Thursday, April 9, 2009 ;
7:19 PM
1 Apr
9am - 3pm

Y's dad gave us a lift to the train station and we took a train.

After that, we took a bus. Total journey time was around 1hr. But we left early and allowed time for kids' delay, waiting and so on, so we arrived in good time for the registration at 10.30am.

Do you understand this sign? Does it say "no feeding of pigeons"?

We were in Toyota-shi (which means Toyota City). The name of the city was originally something else but when Toyota set up the HQ here and because of Toyota, the city had a booming economy, the municipal govt or something decided to change the name to Toyota. That was a long time ago.

There are several Toyota museums there but the one we were at is the Kaikan Museum. Admission is free.

Since we were early, we toured the museum. The 2nd floor had children's exhibits, a souvenir shop, clean toilets and a cafe.

This is part of the kids' interactive area. There are games and hands-on exhibits for them to learn how to assemble cars and so on too.

I visited the toilet. Although most toilets in Japan are like this, I had the chance to take pics in here. I like it that the flush button is usually not in a hard to find area stuck behind the toilet lid or way below on the cistern, or somewhere where I need to touch the toilet covers or lids or bend backwards too low for comfort to reach the flush.

Then you can choose to have water sprays to wash yourself, and can choose whether you want it for behind or in front.

And most places have toilets that have antiseptic gel for cleaning the toilet seats, and also disposable toilet seat covers.

We browsed the gift shop and cafe. The souvenirs were all very cute. They had racing F1 and other race tees for kids and adults, 3D tees, puzzles, magnetic city map boards with miniature magnet cars to move on the boards, and tons and tons of model cars. Other vehicles as well.

There were mugs, towels and other paraphernalia too.

The kids loved this car the best. All the real cars were on display on the first level.

And the boys had a penchant for the colour red. And oh, did I mention? You can sit in every single car, and fiddle with all the buttons and controls. You can test out the boot, open things up, basically do anything you want with the car except drive it away. :-)

The kids naturally went wild. They sat in every car they fancied, pushed all the buttons, tried the gears, and were amazed at the cars with keyless ignitions. They pressed the start up button and were amazed to have the car engine start up at once. The younger ones loved the signals, hazard lights etc. It's their dream come true, to try everything that their parents always said not to! haha.

Y and I were not so crazy about most of the cars. I was interested in only 2 models. The Lexus convertible and the Toyota SUV. So I tried these 2 only. The iQ was very cute so I sat in the back when the kids were the "drivers".

Here's all of us piled into the Lexus convert, except for Dh who is taking the pic. The kids were all in too!

Ahhh... Wish I can test drive it!

This is the iQ. It's very adorable and nifty. I heard and read that it was just launched? Saw an article in the Straits Times recently I think. The kids spent quite some time in this car.

That's Y taking a pic of the kiddos inside.

Dh admired all the interiors. This is of the iQ.

Red is ds' fav colour. For cars.

Don't you just love the sight of brand new cars?

After we registered and were waiting for the tour to start, we thought we should let the kids snack. Because no food and drink was allowed during the tour, and it lasts 1.5hrs, plus journey time, it will end after 1pm. Didn't want the kids to be cranky cos of hunger. We need them to behave so we can enjoy the tour.

Dh really liked the hybrids. If it were less expensive, I think we would def get it.

This exhibit showed how the generator/ engine/ motor/ inverter and fuel are connected.

The boys really enjoyed themselves cos they are so obsessed with cars anyway.

There were scheduled shows and performances too, and we managed to catch 3 of them. 2 were the robot playing music instruments. They even have a robot band where several robots play different instruments together.

The ones we saw were trumpet-playing. In the clip below, you can see ds1 only finally sauntering over from the cars when he heard the lovely music. He is so unaware of the crowd watching the robot from a distance! He just walked right in front of everyone and went right up to the barrier. Then guess what, his brother, Giu and Mic all followed, as if on cue.

Then we saw the demonstration of the robot car. So cool!

While watching, Giu kept hugging ds2. haha. Silly boy kept trying to remove her hands. Next time he will regret when he is older.

The clip shows part of the demo. Real cool huh?

The tour forbade picture-taking or video-filming. In fact, they had small lockers for us to store our cell phones and cameras in the Kaikan Museum lobby before we leave on a coach to bring us to the factor plant.

So I have no pics or clips.

It is something like this tour in KY, USA, only better because there are more things shown and explained, and kids above 3 are allowed, whereas the KY one only allow children above Grade 1. So ds2 would not be allowed if we went in USA.

However, in the USA, the tour is tram-driven! While in Japan, they advised us to wear comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking, standing and climbing! Which was true, but it wasn't tiring, cos we were engaged all of the time. The kids were suitably engrossed - we had no problems at all. Mostly because there was so much action going on all around, and with a 360deg view, they don't have time to be bored.

Here is a short description:
1. Comfy coach brings us to a Factory Plant. They have a number within Toyota-shi but this one we went to is the nearest. About 15min away.

2. Everytime we are on the bus, the lady guide will tell us a lot more facts and details. She even asks Qs to ensure we understand and also to spark our curiosity. For eg, she asked us if we knew why the founder Toyoda named his company Toyota, instead of following his last name Toyoda.

(There are 3 reasons.) [Even ds1 would listen attentively to her and try to answer, even though he has no clue what the correct answer is.]
- he wants the company to be public. he doesn't want it to be a family business only, so he wants the names to be distinct.
- Toyoda in the Japanese characters have 10 strokes in total, whereas Toyota has 8 strokes. 8 is a lucky number for the Japanese
- In his opinion and those he consulted, Toyota sounds better than Toyoda.

She'll also ask Qs like, how many cars are manufactured from scratch to completion at this plant, each day.... and how long does it take one car to be manufactured from scratch? (20 hours)

3. We were brought to see the Stamping and Welding process first. We saw how cars take shape from huge coils of rolled up steel.
The steel sheets are moulded by machines and robots.

Then we saw how these stamped pieces are put together.

It was mesmerising to see teams of computer-controlled robots perform the welds that result in a completed body shell. There were about 4-5 robotic arms in a team and everytime a car skeleton moves into position, and a signal is given, the arms work in unison and do spot welding here and there. Amazing.

The guide explained how the strength of man and robots are garnered to manufacture the car. For dangerous tasks like welding and stamping, robots are used. These may involve high temperature, bright lights, thus not suitable for humans to do for long hours.
Whereas in assembly, humans are more suitable because we have the power to judge and to make different decisions. Quality control is important and humans are better in inspection.

What surprised me is that, I always thought cars of the same size, model and make are made together in batches. I thought that would be more efficient and productive? But no, all the cars in one line are different. They could be a small one, then a huge SUV, then a sedan, and then next in line would be an MPV... I really am impressed with the robots. How come they know exactly what to do when each different car rolls along.

Of course, I mean I am impressed with the guy who wrote the programme and instructions for the robot! So interesting.

Besides those robot teams, everything is automated too. The ground moves the cars. The ceiling has overhead conveyors to transport the cars from Paint, to the Final Line in Assembly. Or to lift the cars up for the engine to be installed.

4. Then we moved on to the main assembly area- a hive of modern manufacturing activity where man and machine operate as one.

Workers stand or sit on specially designed equipment that moves parallel to the production line so that it never has to pause, and every employee has the authority to stop the line if a fault is identified.

There is this rope line strung through the entire assembly line. It has various attachment points. If there is anything wrong with the car, the worker will just pull the string at his position. The line will stop moving. The supervisor will know exactly which car to go to. Then they will solve the problem before the line starts moving again.

At the end of the tour, there were games for all of us to play, and the kids have the chance to pull the string and hear the alarm sound.

All the games have video instructions and then a demo by one of the expert workers in the factory. For example, there was a game where we have to put a collection of nuts and bolts into the right places (different sized holes) in as quick a time possible. When we press start, the timer will time us. We will see how close we can get to the record time shown in the video demo (one of the workers in the Plant being filmed).

Another game was tying of the rope in different directions around different loops. The guy in the demo did it in 4 seconds! Unbelievable. So many guests in our tour group tried and tried but no one came close.

All the games show us how skilful the workers at Toyota are, and how precise, accurate and fast they are in their job.

The kids had so much fun. The guide had to literally drag everyone away because time was up!

We saw all the stages in assembly also. From fitting in the front and back doors, to installing the engine, the boot, the bonnet, the car seats, steering wheel, upholstery, windows, final polish...

When I observed the guy who fitted all the front doors, I realise an advantage of having different cars in the line. At least it is not boring for the guy. He had a small white door first, then a long black door, then a huge blue door for the MPV and so on... It was more interesting to stare at a line of different cars than do the same thing over and over again?

This website is where I went to, to make reservations for the tour. I heard that you need to book at least 2 weeks ahead. I didn't but I managed to get a slot 1.5 weeks ahead. Even so, I was lucky, because for all the dates there were no available slots left, only this Wed one, and it was the day I wanted to tour the museum anyway.

The tour is absolutely free, and with all the info, the lovely guide and the souvenirs they gave the kids, I think it is super worth it. Worth all the time and effort to get there.

The kids all got a Toyota car (plastic one that they can assemble) and a magazine. The magazine had a card game with all the models of Toyota on it. The boys loved that. The magazine is actually all in Japanese but the boys still read it as if they understood every word! Just looking at all vehicles made them happy, I guess.

While waiting for the bus, the kids had a wild time playing at the bus stop.

Y and I chatted and we realised how different it is. At the bus stop here in Tianjin, we are forever telling the kids to please stand properly, don't run, watch the sputum on the floor here; hey, watch out, the dog poo there; hello, avoid those bricks there, they look dangerous; no please, don't play near that puddle of liquid, it might be urine... And we worry if they fall down, their clothes will be black from dust and dirt.

But at this bus stop, there was green grass all around. And I really got so used to seeing poo and pee everywhere that this grass looked so amazingly clean to me. Although the term "clean grass" sounds weird, but yeah, I could really use it then.

The kids ran up and down a long flight of stairs, and pushed and fought and wrestled. We didn't have to stop them. It was so relaxing for a change. I needn't have a furrow/ frown in between my brows, and I needn't nag and shout.

Dh and I once again wonder if we should bring the kids home... Like Y? Should the family be separated, for the kids' sake? Kids should be able to play uninhibitedly outside. They should be outdoors most of the time. But we can't let them do that in Tianjin. You don't realise the air is bad after some time, but every time we leave the country and return, we are hit by the heavy burnt air. As if there is a load of dust particles in every breath we take...

Jurong does not have the reputation of having the cleanest purest air in Singapore but trust me on that, the air in Jurong smells really great whenever I return home. I dare to take deep breaths...

Ok, anyway, when we reached the train station it was almost 3pm and we were famished. We decided on this nice ramen restaurant and had a nice meal together. Dh treated. Jap food is not expensive at all. At least, not in Nagoya. And it is SO GOOD. Service is wonderful too.

The kids slurped up all the ramen and then had more fun playing with each other. They quarrel and argue too, but it's all child's play. I miss them so much.

After that, we took a train to a station where Y's dad met her to bring her and the kids home, while he passed us our luggage. So kind of him.

We then took the subway to Nagoya JR station to catch the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

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