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The Secret Lives of Toyota Term Employees, Episode 3

By Jon Miller Published on September 14th, 2007

The Road to Tahara Prison
A Toyota term employee and blogger named Maruo wrote 72 posts over 4 months on his experience working at the Tahara plant. His blog is called Welcome to Tahara Prison (田原刑務所へようこそ). He signed up for a 6 month term at Toyota.
All references to “Tahara Prison” below are in reference to Toyota’s Tahara plant. Maruo was a term employee at Toyota who chose to think of the factory as a prison, and referred to it as such in his blog. The following are excerpts from his blog and his experiences on the road to term employment at the Toyota Tahara plant.
September 9, 2005: This in an Interview?
We meet Maruo standing in the interview hall in his native Hokkaido, with two other job seekers look like petty criminals. Maruo writes:
Just like it says in the blogs and FAQs, it’s more of an interrogation than an interview. They ask question after question such as “Do you have any debts?” and “Do you have any illnesses?” There is no consideration of a person’s character, I guess. Basically, they want to know whether you will make it as a term employee.
Maruo passed the interview.
September 26, 2005: Physical Examination, with Gusto
All term employees are given a physical examination to determine their health and strength, and how strong you are affects plant assignment. Maruo starts his employment at Toyota by learning an unintentional lesson in the waste of waiting due to batch and queue processing:
About 300 people receive the examination at the same time, so most of this day is spent waiting.
It seems Toyota has not applied Lean healthcare principles of patient flow to their physical examination process. Nor has Toyota reduced the waste of transportation in their healthcare process.
We were transferred to the examination room at the Motomachi plant, where we were told to do “underpants calisthenics”. We stand in our underpants and do calisthenics for the doctor, wagging our hands and feet.
Maruo felt silly doing this, but wrote, “We do this because we want to work at Toyota” and also noted that this is where you would be caught if you lied about having tattoos.
We’ve all heard rumors about Tahara, and we dread it. And hope we are not assigned there. But, wouldn’t you know it, I was assigned to Tahara.
September 29, 2005: Plant Assignment
There are about 9,000 people imprisoned in Tahara Prison, and the size of the facility is overwhelming. It was like entering a different world.
Maruo was part of a group of 118 term employees who were taken through orientation in one of the office buildings at Tahara. They were shown a video of the assembly line working:
The video showed people working at an amazing speed, bolting and attaching parts rapidly. Most of us (me included) were rookies, and a murmur went up around the room. We all doubted, “Am I really going to be able to do this?”
Maruo hoped he would not be assigned to the assembly line, but he was. Only 3 of the 118 people were assigned to inspection. Maruo writes:
Most likely all jobs are hard, but we were envious of those assigned to inspectin.
September 30, 2005: The First Day of Training
Maruo nicknamed his instructor “Gori sensei” with sensei being teacher and Gori being presumably shortened for Gorilla. This Toyota instructor shouts at them:
“YOU!! What do you THINK you are DOING!!!!!!!!!!”
Maruo writes:
To be fair, Gori sensei is not setting high expectations. Actually, they’re quite low. The people who get yelled at are 1) not doing what they are told, 2) doing what they are told not to do, or 3) sleeping during class room training.
The training is a combination of theory and practical training, with plenty of attaching bolts, nuts, grommets, all the while being timed. This affects what jobs they are assigned. There is also jumping rope, doing pull ups and other demonstrations of physical strength.
The class room training is a combination of video, reading with an emphasis on safety, health and avoiding injury and illness. Maruo says:
I am not so physically strong, so I need to be careful not to injure my hands and back.
These words will turn out to be prophetic. In the next episode, we’ll follow Maruo into the factory, where he writes, “Somehow, I will get through this week.”

  1. Matt Meyers

    September 16, 2007 - 8:02 pm

    This is all quite fascinating. Its a realistic picture, although not one that is popularized about Toyota.
    I have an interesting observation. I would say that Toyota does not need to apply Lean principles of patient flow to their physical examination process. The applicants are not customers, nor does that ‘inventory’ of applicants cost them in WIP. Large batches are justified when you focus on equipment utilization, and that equipment includes the Toyota employees and contractors who are evaluating the applicants.

  2. Debasish Roy

    October 29, 2007 - 2:58 am

    I have read descriptions by eye-witnesses in doing research in criminology and on criminals or ordinary company employees to research on white collar crime. The descriptions always contain some details about the surroundings. These don’t at all. Therefore, some part of it is fictitious or fabricated. I am not commenting positively or negatively about Toyota.

  3. Jon

    October 29, 2007 - 8:54 am

    You make a good point Debasish. This is a subjective personal account by a Japanese blogger, no empirical research or crime scene investigation. We should read it for what it is, one person’s purported first-hand account of term-employment at Toyota.

  4. dooly barnt

    July 3, 2008 - 5:16 pm

    matt meyers i hope u remembr that next time you are at the dmv . people in your mind are just objects in a process so let e wait 6 hours yeah good idea. way to impress your future managers… 1st impressions mean a lot ya know

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