(4) Towa Takada: “Change yourself by seizing opportunities and taking on challenges”
[Olympic Torchbearers: Who do they run for?]
To Toyota Times readers,
Originally, this series of articles was scheduled to kick-off coinciding with the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay, on March 26, 2020. The series is designed to introduce the Toyota employees selected to serve as torchbearers.
These torchbearers have expressed a desire to share that they are not running for themselves, but that they are running "for someone else."
Unfortunately, with the postponement of Tokyo 2020, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay has also been postponed.
For the Toyota torchbearers, however, while not able to run right now, there is no reason to delay highlighting their reasons for running. Therefore, this series will continue as scheduled, and it is hoped that readers will come to understand the desires and expectations the torchbearers have placed on their involvement in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run.
Toyota is built on a set of corporate values where “The company is comprised of workers, and monozukuri (manufacturing) is really about hitozukuri (developing people).” Reflecting the value of the need for human resource development, in 1938, the year after Toyota Motor Corporation was founded, the company established a school, Toyota Technical Skills Academy (the Academy), dedicated to helping to develop people in the necessary skills and knowledge needed to work in the area of manufacturing.
The Academy has produced many top leaders who support Toyota operations at the genba (site where work is performed/frontline), including Operation Officer Mitsuru Kawai. A student at the Academy, Towa Takada, who was a third-year student in the Academy’s high school curriculum as of March 2020, is concurrently undergoing on-site training at Toyota’s Miyoshi Plant in the Machining Division No. 2. To better understand his motivations for running, the first question for Takada was about his motivation for joining the Academy.
“I was born in Iwate Prefecture, the Tohoku (northeastern) area of Japan, and soon after that my family moved to Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture. We then moved several more times, finally ending up in Toyoake City, which is where I live now. In my second year of junior high, I heard about the Toyota Technical Skills Academy from a senior student who enrolled at one year ahead of me. That was when I first learned about Toyota, the company, and the Academy.
At first, my feelings weren’t that serious as I made the decision to at least try and take the entrance exam. However, a senior student attending the Academy mentioned that students ‘receive a salary’ and ‘live in a dorm.’ Thinking about those additional considerations, it occurred to me that this would be a good opportunity to show some gratitude to my parents for all the sacrifices they have made for me. So I sort of gradually felt more and more inclined to do it until finally committing to this path.
Another reason is that I was always a ‘grandpa’s boy’ as I loved him so much. Around the time I started thinking about entering the Academy, he got sick. So, I thought I would ‘like to buy him something from my first paycheck’ to cheer him up. This also motivated me to seek admission.”
A challenging year in which his hopes for his grandfather did not come to pass
“I am not very good at studying, but I have confidence in my communication skills,” said a smiling Takada. It was the month of February 2018, when the cherry blossoms were blooming a little early, that Takada spoke about next.
“I was with my mom when receiving word that I had passed the exam for the Academy. I was so happy and excited that I forgot to tell my father the news before telling my grandparents. For a while after that, we received word from my grandmother with updates stating my grandfather’s condition was worsening, and we were advised that we should travel as soon as we could to Iwate Prefecture to see him. He had become quite thin and couldn’t talk much, but he could still hear very well. So I told him, ‘I got into Toyota (the Academy).’”
Unfortunately, those words appear to have possibly been the last ones Takada was able to speak to his grandfather on this earth.
“My maternal grandfather was a very strong person who had endured several other major illnesses to that point, so we returned to our home, believing he would recover. However, shortly after our return, my grandmother contacted us again. My mother seldom cries, but she suddenly burst into tears and said ‘My father will probably die.’ I will never forget that moment.
Two days later, he passed away due to respiratory failure. He had battled the illness for a long time before dying, so part of me felt relieved that he could finally rest in peace. Another part of me felt a sense of loss, however, knowing I would not be able to fulfill my goal of ‘buying him something from my first paycheck.’ With this being one of my reasons for wanting to attend and to do my best at the Academy, I was devastated for a while.”
Takada’s misfortune continued after entering the Academy in March 2018. Both his great grandfather and grandfather on his father’s side also passed away during the next half year. He said he wondered if this was the emotional price he would have to pay for entering the Academy as he spent those days suffering from their loss. The first year at the Academy is an important one, and Takada expressed his regrets in what he described as spending it lost as if with no purpose as he recounted:
“I had every intention to give it my all at the Academy but lost my motivation. Simply enduring the training and completing my work every day became the norm. I made lots of mistakes and couldn’t complete tasks all that well, greatly inconveniencing my instructor, Mr. Ishikawa. Even though I knew that I shouldn’t allow my feelings to hinder my work, it was quite a hard time for me. To be honest, in the first year, I didn’t challenge myself in any way and let opportunities slip away. I was a poor student.”
Running in memory of his grandfather and as a representative of the Academy
What inspired Takada to break out of his slump and think about trying to do his best again was news that the company was recruiting torchbearers for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay.
“I belonged to the track club in junior high school, and whenever I visited my grandparents in Iwate during holidays my grandfather always said, ‘Towa, I hope to see you running in the Hakone marathon relay race (a famous race in Japan) someday.’ When looking at the application form, I suddenly felt something special. I felt: ‘Wouldn’t running as a torchbearer in the Olympic Torch Relay be kind of like running in the Hakone marathon relay race?’
If I was selected as a torchbearer, wouldn’t it make my grandfather in heaven and my grandmother in Iwate happy that they had a grandson they could be ‘proud of?’ With that in mind, I applied to try to become one of the torchbearers.”
Following that announcement to collect applications for torchbearers, there was an overwhelming response from the students. As such, the Academy decided to make submitting an application a part of the coursework for the students. Takada’s passionately written application was selected as the one for recommendation.
“The day I received the news that I had been chosen to be a torchbearer, I was overcome with emotion. As a first-year student, I felt that I was behind my classmates, especially as I hadn’t taken on challenges, instead making meaningless mistakes. Some of my mistakes were so glaring that they couldn’t even be called blunders. However, being selected as a torchbearer made me confront this part of myself, and I knew it was important to get back on track.
Mr. Ishikawa advised me not to get a ‘big head’ just because I was selected. I have taken that advice and am doing my best to stay humble and grateful every day. I want to train hard to achieve “strength and resilience,” the Academy’s motto, and run with the feeling that I am carrying the expectations of the entire Academy.
Olympic Torch Relay is not the goal, only a start
In addition to wanting to run in memory of his grandfather and carrying the expectations of the Academy, Takada has one other reason he wants to run:
“I want to convey a message to others who might be struggling with a feeling of inferiority as I was. My advice? Do not avoid challenges or blame yourself for things that are not your fault. Grab every opportunity and put everything into the challenge at hand. If you can take the chances offered, it may lead to change.
For me, becoming a torchbearer was such an opportunity. There are many students at the Academy better than me. However, if I had given up and thought that I wouldn’t have a chance if someone else who seems more qualified than me applied, then I would not have been able to seize this opportunity. If you think it is impossible, then it is impossible and it is really up to you to decide that.
I don’t want to overstate by saying that anyone can do something if they challenge themselves without giving up; however, I do believe anyone can try to seize an opportunity. I hope that by being selected as a torchbearer I am able to convey this message, both to those already involved with Toyota, as well as to those who are considering joining Toyota in the future. I am sure there are other junior high school students who may share the same types of feelings I had a few years ago when I was their age.”
However, Takada has accepted this new challenge as a starting point, and aims to continue to take on challenges:
“I want to lead a life so that in the future, when I look back on my own history, that of Towa Takada, I see how being a torchbearer was not the goal, but was really the first step and the start of an eventful life. That would be much better than if I am boasting about how I was selected to be a torchbearer ten or twenty years from now.”
Towa Takada was initially scheduled to run through the streets of Iwate Prefecture, close to his hometown, as a “grandson his grandparents can be proud of.” He said his grandmother cried when he called to tell her that he had been selected as a torchbearer. For Takada, informing the person closest to his beloved grandfather, who had often expressed how he wanted him to run in the Hakone marathon relay race someday, the news probably served as a nourishing memorial service for the man she loved.