By Steve Laser, Craig Nicol and Nahoko Osuka reporting from Nagoya, Japan
A visit to Japan is not complete without spending a day, or at least a few hours, at a museum. Two of our favorite car-related museums are located in Aichi Prefecture, home of Nagoya and the global headquarters of Toyota. The Toyota Automobile Museum in Nagakute offers a world-class collection of some 150 cars from across the globe. While the separate Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology focuses on the importance of “Making Things” from textiles to cars.
The museum is housed in sections of a red brick building that was built during the Taisho era (1912-’26) that once made up part of the former head plant of Toyoda Spinning & Weaving Co., Ltd., the birthplace of the Toyota Group.
As a joint project of the 13 Toyota Group Companies, construction for the museum was an amazing ¥15 billion, or about $150 million. The collection features more than 150 machines and 2,700 exhibits, including vehicles, parts, models and sample processes. It opened to the public on June 11, 1994, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation.
To explain the changes in industry and technology over the years, the museum’s displays show how products have evolved and how manufacturing techniques have changed from the use of hand tools and simple machinery to advanced computerized equipment and robotics.
We made this quick tour video to highlight the Textile and Automobile Pavilion displays and exhibits during our visit to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Nagoya.
The steam engine played a vital role in the industrial modernization of Japan. According to the museum, the country’s textile industry was transformed during the Meiji Era, with steam engines installed in the Kagoshima Spinning Mill in 1867 and the Osaka Spinning Company in 1883.
This beautifully restored example (above) was built in 1898 by Sulzer Brothers Co. Ltd. in Switzerland. It has a power output of 500 hp (electrical generator 286 kVA). Originally used in a German spinning mill, it was acquired by the museum in 2005 as a display to help highlight the history of industrial technology.
The museum features two main areas called the Textile Machinery Pavilion that covers the history and basics of spinning and weaving and the Automobile Pavilion that presents the evolution of development and production technology.
Textile Machinery Pavilion – The Art of Spinning Yarn
This massive exhibit in the lobby is the original circular loom invented in 1906 by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota Group. It’s designed to weave fabric in a rotating circular motion. The museum says that this three-dimensional weaving speaks volumes to the spirit of research and creativity.
Spinning thread and fabric making was a slow process since its beginning thousands of years ago. The development of weaving technology and creation of looms helped to greatly speed up the process. In 1890, Sakichi invented a loom that could be operated with one hand, earning the technology pioneer his first patent.
The museum says that Sakichi achieved his ultimate goal of inventing a non-stop shuttle change automatic loom (above), as well as the circular loom. It incorporates 24 automatic protective and safety devices based on more than 50 of Toyoda’s inventions and contributed to the advancement of the global textile industry.
Let’s fast-forward to the advanced looms of today. We were impressed with the demonstration of this high-speed computer-controlled loom. It was programmed to make intricate designs, including images of the museum, nature and a vintage Toyopet Crown.
Before moving on to the automobile area, we stopped for a very tasty lunch in the Museum Cafe located between the two major pavilions.
Automobile Pavilion – Wheels of Progress
The leap from looms to automobiles took a great deal of patience and courage. According to the displays, Kiichiro studied devices such as the Smith Motor Wheel and made a compact gas engine. (Imagine what the automotive world would be like today had Toyoda decided not to pursue the risky business of building automobiles.)
A materials testing center was developed to research steel. This display shows basic casting for molds that would be used to build engine blocks. It reportedly took more than 500 tests to achieve a workable result.
A full passenger car body was then built mostly by hand. Called the Model A1 passenger car prototype, it resembled a 1934 DeSoto (Chrysler) airflow sedan, a design that was considered ahead of its time.
The Model A1 was finished in 1935 reportedly using some Chevrolet parts that were too difficult or time-consuming for Toyota to manufacture. The streamline design was right in synch with car styling of the era.
The first regular production passenger car was called the Model AA. It was built at a new plant called Koromo. Part of the plant has been reproduced at the museum including a conveyor and steel columns. Using a progressive assembly system, the display highlights the labor-intensive method of vehicle assembly.
Even at this early stage, Kiichiro introduced the hallmark concept of “Just-in-time” manufacturing. The mock assembly line at the museum shows parts waiting to be installed on vehicles.
A completed Model AA replica is stationed at the end of the line. The display states that the sales price of an original AA was ¥3,350 in Nagoya, about 400 yen less than comparable Ford or GM cars at the time. A total of 1,404 units of the Model AA were built.
A separate display area upstairs is filled with automotive mechanisms to show how they work to perform the basic functions of moving, turning and stopping. Full-size bodies-in-white of a 1955 Crown, 1966 Corolla and 1991 Corolla are also located here to highlight the evolution in body structures.
At the metalworking exhibit, a live demo highlights three major techniques: casting, forging and cutting, all used for crafting. Demonstrations are usually held throughout the day, so we recommend checking the schedule when arriving at the museum.
This big 600-ton press built by Danly in America is said to be the largest exhibit in the museum. It was originally put to work in 1960 at Toyota’s Motomachi plant. Live demonstrations are held so visitors can witness the mighty power of this machine.
Visitors can watch robotic welding machines at work as they help to build a Celica body. The display highlights the dramatic improvements in precision and safety compared to the early efforts of the Model AA. These robots make clicking and tapping noises as they go about their tasks, yet sparks do not fly here for the sake of safety.
Coating technology has come a long way since the days shown on the Model AA line where paint was applied by an operator with a spray gun. This automated exhibit enclosed in glass explains the process as finishing coats are applied to a Corolla using Bell coating gear.
The museum also houses several finished products of historical significance. The 1955 Toyopet Crown was the first passenger car developed by Toyota on its own. A few years later the Crown would become the first model that Toyota imported to America.
The first generation Corolla and Celica went on to become high-volume success stories for Toyota. Corolla recently celebrated its 50th birthday and is now the world’s best-selling car of all time. Although out of production, Celica remains highly popular with collectors and enthusiasts.
This 1970 Toyota ESV Experimental Safety Vehicle was Toyota’s entry for a safety “car of the future” in response to a U.S. government proposal. (If our vote counts, we’d prefer to have the Celica in our garage.)
Technoland, Robots and More – Imagination at Work
Other buildings located on the museum grounds include the Toyota Group Building, the former head office of Toyoda Spinning & Weaving Co., Ltd. The Toyoda Shokai Office is a reproduction of a building where Sakichi Toyoda lived and worked on his invention of the automatic loom.
In addition to this special room filled with displays and awards, the museum includes a library with approximately 70,000 books, periodicals and audio-visual materials related to science, technology, automobiles, industry and crafting.
For more information including admission fees, access and tours, visit the museum’s website.
The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology is located at 1-35, Noritake Shinmachi, 4-chome Nishi-ku, in Nagoya.
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