By on July 23, 2013

Z

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?

Welcome to Nissan Gakkeun

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.

classes

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.

historics

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.”

jukes

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.

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14 Comments on “Nissan Gakuen: My Visit To Nissan’s Technical College...”


  • avatar
    tubacity

    Interesting perspective. In the 1940′s, Japan did not have the millions of young men who tinkered with cars with their spare time and money that the U.S.A. had. Looks like a number of today’s young Japanese are succeeding with excellent skills, good attitudes, much determination. I cannot tell from Thomas’ insightful article whether there is a sharp division, blue collar, v. white collar. For a nation which can differentiate between burakumin and others where an American sees no difference, there are likely mysteries beneath the celebrating at a school festival.

    I find car repair in the U.S.A. sometimes good, sometimes courteous, sometimes incompetent, sometimes rude and sometimes dishonest. How does car repair in Japan compare to the U.S.A.? Thanks, Thomas. I appreciate all your articles.

    • 0 avatar

      First, thanks for your kind comments and for not making this look like a “pity post.”

      Japan does still have classes but they are different than what we think of in the USA. Think of them as being closer to the British system where there is no real transferring between them. A working person can become rich, but that will not change their class. As outsiders to the culture, it is difficult for us to recognize the signs, but they are there.

      Blue collar/white collar, I think, is best explained by education and uniforms. People who wear uniforms at work are generally “blue collar” but engineers and professional people will often wear a tie and white shirt under their uniforms. A lot of where people end up in life depends upon their family connections and the schools they attend as a child. It is much more regimented and person in Japan will never go from being a forklift driver to diplomat no matter how hard they work to educate themselves after they reach adulthood.

      My experience with car repair in Japan is that it is virtually the same as it is in the USA. If you pay high prices for high level service at the dealer, you get what you pay for. There are also independent shops and, like the ones in the USA, you have great ones and really bad ones. Most people find a shop and stick with it, there is a lot of word of mouth and friend of a friend dealing.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Given the horror stories I’ve heard across the board, I think it’s fine to use independent/non-manufacturer repair shop…but I’d make sure that they know the particulars of my car. I’d also find a shop to develop a relationship—and this is the important bit—BEFORE something breaks. You don’t quite have the luxury of shopping around when your only daily-driver won’t shift into third gear.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Nissan sells cars worldwide, were the students an international mixed bag?

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Huh. I believe Kyoto is where our Nissan Murano was assembled…

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Very interesting, but I thought Japan had programs that generally speaking kept older cars off the road, if this is true, why spend time learning them?
    I mean don’t get me wrong old, mechanically operated equipment gets me more excited than new computer controlled vehicles, I just wonder if its of real benefit at the end of the day?

    I also wonder what they are taught to do on old cars that lack part availability to solve problems that are serious matters.

    Still that was a pretty amazing opportunity, I would love to see a similar GM program.

    One more question, what else filled the now closed portion of the factory?

    • 0 avatar

      The truth is the “old” cars they were learning on were only about a decade old. My guess is that the really old iron belonged to the instructors or were kept on hand as rolling heritage pieces.

      There are old cars in the road in Japan, by the way, but they are uncommon as most people really only have the space and funds for just one car at a time. An enthusiast, especially one with money, may actually have an older car and they an afford to pay the price.

      Japan does have junkyards and an aftermarket to supply parts as well so old parts can be had. Maybe one day I’ll tell about going to a wrecking yard and getting bitched out by the old lady who ran the place when I accidently pulled the wrong part.

      In answer to your last question, I looked at the factory on Google earth and I think it is still maintained but not used. I imagine the value of the land precludes them from selling it.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        I see

        Why would they get upset if you got the wrong part as long as your paying for it?
        Would love to hear that story as well.

        How many students do they have? I can only imagine a few if you factor in testing to be accepted, then the limited number of dealerships.
        Also, how popular are those Zs in Japan?

        • 0 avatar

          I’ll probably post up about it in a few days or so. We’ll see, it’s on my to do list.

          I am not really certain how many students but they run four or five big regional schools like this. It seems like a pretty big enterprise but Japan is heavy on service personnel.

          The Zs are not hugely popular. Some young guys will have a hot car if they have a good job, but most people just buy family cars.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            Nice..

            Is this training expected of all Nissan maintence personnel, or just expected of Nissan dealers to have at least one well trained technician?

            Sorry I’m full of questions.

          • 0 avatar

            It’s OK, sorry for any typos, I’m on the tablet tonight. I would know more if could read their website better but my guess is that, because he Japanese economy still sucks an because most young people are so over educated, that this program turn out people for entry level positions.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Back in the day of the early Japanese imports(cars & bikes), every time I heard the denigrating phrase ‘Jap junk’, I responded… “The only thing wrong with Japanese cars/bikes, is American mechanics”.

    Married my Japanese doll, from Osaka, in1966


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