Friday, 18 May 2012

Day 5 - Robots & Samurai

16th May 2012
Actually, to be honest, there are neither robots or samurai in this post. There is, however, the thought of them!

The first part of today has to remain a secret from my colleagues in the Japan J&J offices! When I got home from work a few weeks ago and told Mike that a tour of the Toyota manufacturing facility was being organised for us, he was so envious that I investigated if we could do a tour this week. We could, so we did. The Toyota tour starts from the Toyota museum, which is in Toyota city – about 1.5 hours from Nagoya. Of course, when you research this, everything tells you that the Toyota tour is “in Nagoya”. It's not. It's 1.5 hours away. Got it??

The tour starts at 10:30, so we were leaving the Ryokan at about 08:15. This does NOT feel like a holiday! Mind you, the sleeping mats in this place are particularly thin, so in some ways it was good to get out of bed, as my back is not terribly happy with me! We left the Ryokan to the sound of a school teacher greeting his pupils at the technical college next door (“Ohio.... Ohio....Ohio...”). Each boy received an “Ohio” and a tie inspection.

Saw this on the way – a drunken raccoon (or tanuki, as they are known in Japan) As I took this photo, an old man pointed at me and said something in Japanese (presumably “he's like you”). Now, I know I like a glass of wine or two, but really! Mike calmed me down (“he's pointing to your sunglasses...”)

Now, I cannot show you photos of the Toyota tour, as cameras were banned, and I think my commentary is only going to appeal to a narrow group of you. So, I shall write that in a separate post. (I think that if you are a manufacturing / lean specialist, then my blog will be lame, and if you don't really care about factories and stuff, you are probably wondering why on earth Mike and I would expend holiday time going to a factory!)

I can, however show you that they have a gargle machine in the “restroom” (I think they mean toilet). I think it is basically a frothy water fountain. They really do think of everything you could ever need

I will just write about a couple of the other people on the tour, because this might amuse you. There was a delegation from a Polish automotive lighting company. One of this group must have been seven feet tall. That's tall in normal life; in Japan it is giant! On the way to get on the tour bus, we passed a mother and child. The child took one look at the giant, and started crying... in the factory, there were parts of the tour where he could not stand up straight. It's a shame.

Second oddity was a man who was carrying a “Kaizen Institute” clipboard, wearing a “Kaizen Institute” tee-shirt, and probably “Kaizen Institute” underwear. Now, either the man has Scottish blood running in his veins (those of you from Inverness and Puerto Rico know who I'm thinking of... short, from Kilmarnock, tendency to wear anything free that came his way....), or he is the founding (and perhaps only) member of the Kaizen Institute. Not sure which – but I'm not sure he appreciated me laughing at him (rather like Gordon really).

OK. I will write about the tour itself, but I shall do that separately. What I will say is that if you are ever in the Nagoya area, you should seriously consider taking time to do this – it was interesting. I will give you more details when I go again next week!

After the Toyota tour we took a long, long long train journey to the other side of Nagoya to go to the Inyurama-Jo. This is the oldest surviving castle in Japan (most of them have been blown up several times over the centuries, and rebuilt. The one in Nagoya itself was rebuilt as recently as 1959). The reason Inyurama-Jo is not as well known as Matsomoto-Jo or Himeji-Jo is probably because it's very small. Anyway, as it was relatively nearby, we decided to visit.

As I've mentioned before, there is not much to do on long train journeys other than sleep. This girl was sleeping for the whole time we were on the train. Maybe she lives there?
Mike found a new delicious drink to try – Calpis Soda (his previous favourite was Pocari Sweat). This is him pretending to enjoy it.

Final train pic, and sorry that this is a bit glary. I've already mentioned the cute health and safety notices... well, on the public transit system they seem to take an alternative approach. If you get your hand caught, they cut the end of the tail off a monkey. There was also a picture where they threatened to chop the fin off a dolphin. Seems an over reaction to me! (seems like a Japanese recipe to Mike...)
In the words of my heroine (Miss Elizabeth Bennett) “I don't think I have ever seen a castle so well situated” as Inyurama-Jo. It is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the town on one side, and the river on the other. I thought I'd taken a nice clean shot of the castle through the trees here – but no, Mike snuck his head into frame. As you can see, it has the scale more of a town house than a castle, but had it been bigger, it would have made an easier target for the allied bombers in the second world war (like Nagoya-Jo)

Inside is all shiny wood and low ceilings. Tall people beware! There are staircases that would just not accommodate six footers. Mike and I are both on the shorter side of tall... (Sorry – apparently Mike is just as tall as Shane Williams, and he does ok doesn't he?)

Whilst the castle is only four stories high, it is also perched on a hill (cliff on one side) so the views from the top are stunning. I have lots of these photos – but this one combines Michael and view, so you get a twofer. The rest will be on Flickr (once I get internet to load them). By the way, that low wooden barrier is all that stops you falling to your death. There is a sign suggesting you don't lean on it....
Final picture of the castle is this roof detail. I love the fact that this is five hundred years old. (I know, I know, there is plenty of 500 year old architecture in Europe, but I'm not sure it is as fine in detail as this is? Certainly not castles – which tend to be built out of lumps of rock, rather than delicate wood and tiles. Maybe we are getting to heart of why Japanese castles need to be rebuilt so often??)
OK, I lied. This is the last picture from the castle. Mike is pretending to write in the visitors book in Japanese. I think it is a pleasing picture.

We walked back through Inyurama at an easier pace than we had gone towards the castle (we'd only had a short time before closing time, so were basically running!) It's a nice little town, but with no concession to the fact that there might be folk who aren't able to read Kanjii. We were amused by the radio station which is broadcasting from this little shop (and through a loudspeaker into the street). The spectators presumably don't own radios?
We headed back to Nagoya, and decided to eat before going back to our Ryokan. We had a couple of refusals (we refused them, rather than them taking one look at us and shaking their heads - although, that could happen, I'm sure!) before we chose to go into a place called Yabuya (or Yabu Yabu as Mike insists on calling it) which is probably best described as a pub that also serves food, although food is also quite important. You might just be able to make out from this photo that there is absolutely nothing in this place that bears any relation to english. Even the staff (who are quite young, and you could normally rely on having a few words) did not speak any english.

With a combination of hand signals and pointing, we agreed that our waiter would choose us a selection of his finest food – up to a limit of 25 quid. Unfortunately he misunderstood and took us to a limit of 25 quid each. I have rarely eaten so much. It was, I think it's fair to say a mixed bag. This photo shows us barbecuing some nice beef, and it is accompanied by salad, tomatoes and cucumber. All good.
This picture, however, shows us barbecuing some parts of a pig that we don't really want to consider too much. (Ears? Cheek? Who knows!) Certainly it was quite chewy.
Thought for the day: Gibbons are NOT monkeys!!!

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