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Good Morning Japan

I sat alone on the gangway of the Toyota Car Carrier on the docks in Toyo Japan. We had arrived late the night before, and I was standing the 4-8 watch on the gangway. The faint glow in the eastern sky and the signs of life slowly emerging from the factory foretold of the pending change of shift that would bring on both the sunrise and the cargo operations.

Lone security guards were now replaced with small groups of workers moving about the docks and preparing for the day. It was a cool summer morning, with a mist creeping off of the shore side and enveloping the ship. A large warehouse filled with Camry’s and Corolla’s stood a few hundred feet away. The harsh sodium lights carved out a brightly lit hole in the dense fog, like a stage for what was about to happen.

The quiet was abruptly interrupted by the loud click of a microphone being keyed on enormous loudspeakers. A guttural barking voice shouted out a short command that echoed across the waterfront. The command was followed by a stream of a few dozen workers jogging out of the warehouse onto the docks in their neat white uniforms and hardhats and forming a sharp line on the dock.

The voice on the loudspeaker boomed out again for a moment, snapping out a few short sentences in a very serious tone, and ending with a resounding “HA… HA…. HA.” At each HA the line of workers would execute their far-east version of a jumping jack.

I watched in awe as the factory workers performed their morning company calisthenics. Toe touches, Jumping Jacks, strange wind milling movements, all punctuated by the stern “HA’s”. This was entertaining. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the booming voice barked a particularly loud command, ending exercise time. The workers all turned and faced the factory, they took their hats off and then they all started singing. The thundering voice on the loudspeaker led the song, with the workers enthusiastically singing along. I could make out the word “Toyota” several times in the lyrics.

I was reasonably certain that workers at Ford and GM across the ocean and half a continent away in Detroit did not rise and sing the company song before starting their day. I wondered what other stark cultural differences were happening inside that warehouse.

The song ended, and the workers filed back into the warehouse, ready to start their day. Their muscles stretched, their blood flowing, and their devotion to mother Toyota affirmed. The morning routine was just one small part of the amazingly efficient and unique process that loaded 1300 cars in less than half the time that it takes anywhere else on earth.

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