A lifetime of World War 2 movies and an 11 year marriage has taught me one thing about the Japanese; they never do anything half way. Whether it is diving a Zero into an American ship or cutting yours truly down to size, if it is a job worth doing it is worth being fanatical about. The attention to detail the Japanese put into every tiny thing they do is awe-inspiring and so it makes sense that when a Japanese car company spends billions of yen to design and produce a vehicle, they back that up with a mechanics’ training program so thorough that an average graduate can completely tear down and rebuild one of their cars. And isn’t it convenient that one of Nissan’s main training centers was located just a kilometer from where I used to live?
The thing about living in a foreign country and being functionally illiterate in the language is that you can drive by a place a thousand times and never know what goes on there. So it was with a large complex of buildings located close my local train station in Uji Japan just south of the city of Kyoto. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this particular set of buildings was actually a Nissan factory, and then imagine my disappointment when I found out that it had just been closed down and all the workers transferred elsewhere. There was, however, in the corner of this sprawling factory one bright spot of continuing activity, and I discovered it when one of my students, a Mr. Yoshida, revealed to me that it was the Nissan Technical College and that he, incidentally, was one of the instructors. Would I like to come to their school festival?
Festivals in Japan usually mean high temperatures, green tea, girls in summer kimonos, surly greasy headed gangster wannabes and a busload full of riot cops parked discretely a block or two away “just-in-case.” They also mean food, games, karaoke contests and a lot of fun and in that way The Kyoto Nissan Vehicle College’s, called “Nissan Gakkuen” in Japanese festival met all my expectations. When I arrived at the factory gate at the appointed time, I was met by Mr. Yoshida who escorted me inside the factory and treated me as though I was a VIP.
The school was already a hive of activity. In one space two groups of advanced students were working feverishly over a matching set of cars in a race to see which group could tear down the top end.replace the head gaskets and completely reassemble their car first. Close by, other groups of students worked furiously with diagnostic equipment as they raced to troubleshoot a problem on two other matching cars. In a paint booth at the edge of the faciltiy, several students worked to prep and paint body parts and in still another space, students were interacting with their instructors who posed as customers asking about the various features top of the line Cima in case a mechanic was ever called upon to interact with a customer in a salesperson’s absence.
There was also food, fun and fellowship. The school was obviously a pleasant place to be and the space itself was fastidiously clean, smelling of cleaning solvents and fresh paint. Various rooms branching off of the main room held a bevy of historic Nissans, each there to ensure that the mechanics who graduated from the school could work on any Nissan product no matter how old. Teachers moved around the school in immaculately clean and pressed coveralls worn atop their white shirts and ties, the seriousness of their endeavors plain on their face and their pride over their students’ obvious abilities shining in their eyes.
To be sure, the young men and women attending Nissan Gakuen are not the same kind of people I found in my own high school auto shop class. Like most colleges in Japan, entry into the school is based on competitive testing and spots in the classes are highly subscribed. The people who graduate from these courses after four full years of study will be sent to main-line Nissan dealerships all around the country and will be well regarded experts in their field. They are not shade tree mechanics, but highly trained technicians who, like their samurai ancestors, will make whatever sacrifices need to be made to assure their company’s honor is upheld.
My brief visit to Nissan Gakuen left me deeply impressed with the company’s commitment to quality service. I have only ever owned a single Nissan product, the 200SX Turbo I have recalled so fondly on these pages previously, and I found it to be a highly engineered little machine that almost required special training to work on. I know now that if I had owned the car while I was in Japan, the graduates of Nissan Gakuen would have been up to the task. Should you ever get the chance to visit a Japanese technical school, my advice is, “do it.”
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.