• Chunichi Shimbun


A museum dedicated to the history of Toyota Motor Corp. is attracting so many foreign visitors that attendance has set a new all-time high.

The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Nagoya attributes the influx to the weakened yen, which is fueling a rebound in tourism numbers.

According to various travel sites, the museum, which covers the automaker’s history and technology, is the most popular tourist destination in the Tokai region.

In response, Toyota has taken various steps to enhance the experience, including additional ticket machines and female guides, to stay true to its philosophy of kaizen, or “continuous improvement.”

“During our busiest hours, we have a line extending 30 meters long from the ticket machine,” said Akio Inoko, vice director of the museum, explaining the move toward extra machines in April.

The addition of a new touch-panel display has also helped relieve congestion at the entrance, he said.

Last year, a record 377,000 visitors patronized the museum, up 22 percent from the previous year, when it eclipsed the long-standing record that was set during the 2005 World Expo in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture.

“This has much to do with the increase in foreigners. I’d say they represent about 30 percent. I sometimes (see) very few Japanese,” Inoko said.

The museum ranks second among specialty museums in Japan, according to a survey by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel recommendation website. The top spot went to Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.’s Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido.

The Toyota museum was ranked 28th in a survey quizzing foreign visitors about their favorite spot, becoming the only tourist destination in the Tokai region to make it into the top 30.

The museum received glowing reviews on TripAdvisor.

“The demonstration of the machines was fascinating,” a reviewer wrote.

Another said: “The explanation on complicated technology was very detailed.

In another review, the museum was praised for providing insight into the background of Toyota’s development.

One reason why the museum is popular is its proximity to Nagoya Station and its entrance fee of just ¥500 for adults.

The growth in visitors shows no sign of slowing in 2015. Attendance has surpassed last year’s levels for every month up to April.

To provide better guidance to visitors, the museum hired three additional guides in April, bringing the total to 24. It also plans to add more engineers who can explain the machines on display.

In the go-kart section, which is especially popular with children eager to drive, a new rule imposes a one-hour limit per visitor.

Last summer, the gift shop started selling gold-colored magnets to lure Chinese tourists. The magnets quickly became a hit as many customers starting buying dozens at a time.

The museum plans to add more content to its English website and include the same information that’s on the Japanese site.

Collin McLoughlin, president of a Washington state publishing firm that runs tours that include the museum, says visits can provide a more in-depth understanding of the famed Toyota production method that many people are interested in, noting that there’s a limit to what can be learned from books.

He said the exhibits are especially well-arranged to facilitate understanding of Toyota’s history of changes and improvements and have received rave reviews from participants.

Asked for his impression of a recent visit, Jim Vollendroff, a 51-year-old civil servant in Washington who took a McLoughlin tour, said he was particularly impressed by the company’s history, in which one type of kaizen after another were implemented, adding that there are lessons to be learned there that are useful to any industry, not just manufacturing.

The museum plans to run guided tours in English more frequently, rather than just once a week.

“We may need to build a praying room for Muslims in the future as well,” said Inoko.

“Our kaizen activities will never stop,” he added.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on May 25.