Looking For Answers In Japan's Toyota City The ground zero of Toyota's meltdown, a modern glass and steel building, can be found in this quiet city of 420,000. The city was already hit hard by the recession, and the spate of other problems in recent days has only added to the auto manufacturer's woes. Old-timers at Toyota say one reason for the company's current difficulties can be found in the Toyota Way, a philosophy that underpins and unites the entire company.
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Looking For Answers In Japan's Toyota City

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Looking For Answers In Japan's Toyota City

Looking For Answers In Japan's Toyota City

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Toyota City.

LOUISA LIM: Unidentified Man: This is the Toyota production system, where manufactures eliminate waste to provide customers with well made products in a timely manner.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM)

LIM: Hisayoshi Atsumi drives a taxi now, a Toyota, of course. Before that, he worked for Toyota for 29 years.

HISAYOSHI ATSUMI: (Through Translator) I think what caused the current problems is that Toyota cut costs excessively. They squeezed and squeezed. And even when there was nothing left to squeeze, they squeezed some more. That makes the workers' jobs hard.

LIM: Not only are their jobs hard, but Toyota regulates its employees' lives to an extraordinary degree. Here, Tadao Wakatsuki is demonstrating the Toyota way of turning corners when you walk. Stop first. Look left. Okay, look right. Okay, look forward. Okay, nobody is coming, 90-degree turn. That's how everyone who works for Toyota turns corners. Wakatsuki spent his entire working life at Toyota, 45 years of service. He enumerates some other Toyota rules.

TADAO WAKATSUKI: (Through Translator) If you walk around with your hands in your pockets, you'll be told to take them out. If you drive to work, you'll file a report describing the route you take and the risks. I would say there's no freedom at Toyota. It's totalitarian.

LIM: Four years ago, he started his own union, the All Toyota Labor Union. Worried that standards were slipping too far, he wrote to management outlining his fears.

WAKATSUKI: (Through Translator) The same cheap parts are used in too many different models. Design and planning is outsourced and it's done by computers. The trial and error period for new cars is too short and there's a shortage of experienced workers.

LIM: Louisa Lim, NPR News, Toyota City, Japan.

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