Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Me and my Toyota family
Last Saturday, I was standing in front of Toyota’s Tsutsumi factory, where they make the Prius hybrid, in hope of finding someone who would tell me about the life of a Toyota worker.
As usual when the story is bad news, it was difficult to get anyone to share their thoughts. But eventually I got lucky and 55-year-old Kazuo Akatsuka, a 37-year veteran at the company, stopped to talk.
After speaking for a while he generously invited me to visit his family to see a real Toyota worker’s life.
I entered the house and was welcomed by him and his wife and their two daughters and a cat.
I sat down to lunch with them and as I ate rice and boiled vegetables I asked various questions ranging from their thoughts on the issue of the company’s safety problems to just what it is like to work for Toyota.
At the same time, the family quizzed me on topics unrelated to the company, such as how I became a photographer and what it’s like backpacking in remote areas, which I enjoyed when I was a student.
I ended up spending most of my time just chatting with the family to build a relationship with them so that they would be comfortable enough to let me see more of their lives.
We got along well, and Akatsuka’s family let me see a little more of their private life, such as him praying in front of a Buddhist alter before going to work, and him arriving home after his shift at 2:30 in the morning and eating dinner.
In the end, I spent almost three days with them.
After the mother went to bed, I stayed in the living room to wait for their father come back from work and spent time with the three children as they cleared the dinner table, washed the dishes and watched television.
As the eldest daughter, Manami, washed the dishes, she said: “I rarely see my father, but I don’t miss him at all since this sort of life is normal for us. He never talks about how hard his job is, but I can tell.”
Typically, a wire service photographer covers the news of the moment and then moves on to the next story grabbing the world’s attention.
But I’d be disappointed with myself if I treated this encounter with the Akatsuka family as just another assignment and forget about their hospitality.
When I left the house mid-morning on Tuesday, the mother had already gone to work and the children were all asleep so I couldn’t say goodbye and thank you as I wanted. I left a thank-you note along with my cellphone number.
Later, the mother sent me an SMS reading: ”Even though the reason for you to get to know us started off because of your job, we are happy we met you and got to know you. Maybe if it weren’t for the Prius, we wouldn’t have met.”
When they come to visit Tokyo, I plan not to talk about Toyota at all and just have a good time being their guide.
Photo credits: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao