Fast Cars

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Chubu,
Friday, April 9, 2010

After a rather hurried check out of the Hearton Hotel and a dash to the railway station, we made it to the platform in pretty good time. Excitement built for the arrival of the train as this would be our first journey on a Shinkansen train, one of the famous bullet trains. The train pulled in three minutes ahead of our scheduled departure and, not surprisingly for Japan, departed at exactly 12:10 as scheduled (That's 12:10 same day British Rail). The Shinkansens are everything you could hope for in a train; clean, fast, spacious, smooth and always on time. Upon arrival at Nagoya we soon found our way out to the taxi rank and tried our first Japanese taxi, which was not as expected i.e. Modern, slick & cool. Everywhere else in the world the Toyota Corolla seems to be the car of choice for taxis. However, in the home of Toyota your standard taxi is a very old Toyota Crown, in 1970s green or beige … Is it because they last that long? (A cynical person might question if maybe it was pre-gas-pedal-problems).

The Hilton is not normally the sort of place most backpackers stay and while we don’t fill the normal profile for backpackers our budget is just as finite so the fancy hotels are not our norm. However, we’ve been collecting and converting reward points for years and so the plan is to give ourselves the odd night of luxury as we’re travelling around the world without incurring a hefty bill. Nagoya was one of those places since hotel rooms in the city seem to come at a premium (maybe the Toyota factor?), so some points were put to work. We strolled into the Hilton and were greeted thus "Ah, Mr Moody, Welcome to Nagoya. We have upgraded your stay, so please proceed to check-in in the Executive Lounge on the 26th floor." Score! Sarah started doing her happy dance (in her head at least) for the executive floor usually comes with all sorts of added bonuses.

After checking in, we abandoned our plans of exploring Nagoya in favour of taking advantage of Hilton’s offerings and spent an indulgent afternoon and evening enjoying the afternoon desert buffet with espresso machine (24 varieties!), the gym, the pool and the evening canapé buffet with unlimited free drinks!

Unable to indulge with a lie-in, next morning was an early start, so after a quick breakfast we were on our way. Catching a train plus taxi (spent too long over the smoked salmon & scrambled egg breakfast to make the bus) we got to Toyota City where we were registered for a tour of the Toyota manufacturing plant. You may or may not know that Derek’s business incorporates many of the approaches and methodologies so successfully deployed and developed in Japan and which are at the heart of Japanese success in the marketplace. The most famous of these methodologies is the “Toyota Production System” and has been used as a benchmark for others to follow. So, obviously Derek was quite excited to see the experts in action. Armed with notebook and pen (unfortunately no cameras were allowed) he was like a keener in class, scrawling all over his little pad and asking the poor tour host question after question. In fact, he had asked her so many detailed and knowledgeable questions that she asked him if he lived in Japan! (He was chuffed). For those more interested in cars than processes or those of a general public disposition (rest of the family) the tour was still amazing and turned out to be one of the highlights of Japan thus far. To witness upwards of 100 huge robots go to work spot welding on a dozen cars and finish maybe 500 welds in 20 seconds in unison was cool, but the choreography of the dance is what made it memorable. At the end of the tour, we returned to Toyota Kaiken (museum) where the red carpet treatment was laid out with a huge sign saying…..”Welcome to Toyota. Welcome his Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Steven Vanackere and his delegation”…. I bet his carbon footprint is larger than ours! The Moody delegation spent another couple of hours at the museum exploring and playing with exhibits. Highlights of the museum were Concero the trumpet playing robot and the demonstration of i-unit a new Toyota concept vehicle. Derek seemed to enjoy more studying of the Toyota production system… I guess he was trying to continuously improving … himself! One interesting point of note as we left – The new Toyota HQ was located just across the road from the museum, and there was so little fanfare it was incredible… the only evidence there was that you were at Toyota was this little sign that Derek had his photo taken next to. Talk about understated.

Editor’s note: You’ve probably heard Toyota’s name being dragged through the presses for the past few weeks. It is this writer’s opinion that notwithstanding this problem - everybody makes mistakes (can you say “Pinto”) - Toyota is still the best car manufacturer in the World and that the GM & Ford friendly western press are simply having a field day trying to level the playing field. Lot’s of pro-golfers have had extra-marital affairs, but when the World #1 does, it’s front page news for weeks. Says more about human nature than Tiger or Toyota. This will undoubtedly hurt Toyota in the short term, but they will recover.

With Toyota done and time to kill before our next train to Kyoto, what better than to return to Hilton and check out that dessert and coffee buffet again…
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