activities
and you know you're going to see something spectacular just on entering the foyer! The spacious museum is divided into various themed sections.
The first pavilion, titled "Eco and Emotion" looks at Toyota's ongoing eco-car technologies, and features vehicles with cut away sections revealing the heart and soul of the hybrid vehicles. The "Safety and Freedom" section details Toyota's ongoing efforts to build safer vehicles, while the adjoining "Production and Creation" pavilion looks into Toyota's innovative design and manufacturing procedures.
The section dedicated to "Company and Society" explains Toyota's wide range of social projects, while the museum's popular "Model Showroom" area displays an ever-changing range of the latest Toyota and Lexus brand vehicles.
The Toyota Kaikan Museum is also the starting point of the very popular Toyota Plant Tours. If you thought the Kaikan Museum was fascinating, may we quote Bachman Turner Overdrive in saying, "You ain't seen nothing yet!" Get set to tour!
Kids aren't forgotten either, with a large "Exhibits for Children" area showing the workings of machinery and vehicles in an easy to understand and enjoyable learning atmosphere.
Naturally, a trip to the Toyota Kaikan Museum Shop is a must for Toyota and motor car goods, items, and collectables, including toys, plastic models and gift ideas for friends, family, and of course, yourself.
Dark, dirty, deafening and dangerous looking, staffed by sweating, toiling workers in grubby oil and grease stained overalls. That is the common image of a factory floor. Not surprisingly, Toyota does things differently. The Toyota production plants are the exact opposite, being brightly lit, exceptionally neat and tidy, staffed by cleanly dressed, happy looking workers, diligently going about their work in the most efficient way.
Out of the four main production processes of stamping, welding, painting, and assembly, each of the tours departing the Toyota Kaikan Museum takes you through the final assembly process. Depending on availability, there is also the option of viewing the welding process. Tours are led by bright and bubbly multilingual guides who will introduce the various innovative techniques and policies created by Toyota to improve and increase production. These policies improves conditions for the workers, and results in a faster, cleaner, more efficient production process.
The stamping process sees sheets of steel fed into giant presses, which then press-stamp the steel into 3D body parts. Side panels, roofs, hoods, doors and trunks are all perfectly formed with little waste created. Any scrap pieces are soon recycled as per Toyota's principals.
The body parts are then transferred to the welding area, where an army of gleaming robots ensures the average 400 parts are properly fitted and connected. This process is like watching a ballet performance, only without music. Everything is perfectly timed, as one team of robots carry and hold the various parts in place, while other smaller robots work in unison to precision weld the parts together. Depending on the materials being welded, their function and shape, various welding techniques are used. Like any fine performance, this fascinating process is one that you could never tire from watching.
Painting the vehicles is a mechanical, technological work of art in itself, and like all good art, this stage is also visually appealing to watch. Once the freshly welded steel body is thoroughly washed, it is covered in a protective undercoat, followed by a middle coating, and then the high-quality top coat is applied. Along with mechanized spray guns, centrifugal force and even electricity is used to ensure every part of the body is covered in perfectly even layers of undercoat and final paint. The end result is the stunning gleaming paintwork of a showroom quality Toyota!
Finally, the assembly stage is reached. Until now, most of the process has been automated, but the fine details and delicate work involved in this stage require the human touch. This is where Toyota's innovative management system can be best seen. Electronic sign boards along the process line show the daily target number of cars to be built, the current car number in production, and more importantly, the flow of production. Any flow problems can be seen and identified on the signboards, allowing management to assess the situation and ensure all returns to normal. Should any defects be found or problems occur at any time, they are rectified immediately by workers and supervisors before the vehicle is passed to the next stage.
The computer and electrical wiring is carefully installed before the engine and drive components including wheels and tires are fitted. Finally the windscreens, seats, steering wheel and accessories are attached. It is a smooth, effective process, testament to Toyota's principals of production.
Photography is not permitted within the production plant, and to avoid radio interference with the sensitive computerized automation system, the company requests that all mobile phone devices be left in special lockers available at the Toyota Kaikan Museum lobby, prior to departure for the plant tour.
The production plant tours are very popular, and online bookings become available three months in advance. There are age limits for the tours, so be sure to check all details online.
There are plenty more Toyota related places to go and things to see within Toyota's home of Aichi Prefecture. Each site is as interesting, exciting and informative as the next, and following the lead of Toyota, is done just a little bit better than anywhere else. That in itself is an experience that will also leave you saying "Wow!" The memories will remain with you too, as thanks to Toyota, there is now a little bit of Aichi Prefecture in every corner of the world to remind you.
Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.