To ToyotaTimes 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.
Jyunnosuke Suemune, Paint Division, Tsutsumi Plant
*Position at the time selected to be an Olympic torchbearer
Jyunnosuke Suemune hails from a rather small city in southwestern Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture. There, Suemune grew up sitting in the passenger seat of his father’s car from an early age. As he looked around him in the car, he would think to himself, “I want to make something like this in the future.” Later, after touring the nearby Toyota Motor Kyushu Plant, he recalled being particularly impressed by how the craftsmen applied colors to the vehicles. He held onto that thought until he graduated from high school; then, he joined Toyota in 2017. As fate would have it, he currently works in a skilled position in the painting section of Tsutsumi Plant, where Prius and Camry are produced.
“In January 2020, we started production of Lexus ES at the Tsutsumi Plant. I never thought I would be charged with painting Lexus vehicles and am very honored and happy to be able to do so. For Lexus vehicles, there is the ‘Lexus Standard’, which is very strict, so I struggled to pass it in the beginning. I did my best to brush up my skills while receiving advice from my more experienced colleagues. Now, I have been able to increase my skills to be able to spray at the required level.”
For Suemune, being involved in the creation of ever-better cars has been a catalyst for improving his own skills. Although he recognizes that there are still many steps of the production processes carried out by the 16 members in his team that he must learn, he is ambitious, aiming to become a section leader, called ‘kumicho’, in the future, making him responsible for all of the processes his team works on.
“I have deep respect for our current kumicho's (section leader) mindset to change things to achieve an even better assembly line. The kumicho not only solves problems associated with each process his team oversees but he also takes a keen interest in the entire process as he looks to eliminate any inefficiencies. I would like to be a leader like him who can bring together a team like that and produce results as a unified team.”
From “I cannot” to an “I can” attitude
The section leader who Suemune respects so much also played a role in his selection as a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay torchbearer.
“When I heard they were recruiting runners, I thought ‘maybe I should try to be a runner.’ As I was about to timidly raise my hand, almost with perfect timing, my kumicho asked me, ‘Do you want to be a torchbearer?’ ‘What a godsend,’ I thought to myself and responded, ‘Yes, yes! I would love to do it!’” with a big smile.
“I wrote about what I was working on and expressed my enthusiasm for running and submitted my application while receiving support from my section leader. Not long after, I received an email notifying me that I had been selected. ‘Wow!’ ‘Really?!?’ I thought to myself, I was so surprised I broke out in a sweat. I was honored to report the good news to those who had backed me for the selection.”
Suemune described the motivations behind his initial intention to cautiously raise his hand at the opportunity to become a torchbearer, even accepting help from others around him.
“The first thought in my mind was a personal desire to run for the opportunity to shine in a big event like the Olympic Torch Relay. Another reason was that I wanted to convey to others that by working hard and steadily piling up small accomplishments, even someone like me could be selected and shine on the big stage.”
“Even someone like me” – this key phrase resonated even more knowing Suemune’s personal history of overcoming considerable hardship.
“Following an accident early on in elementary school, I lost my ability to hear out of one ear. This caused me to struggle to communicate during my childhood. Often unable to hear what the other person was saying, it was hard to catch what my classmates meant and I would sometimes end up continuing to talk while misunderstanding the point. During my time in school, I was often bullied – people would say that I couldn’t ‘pick up on moods’ or ‘read the situation.’
“Even though I talked with my parents and teachers about it, a solution wasn’t forthcoming and I started to withdraw from others. However, I came to learn about others who had also experienced bullying and how they overcame it through TV shows and books. Though I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I finally decided to bulldoze my way through my feelings of pain and bitterness and move forward while cautioning myself ‘not to worry about what others say or do.’
“Since then, I have gained the support of various people and changed my mindset from one of ‘I can’t’ to one of ‘I can’ by taking the initiative to actively communicate. I believe being selected as a torchbearer is a testament to that shift in attitude. I would like to give hope to others with hearing problems or impairments by showing them that if they continue to make an effort, they too can stand on such a grand stage.”
Since his selection as one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay torchbearers, Suemune described how he has been developing a new feeling in his mind.
“Being selected as a torchbearer might increase interview opportunities like this (with smile). That makes me want to be a little more of a stickler with the things I do every day. At the workplace, I set my mind trying to do each process much better and with great care. Also, so I can fulfill my running role as a torchbearer worthily, I never miss an opportunity to practice running after work when I have time.
“As the opportunity to hear those around me say ‘Suemune, you were selected to be a torchbearer!?’ has increased, I respond with an enthusiastic appeal for their support, ‘Yes, I will do my best, I appreciate all of your support!’ I believe getting attention this way is also an opportunity for me to interact with a greater variety of people.”
Broadening horizons by continuing to run
For Suemune, who has excelled at running since his school days and was faster than those in the track and field club over long distances, an even more challenging path lies ahead after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay.
“After completing the role as a torchbearer, my goal is to join the Paint Division’s A team, a team that consists of our faster runners who compete in our annual ‘Toyota Ekiden (in-house short marathon relay race).’ Currently, I am a member of another team, the B team, and run in a position next to the top runners; however, Paint and Plastics Molding Divisions will be integrated via an organizational change this year.
“There are some runners in the Plastics Molding Division who hold a better record than we do. Thus, there is a sense of crisis among us about the possibility of being swallowed up due to the integration and not being able to continue as members in the new team. Of course, so that doesn’t happen, I train hard every day thinking that ‘I can’t lose to another division.’
“Initially, I only had a few friends. However, after joining Toyota and participating in the Ekiden event, I have developed friendships with others who are also training and working hard to better themselves. Through continued communication, these people have become close friends. I am very grateful that the company participates in this race as it has allowed me to meet others and expand my horizons beyond what they were up until now.”
Jyunnosuke Suemune was originally scheduled to run as a torchbearer in Nagano Prefecture, in central Japan. He is determined to never give up and to put forward his effort to change his mindset to 'I can' from ''I cannot.' While it may not be apparently visible to others, he continues to challenge himself. The experience of being selected as a torchbearer has certainly raised the level of what challenge he will take on next.