After a long night bus ride from Hiroshima, me and James finally arrived at our final destination: The lovely city of Kudamatsu. An industrial town of about 55 000 people, we could already see the giant Hitachi logo of one of the production halls, just like a big eye watching over the houses and streets below. After arriving at the station and a 15 minute walk, we arrived at our dormitory. It is basically two old, run-down concrete five-story buildings on the bottom of a hill, next to normal-looking, middle class family houses. We guess there are about 60 (all male) Hitachi employees living there. There are some teenagers who probably got their contract before even graduating from high school, but also some who seem to be 30 something. They are all really nice and have helped us out by lending us a vacuum and showing us around.
Our room is japanese style, and 6 tatami mats big (which is maybe 8m^2). We have a desk, a chair and lots of closets, but no sink or toilet, these are shared. When we got there, we found lots of dust bunnies and the occasional bug, but after a quick vacuuming, it didn’t seem that bad. We have an air-conditioner/heater so the winter months should be bearable. The highway outside my window isn’t too noisy so that’s not a problem, either. The dorm has seen better days, though, there are some cigarette burns in the carpets in the dining room and everything looks old. Each floor has about eight rooms sharing sinks, toilets, washing machine and dryer; both Western and Japanese style toilets are available. There is a common shower room with a large hot water tub, similar to what one would find at an Onsen. Since it’s in the other building, though, you have to walk a short stretch through the morning cold… With a bit of sideways rain or snow if the wind is blowing. I found that this helps me wake up pretty good, though!
We get breakfast and dinner at the common dining room, the food is relatively good and cheap. We get a slip of paper for each month, where we can mark what days we want to receive the in-house dinner. On weekends there is no service, but there are some nice restaurants around town. No kitchen to cook yourself, though. In the evening, we hang around here because you have some cozy chairs and a big TV. Plus, the only access to the internet until we get our own, which is sadly not covered and we will have to pay ourselves.
I inherited a bicycle from Marco (last year’s Vulcanus intern at Hitachi), James got one from one of the assistants of the dorm caretaker who has just bought a car and thus doesn’t need the bike right now. This way we will be able to explore the city and surroundings easily. We already went to The Mall (which is literally called “The Mall”) -a fellow dorm resident took us in his car- to buy sheet for the futons that we sleep on and got from last year’s guys as well, some coat hangers, some food, etc. It has the same feel as American Malls, a big shopping complex built in the middle of nowhere. We also saw two other Westerners walking around there, but have no idea why they are in this tiny town.
Pics of the dorm here!
I have added tiny descriptions that show up abve each picture when you click, to know what you are looking at.
To go to the company, while James and I were expecting to be picked up by some suit-wearing person , the HR rep turned out to be a fellow roommate only a few years older than us, whom we had already talked and joked with while transporting stuff in his car and setting up our rooms. When we arrived at the site, a friendly lady took us to a meeting room to do the formalities.
The day began with a video showing the activities and facilities at Hitachi Kasado, what trains they make, etc. Next was paperwork and receiving some simple instructions on secrecy regarding documents and things learned during the internship, as well as some safety measures. While it was in Japanese, most of it was pretty obvious (I will not use Facebook at the office, I will not walk underneath moving cranes, I will not operate a forklift without a license) and more a reminder than anything else. We got a tour of the factory grounds, where trains in different levels of completeness stood all over the place. We also saw a freshly finished Shinkansen humming in one of the halls. The cafeteria has a good selection of lunch packs for a decent price. Different departments take their lunch breaks at different times to avoid bottlenecks. We also received our uniform (light blue jacket and pants) and safety boots from a little shop near the dining room, luckily, free of charge. I later received a yellow helmet, safety glasses and a Hitachi jacket to complete the package. Workshop leaders wear a blue helmet, safety chiefs wear white and quality assurance people have silver. Colored bands and stickers on the helmets indicate additional qualifications, such as firefighting, crane driver, etc.
In the afternoon, I was taken to my department (relatively far from the entrance) to meet my supervisor (30-something years old, and a nice man) and the whole office team. I have a desk in a large office room with about 40 or 50 people, but I have actually spent more time these three days walking (and biking!) to different buildings with my supervisor to see the stages of production. I was not expecting standing out in the cold seaside breeze for hours, but watching whole trains being lifted (and flipped 180° to do work on the ceilings) with gigantic cranes and the activity around the site is definitely more exciting than office work.. as long as I don’t fall sick. For now, I will basically follow my boss around to see more stuff: welding, painting, piping, cabling, testing,… Later on I might get actual work, but the exact contents are not yet decided. I will have to fill out a form every week detailing in short what I have done each day. Today, a group of people from JR (Japan Rail, who buys most of the trains) came to visit and inspect a new commuter train, checking every bolt, seal, door and lever on the body of the car. Tomorrow, the inspection of the inside is due, and everybody seems a bit nervous. Interestingly, most of the work on the trains is done by hand and there are only few automated machines.
In general, I feel there is a good atmosphere among the people in my department, and people are willing to help or explain anything I don’t understand. Every morning at 8:15, music starts sounding across the factory grounds, and workers gather for a little morning warm-up/work-out. After gathering in groups and briefly discussing some issues at hand, a set of motivational phrases and mutual safety checks is shouted in chorus: Two people face each other, and everybody synchronously says something along the lines of “Helmet, CHECK! Nametag, CHECK! Boots, CHECK! I will ensure the safety of myself and others! I will report inconsistencies to my supervisor immediately! May this be a good working day!” There seem to be many phrases so it will take a while to remember them all.
What I find sad is that there seem to be few people returning home at five like me, and many just stay at their desks, the daily schedule even includes a break from 17:00 to 17:15 between “afternoon shift” and “overtime shift”. Also, when I arrive in the office at 8 in the morning, everybody is already working, though officially work begins at 8:30. so the stereotype of overtime work in Japan is confirmed. At least people have the “Overtime work free Wednesdays” to look forward to each week….