Connect Our history to Our Future
Former Employees of TMEJ Higashi-Fuji Plant

The Cornerstone of Woven City: Reflections from the Higashi-Fuji Plant

The Higashi-Fuji Plant has long supported the motorization of Japan. Despite the significant impact of the plant's closure, its spirit to act in the best interest of others remains strong. The evolution of Woven City amplified this desire. We interviewed former employees who helped bridge the past to the future.

"Higashi-Fuji Plant's work culture, which emphasized consideration for one's fellow workers, was not created overnight," says Kazuyoshi Sakaki. As the general manager of Administration Div. responsible for plant operations at the time, Sakaki oversaw the Higashi-Fuji Plant's closure.
After the merger of Kanta Auto Works, Central Motor, and Toyota Motor Tohoku in 2012 and the establishment ofToyota Motor EastJapan (TMEJ), there were significant changes in the workplace environment. They included the reorganization of production lines and support from other plants. This flux made reaching out to help each other across divisions, lines, and company boundaries even more essential than it was before.

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The first step toward reintroducing the original culture of mutual support came in the form of morning greetings.

"The little things like morning greetings are so important. Whether standing at the main gate (of the plant) or cleaning up the neighborhood, we take the initiative to greet fellow employees, their families, and residents. By making that a part of a daily routine, we made friends. Ultimately, even the company's chairman joined in, which changed the landscape. It made us more aware of our environment and each other, inspired us to keep the factory clean and stand tall with dignity while working."

The Pride of Bridging the Future

As reconstruction efforts were underway to gradually shift production to the Tohoku region, in May of 2018, the Higashi-Fuji Plant was marked for closure. Sakaki, who was uniquely able to empathize with both management's perspective and employees' feelings, reflects on that time.
"I remember it was just before a long weekend in May. Then, President Shirane gathered all the managers and higher-ups to announce its closure. I was worried during my holiday, but when it came time to tell the members of each division that we were closing the plant, the first words out of my mouth were 'I'm sorry.' I couldn't find anything positive to say but everyone said reassuring things like, 'We'll be fine,' or 'We know you care and are sympathetic to our perspective'"

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Two months later, in July 2018, then Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda was in the area for a ceremonial visit for a new model car and a forum was planned for him to address the employees. There, plant employee Takaki Nagatani shared his thoughts on his colleagues who would not be able to move to Tohoku. He asked Toyoda about the plans for the future of the Higashi-Fuji Plant. Nagatani, who was working in painting processes at the plant at the time, recalls his experience:
"They said we could ask anything, but that wasn't the atmosphere I felt in the room. Then, during the Q & A session, President Akio and I made eye contact (chuckles), and I was inspired to speak up. It was not a question I had prepared in advance, but something that I felt in the moment. I think I worded it well, all things considered."

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Nagatani hailed from the former Kanto Auto Works, TMEJ's predecessor, and had been transferred to the Higashi-Fuji Plant when the Yokosuka Plant closed in 2000. It was his second brush with closure. "Many good colleagues worked with me at the Higashi-Fuji Plant. I decided to speak up since I had prior experience with another plant closure."
In response to his comment, Toyoda spoke for the first time about the concept that would later become Woven City.
Nagatani recalls how he felt after hearing the President's answer. "Those of us leaving the company and those transferring to Tohoku had already made our respective decisions, but with this vision, I felt a glimmer of hope for the plant's future."

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Sakaki remembers, "Although it may have been Nagatani's comment that caused President Toyoda to unveil the idea for Woven City, I think it was the 53 years of cultivating a work culture of "for others" that allowed the moment to come. Knowing that the Higashi-Fuji Plant would not become an empty lot was a relief. The site we had built together would instead lead into the future, and we would be its bridge. This new goal gave me and everyone else there a sense of pride."

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Until the plant's closure at the end of 2020, Sakaki made it a point to get to know each employee through one-on-one conversations. He implemented various initiatives to connect the history of the Higashi-Fuji Plant to the future, and express gratitude for the past. Plant tours for family members and alumni celebrated the plant's signature "monozukuri" techniques. During this time, TMEJ helped accelerate the preparations for Woven City by taking down the buildings around them, even as they continued manufacturing cars. "I still feel a rush of positive energy when I think of how the memory-filled plant will live on to be integrated into plans for the future and become filled with new possibilities."

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Looking to the Future

For those who know Higashi-Fuji, there is great anticipation about the future becoming a home. The entrance to the Miyagi Taiwa Plant, where Sakaki now works, features brightly colored wood flooring, and a rest area and counters that were DIY projects led by the employees.
"We are doing here what we did at Higashi-Fuji," he explains. "Kaizen is not about efficiency but about making it easier for people to work in the best interest of others. If the environment improves and people can talk to each other and help each other, our quality will improve, and we can deliver better products to customers."

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Entrance to the Miyagi Taiwa Plant

Finally, Nagatani spoke on his high hopes for Woven City:
"I want Woven City to be a place that provides possibilities to many people. It's not enough if only one person is smiling. We aim to produce happiness for all and widen the ring of smiles."

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Kazuyoshi Sakaki

General Manager of Administration Div., Miyagi Taiwa Plant
Sakaki joined the former Kanto Auto Works in 1990. After working in Production Control Div. and later Production and Procurement Planning Div., he joined the Higashi-Fuji Plant in 2013, becoming the general manager of Administration Div. in 2021.

Takaki Nagatani

Expert, Painting Section No.2, Painting & Plastics Molding Div., Iwate Plant
Nagatani joined the former Kanto Auto Works in 1991. He transferred to Higashi-Fuji Plant in January 2001 and was assigned to the Painting Section, holding his current position since 2021.

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