Osaka to Nagoya to Toyota

So long, Osaka!

Today I boarded the non-reserved section of the Shinkansen (which seemed somewhat frightening to my brain because I had no idea what would happen). It's not much different, other than cars 1-5 are non-reserved and 6-10 are reserved. You just stand in line and board when the train arrives. In less than two hours, I went from Osaka (and seeing lots of countryside with snow) to Nagoya. Now, the Osaka train station is impressive (reminded me a bit of London's St. Pancras station), and almost everything is in English. (That being said, the signage still managed to throw me off, and it took quite a while for me to figure out which direction to take to go to the Toyota Commemorative Museum. I knew what the stop was, but it was hard to figure out which platform (and which side of the platform) to be on.)

I probably didn't do Osaka much justice, writing it off as the "LA" of Japan (it is the second largest city), and not eating nearly as much as I should have. A wiser decision would have been to perhaps stay a bit longer, which would have meant either spending another night in Osaka, or spending a night in downtown Nagoya.

But today's highlight was the trip to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology. This museum is one stop away from Nagoya Station, and is literally like a block away from the station. (Seriously, it's so close that I ended up walking around the whole building. Basically, if you walk from the south exit of the station, cross the street, and walk until you see a large brick building with some tour buses parked on the left side.)

If you're an engineer like me, and if you like watching awesome machines, you'll love this place. What was fascinating was not only did they have the machines made by Toyoda, but they also had a wide collection of original weaving and cotton-processing machines that came before. Even more impressive was that some of THESE MACHINES WORKED. What I loved was seeing the actual weaving machines that were the predecessors to modern computers that ran off of their own version of punch cards (those weren't demo-able) next to the CNC weavers. But perhaps most impressive of all was the enthusiasm some of these guides had (granted, they also got to run these awesome machines). From an actual water-driven weaving machine that had a leather belt drive to a static display of a raw cotton gin, this was one hell of a display. A guide/docent standing next to the cotton display (where they took somewhat raw cotton and went through all the steps of creating fiber) animatedly described to me (and let me touch the various fibers, including at one point a comparison feel test with silk, nylon, and wool) all the machinery necessary to take processed cotton into an actually usable fiber. It's so amazing how twisting a bunch of fibers produces a very strong strand. Even more amazing was another machine that was running that Toyoda's son made that condensed the whole line of machines into one. Oh, the engineering behind weaving and fabrics....

They had a waterfall just for the waterwheel just to demo the waterwheel driven cotton processing machine.

A Jaquard mechanism-- using punched holes, the needles that traced over the paper would change stitch pattern based off of the hole pattern. This is the ancestor to the modern computer. I read about these but I never thought I'd see one in person!!!

Best guide ever. (He also has a great job-- demoing and talking about old machines seems like fun!!)

They also had a whole automotive wing, which showed some of the machinery in a working metal-working room, and then had demo-able equipment in another room. At the push of a button you could play with a clutch pedal, differential, multi-ton press, animate a welding assembly line... it was pretty awesome to see so much engineering get condensed into one space. (It was as if all of the tours Drew and I brought the Systems class on were condensed into one room.) Oh, and they also walked through the prototyping process for their first car. And there was a showroom floor. And they showed their materials science equipment (all of which I've used the more modern forms of). There were so many cool things I'm not entirely sure how to express how wonderful it all was....

Then, it was off to Toyota, because tomorrow, I'm going on a tour of the Toyota Kaikan Plant (and this is basically Toyota's headquarters). About 9 years ago, I was at the Audi plant in Ingolstadt, Germany. I'm excited to see how Toyota compares....

If you want to go to the Toyota plant, here are some deets:

  • It's about 1.5 hrs to get here from Nagoya (if you don't get lost in the train stations), and takes about 15 minutes to walk to the Kaikan museum from the station. This station is CASH ONLY so I would recommend purchasing a physical ticket and not using an IC card (eg. Suica, Passmo, etc). I did, and the guard stopped me and told me I had to pay in cash and now I have this little paper slip that I think I have to carry with my IC until I use it again in a major city (probably Tokyo). This should be exciting....

  • English tours run 10:30-1pm. You need to book at least 2 weeks in advance on their website.

  • There is a hotel across the street from the plant known as Plaza Hotel Toyota. They offer discounted breakfasts and dinners for guests (roughly $3 off).

  • Hotel is a little old, but they give you a pretty sweet toiletries kit (lots of exfoliating things, bath salt, lotion, etc) and you have your own bathroom (which, I haven't had my own bathroom in about a week, so this is exciting, even if it is old).