From Past to Future - Vision for a Grand Prototype City (Part I)

2021.03.18

Announcing the plant’s closure to 1,400 employees

Just before closing, the plant produced the incomparably durable JPN Taxi, as well as the Century, which features the finest craftsmanship in all aspects. These are not products that can simply be made anywhere, with both models requiring particular experience and technical skills. The Higashi-Fuji Plant possessed such high-level production capabilities.

As TMEJ steadily transferred the skills and expertise cultivated at Higashi-Fuji to Toyota’s Tohoku plants, that region’s productivity greatly improved. In doing this, recalls Chairman Shirane, the Higashi-Fuji Plant served its purpose and, as the oldest facility, became a natural candidate for closure.

 Takeshi Shirane

Shirane:
I feel that, no matter who was in charge of the company (TMEJ), it would have gone in the same direction. If you just look at it rationally, that much was clear.

Even so, the closure was opposed until the very end by Mr. Abe, the General Manager, who continued to propose kaizen that could keep the plant going. Despite these efforts, the broader tide was moving against him.

Having made the decision, Chairman Shirane’s first thought was that he needed to be the one to share this news with his employees. After promptly assembling all 1,400 staff, he did just that – “I’m sorry, but we’re closing this plant. Please help us strengthen Tohoku.”

Unable to process his words immediately, the employees stared in disbelief. But the actions that followed made a powerful impression.

Shirane:
Everyone at the plant was incredible. Each day they were striving for kaizen, raising productivity. And as this freed up capacity and people, we transferred them to Tohoku.

They came up with many great solutions. And because they took all of that knowledge with them, that makes Tohoku even stronger.

Akio shares his concept of a ‘Living Laboratory’

Following the decision to close Higashi-Fuji, in July 2018, Akio visited the plant for the third-generation Century’s line-off ceremony and addressed the crowd of employees.

the decision to close Higashi-Fuji, in July 2018

“I want to go to the Tohoku area and help make cars there. But some people may have no choice but to quit because they can’t take their family to Tohoku even if they want to go. When I think of such people, I’m not sure if I feel happy about going to Tohoku.”

Akio listened intently to the employees as they tearfully shared their deepest concerns. When asked whether Toyota had any plans for Higashi-Fuji, Akio’s answer revealed a grand plan that the employees could never have expected.

Toyoda:
I am thinking of transforming this place into a Connected City, a large-scale experiment for autonomous driving among other things, a place that can contribute to the future of automobiles for the next 50 years. This is still at a conceptual stage, but I think if we have the will, we can make it happen.

Shirane:
When I had spoken with Mr. Toyoda (about the plant’s future), he had assured me that we would have his full backing. On that day, I realized, “Wow, so this is what he had in mind”

This was about a year and a half before the Woven City announcement that took the world by surprise at CES in January 2020. In this way, the 53-year history of the Higashi-Fuji Plant became part of the future.

the Higashi-Fuji Plant

Kagawa:
Earlier today we had the grand groundbreaking ceremony. How do you feel about that?

Shirane:
Well, the weather sure was wonderful today. We had Mt. Fuji in full view. I felt that it was a good sign of our bright future ahead.

Kagawa:
I think we can expect big things, right, Mr. Shirane? He’s said that he will get it done, so he will. And you can rest assured that we will continue to watch closely and report what happens.

The workshop behind 53 years of Century

One model that symbolizes the Higashi-Fuji Plant is the Century. This universally-acknowledged pinnacle of sedans is used by VIPs such as the Emperor and the Prime Minister of Japan.

By coincidence, the first-generation Century was announced in 1967, the same year that the Higashi-Fuji Plant was completed. As it turned out, the model was produced at this plant for the next 53 years.

the Century

On leaving the plant, Morita and the Editor-in-Chief were greeted by a first-generation Century. Kagawa, whose family has stayed loyal to the model over many years, felt a rush of emotion as he climbed aboard.

Their destination was the so-called ‘Century Workshop,’ responsible for producing the Century since the beginning. The facility’s name was a mark of respect – this was not a regular factory, but a place where the highest levels of craftsmanship achieved results unattainable elsewhere.

With the plant’s closure, however, the production of the Century will be handed over to the Motomachi Plant in Aichi Prefecture.

Shirane&Kagawa&Morita

Even a workshop that had inspired such strong sentiments was closed to make way for Woven City. When asked by Morita how he felt about this project, Shirane answered:

Shirane:
Well, for those of us who have spent our lives building cars, we are very happy and grateful that this site will contribute to the higher goals of city development.

10 or 20 years from now, when this city-building expertise has spread globally, we can look back and see that it started here in Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Going back further still, this place was home to a plant that produced the Century and other cars for 53 years. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to look back and see that connection.

Woven City is not being built on vacant land

Having spent the day exploring the site of the former Higashi-Fuji Plant, Morita and Editor-in-Chief Kagawa realized that Woven City will not be built on vacant land, but atop the blood, sweat and tears of the earnest workers who produced cars here.

Morita:
Woven City may be a ‘connected city’, but ultimately it is a bridge that connects the past and the future, Higashi-Fuji and Tohoku, and beyond that, the world. Today’s report made me realize that this city is going to be a hub linking many places.

Kagawa:
And now you’re going to explore the other end of this bridge – the future. I want you to go and find out exactly what sort of future is being built here.

And the other big part of the mission is, I want you to do it alone. Do it any way you like, enjoy yourself.

Morita:
Wish me luck!

With that, having received the Editor-in-Chief’s orders for a solo report, Morita headed to Woven Planet Holdings in Nihonbashi. What is Toyota’s vision for the future? And what is being developed to make that a reality? In Part II, Morita reports from the frontline of Woven City’s development.

Woven City is not being built on vacant land

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