Thursday, April 10, 2008

Japan III


Monday, we were overly warned, was going to be a busy day. Everyone had a 5:30 wake up call, enough time to get breakfast from the hotel restaurant that opened extra early just for us, and to catch the shinkansen. The train ride was great! The first trip was only about an hour, but it was so smooth and fast. Plus, the assigned seating was a lot like flying first class (not that I know anything about that). Then it was a bus ride to Toyota City for our first company tour.

Since we were all in two buses, we had two tour groups. The guides were very sweet, and I guess tours are pretty common - they had speaker systems at a lot of different points along the way. The factory we saw was making Corollas, tCs, and a Japanese car, Wish. It made me think of Sesame Street, but on a whole new level, with all of the doors riding around on huge conveyor belts over the chassis on belts on the ground. When there was a problem on the line (which otherwise never stopped), the warning system would play a little song like an ice cream truck, instead of a regular warning sound. The funny thing was, they were songs like "Happy Birthday," "It's a Small World," and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." We also saw huge automated welding machines, that all run so precisely they never got in each others' way. The last stop was through the final inspection line, which was lit up brighter than daylight to check the cars for any tiny, itty bitty, possible defect.

Afterward, the bus dropped us at the museum and visitor's center - a 15 minute ride, because the plant is so huge! I wasn't too interested, because when the videos and signs weren't in Japanese, I'm just flat out not really interested in cars (hello, Honda!). I did hit the Starbucks in the basement, where they mythical "short" is sold for the same price as tall in the US, and the other sizes are priced accordingly. They didn't speak English but had a menu where you could just point. Also, before the presentation, we saw a couple of concerts by a robot that was able to play a real trumpet. It was really good, and I wish we could have seen the whole band. The presentation was good ... I just wasn't really in to it. Then it was back on the bus to Hamamatsu.

We had a boxed lunch on the bus with four sandwiches, and that killed some time from the hour drive. It was fun to see the countryside a little. Some buildings looked straight out of a movie, with Japanese architecture, and some looked very much like a midwestern town. And, apparently, pink cars are perfectly acceptable!

In Hamamatsu, we toured the Yamaha grand piano facility. Even though it was pretty modern, there were still so many steps that were done by hand, or by professional tuners. And they also had the ice cream truck song warning system! I don't think I've seen so many pianos in my life, much less knew how they all worked inside. Instead of a presentation, we had some time in their showroom, with both very traditional instruments (think marching band) to very advanced ones. But, after this, the "work" day was basically over.

The "worst" part of the day was supposed to be navigating the train system from Hamamatsu to the Keio Plaza Hotel. This time, we got a longer ride on the train - super relaxing and cushy. They even handed out hot towels, although I never really could get in to that custom. At our stop, we had to stick together as a group as best we could to get the normal metro train to the hotel, all through rush hour. Altogether it wasn't too bad, and everyone made it. But why did they make us learn all those Japanese phrases and then worry so much? I'm sure I could have gotten there on my own, in an emergency.

Our luggage was trucked separately to the hotel, and we were able to check in at a side table set aside especially for "USC Grobe" (oops!). Most of the restaurants had plastic models of food and prices in the fronts, and on the way to the hotel we passed a noodle shop that had udon with the biggest tempura prawn I have ever seen! We went back there for dinner, and it was fantastic, but a little pricey maybe at about $11. On the way back, we stopped at a convenience store called Natural Lawson's for some St. Patrick's day beer, which we ended up not drinking. Too tired, and full of good food! Oh well. That being said, Asahi Super Dry in Japan is really good. Not so much in the US.

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