Day 171 – Trash

We departed Osaka late last night on the wonderful bullet train system to our second Japanese destination because today was the only opportunity to be able to visit another of our ‘strangest tourist attraction’ contenders.

Japan is apparently the world’s third most successful economy in the world (behind China and the US), and that success is built upon a strong manufacturing industry whose most successful exports include a range of cars.

In fact cars are one of the things that you notice change as you move round the world, particularly if like us you are a bit of a petrol head.  The big prestige cars are a low volume ever present wherever you go, with the German (BMW, Mercedes, Audi and VW) and the odd ‘British’ (Range Rover and Jaguar) marques the choice of the elite the world over.

Beyond that then it tends to be dominated either by second hand cars in the poorer economies or by new locally produced cars in the more affluent places (including some the European faked cars in China).  The Protons of Malaysia made way for the South Korean Kia’s and now in Japan the roads are dominated by cars manufactured by Nissan, Toyota and Mazda.

Mazda has a huge manufacturing facility located on the outskirts of Hiroshima that offers tours to see the factory line and being geeks we are we signed up for it about a month ago because availability is limited.

The place is huge.

Really huge.

End to end the site exceeds 7km and in addition to the basic manufacturing plant you’d expect, the Japanese seem to have a bit of the ‘enlightened industrialist’ approach of the Victorians.  They provide accommodation for 3,500 workers, they provide a 24 hour fire and medical services that are available to local residents, they have the largest private bridge in the world, they generate 60% of their power needs and even have their own port.

The tour includes a dull car showroom, a few museum style rooms and then the best part which is getting to see the phenomenally complex assembly line.  A combination of 2,000 dexterous robot arms and 800 skilled technicians (who have a 2 year 1 on 1 apprenticeship before they are let loose) produce 1,000 cars a day, with a single car taking 15 hours from start to finish.

To prevent boredom the car models are mixed up so that the workers don’t get complacent and they get an enforced 10 minute break every 75 minutes, and we are genuinely amazed by the amount of manual intervention there is in the process.  Robots are generally only used for welding and getting products and materials to the workers.

Sadly photographs are not allowed in this part of the facility, but we could have watched the long snaking conveyors for hours but we have to leave at the end of our allotted 90 minutes.  But the excitement of the day doesn’t end there.  Not even close.

10 years ago Hiroshima opened a a new waste management facility.  What better way to follow a morning of mid-range hatchback construction than a visit to a waste management facility?

On the face of it this must seem THE most ludicrous choice of tourist attraction.

I will admit that without my general interest in waste, incineration and environmental processes we probably would never have made the less than easy journey to and from the coastal waste incinerator (Niki we certainly less than sure about the whole thing).  In my defense however, is the fact that the dubbed ‘museum of garbage’ was designed by the world renowned architect Yoshio Taniguchi.

At the same time as Taniguchi was designing arguably the most beautiful rubbish processing plant in the world, he also designed the Museum of Modern Art in New York that was described as  “one of the most exquisite works of architecture to rise in this city in at least a generation”.

The amazing glass tunnelled structure that gives visibility to the gleaming steel innards and provide passage through to a viewing platform overlooking the sea is according to our tour guide not the most popular attraction in the city.  On average about 4 people a week make the trip through the less salubrious parts of the city to see how 1.1 million peoples refuse is dealt with, but from what we saw it deserves more attention and is worth that little bit of effort.

In fact Yoshio Taniguchi hopes that if his design lets the the people of Hiroshima witness the effort that is required to dispose of their detritus, then perhaps they will start taking individual steps to reduce the amount that has to end up at this functional yet startling structure.

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