By on July 5, 2011

Today, I went on a very early morning Shinkansen to Nagoya. The idea was to have me kind of certified as a Toyota-accredited journalist. I don’t know whether I qualified. I flunked the required rattling-off of the 12 Toyota plants in Japan. However, I was invited into Toyoda’s house.

Not Akio Toyoda’s  house. His grandfather Kiichiro Toyoda’s house. He was the founder of Toyota. The house was built in 1933, and as you can see, the house would be just as much at home up the Hudson or in Georgetown as it is in the green hills near Toyota City.

What was interesting is what I found in the somehow unruly weeds next to the house: A little cherry tree. What makes a little cherry tree in Japan so interesting? A little sign. It says in Japanese and English: “Commemorating Toyota’s New Start.” And then a date: “2011-2-24.”

What happened on February 24, 2011? Not much. But what happened a year before? That’s right: Akio Toyoda  took to The Hill and was grilled by Congress. A little bit less than a year later, on February 8, 2011, Toyota was formally exonerated. Nobody apologized. There wasn’t even a “thank you” for the three times $16.4 million the NHTSA had collected from Toyota.

It is fascinating that the congressional barbecue is remembered as a new start somewhere in the woods near Toyota City.

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49 Comments on “At Home With The Toyodas – And A Mysterious Cherry Tree...”

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Fascinating. Thank you very much. And this is also why I always come here.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    That is deeply facinating, I like the idea behind an action like this. It now has me pondering ways that I might memorialize important events in my life.

    • 0 avatar

      “It now has me pondering ways that I might memorialize important events in my life.”

      At least one wedding picture (maybe with that Mustang in the background) next year shared on here or CC will be required, though the rest would be expected to be kept private!

  • avatar

    That house is beautiful. More pictures?

  • avatar

    As noble as that sign may seem, I think it’s little more than a publicity stunt. I just get a cheesy vibe from it…

    • 0 avatar

      For a publicity stunt it needs to be made public. Have you read anywhere about it? This tree had been planted in utter privacy.

      • 0 avatar

        But I’m sure the house is some sort of tourist site (maybe not in the traditional sense). It probably gets quite a few journalists visits — the sign was made for them to report on. I’m just saying…

        Of course, I may be looking at it too hard.

      • 0 avatar

        Something about this being in Japan makes me feel it’s sincere, don’t know why. Also agree with Bertel that if it really was a publicity stunt, by definition it would have to be in a more public place than a private garden. And most likely something more grandiose than a cherry tree with a small sign.

      • 0 avatar

        Edit: This article is the only result i get on Google when searching “commemorating toyota’s new start”, also can’t find anything about Kiichiro Toyoda’s house, only his father’s Memorial House.

        Anyway, fascinating article indeed.

      • 0 avatar

        Being grilled by a pack of performing apes like the US congress would have been a big loss of face.

    • 0 avatar

      Sometimes justice should just be kept quiet.

      Very nice article.

  • avatar

    Wow, this is a find! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Now, what happened to this whole “Innocent until proven guilty” thing during the Toyoda Roast?

    It says a lot about the man that he took personal responsibility for his company’s alleged misdeeds before the proof of guilt (or, in this case, innocence) could even be established.

    I’ll be holding Mr. Toyoda in a truly higher regard from now on.

    • 0 avatar

      While NASA was not able to find a “ghost in the machine” type cause for the Toyota SUA cases, they were still “guilty” of producing cars with poorly designed gas pedals prone to sticking or being entrapped under floor mats. It’s also worth noting that SUA was only one of many recent defects.

      “Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” applies to criminal trials, other types of action have a lower burden of proof.

      Mr. Toyoda’s tree is a nice gesture, and shows that he is taking some ownership of his company’s recent problems. In a couple of years we will see if it bears fruit or not.

      • 0 avatar

        The poorly designed gas pedals caused exactly 1 fatal accident. The punishment is out of proportion. If held by the same standard, Ford would have been bankrupt many times over the Exploder incident which had more than 200 confirmed deaths.

  • avatar

    “The Beginning of the End” would have been a far more fitting title than “New Start.” When Hyundai scarfs up the property for cheap 10 years from now in the inevitable Toyota bankruptcy asset sale, maybe they’ll preserve it as a memento of times gone by.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re kidding, right? You do know that the Camry and Corolla ALONE outsells the entire Hyundai line-up in the USA by about 15%….

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think Hyundai will own Toyota in 10 years but I’d be careful of using current success as a certainty of future success when it comes to the auto industry.

    • 0 avatar

      Hyundai buying Toyota asset? It may happen, but not in 10 years. More likely in 100 years.

      What will happen in 10 years is that American taxpayers finally got feed up with a UAW president and refuse yet another bail out of GM. And then the inevitable purchase of GM “assets” by Chinese Chery and Geely.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Kind of reminds me of the perhaps apocryphal story of the 400 year old bottle of sake kept on hand at TMMC HQ that was supposedly cracked open and shared in private by the family and ranking management members on the day when the news came out that Toyota world-wide had sold more cars than GM….quiet celebrations or remembrances seem to be a part of TMMC’s DNA….

  • avatar

    Not only is the house nice, but it’s not outrageously big (obnoxious) either. There are some in this country (USA) that have homes that are three times bigger at what, 1/4 to 1/3 (maybe less) of Mr. Toyoda’s income? Shows you where his priorities are, nor does he have to “prove” anything either……

    • 0 avatar

      Not only is the house nice, but it’s not outrageously big (obnoxious) either.

      In American terms it’s not, but in terms of 1933 Japan, I’d say it very much is.

      • 0 avatar

        Hard to tell, but I’d guess the house is around 3000 to 3500 SF not including the attached green house.

        Typical homes in my area built by Werehauser upper management in the late 1800s through the 1920s or so, are considerably larger. Even lawyer and doctors homes of the same era are somewhat larger and much more impressive architecturally.

        But nonetheless, the Toyoda house is beautiful.

        1933 Japan was the beginning of a ruthless military/industrial machine. There were probably lots of “large” homes like this built.

    • 0 avatar

      Japanese heads of companies also don’t make nearly as much as Americans do. That’s what comes from living in a much more collectivist culture. I would guess he makes a lot less than half a million $.

      Of course, in our country, back in the good old days (the ’50s, and ’60s) the average head of a company made only about 40 times the salary of the lowest paid workers. Now it’s more like 400 times as much.

  • avatar

    Good point… but in this country that house would have been torn down and replaced with something obnoxious.

  • avatar

    If Toyota does well in the next 5 years, then they will take people to tour the tree at the next corporate rally.

    If not, they will quietly go “young George Washington” on it.

  • avatar

    Yawning as the Toyota Fan-Boyz high-fiving each other. Is this the result of celebrity rehab in America?

    If a Domestic car company did similar all the knuckle dragging V8 crowd would be snickering and the media would turn to human mother’s killing their offspring. Yawn.

  • avatar

    For a head of a major multinational company, that house is tiny by American standards.

  • avatar

    “There wasn’t even a “thank you” for the three times $16.4 million the NHTSA had collected from Toyota.”

    And appropriately so, because under the circumstance, the only expression of politeness should have been, from Toyota to NHTSA, “We’re sorry.”

    As I used to tell my colleagues, “the warranty payment we have to make to the customer never buys us back to where we used to be, it doesn’t make them happy again, or restore their satisfaction with or confidence in us. At best, warranty cash only makes them a little less angry or disappointed. The only way to return to happy or satisfied is the same path as to a solid reputation: good work and delivering on promises.”

    Toyota made the payments becaused they deserved to (and because they violated statute on timely reporting). A show of contrition on TMC’s part was appropriate, a show of gratitude on the part of the US-govt would not have been.

    Re. the tree: I don’t think it possible that somebody just surreptitiously planted a tree and marker. The real back-story that I would really be interested in hearing would be who actuallydid this, was it a gardener following orders? Was it Toyoda-san alone, on his own? Was itsomething in between? Was there a ceremony or a statement made to those gathered?

    The tree and sign are reminders of some event on the site, but what event??

  • avatar

    Neat article Bert, cool to have someone in China and Japan, doing the thing.

    I think the tree is a big deal.

    Is Toyota City green enough?

  • avatar

    Comments and amplifications:

    The house is not open to the public. It definitely is no tourist attraction. Did you see throngs of tourists in the pictures?

    If you know where the house is, you can look at it from the outside, but you won’t be invited in. You definitely won’t be welcome into the garden.

    That tree is in a very secluded spot of the garden, well hidden from any eyes, except those of the gardener (who could have done some weeding.)

    I stumbled across it when looking for a better camera angle. The public sees the entrance to the kitchen.

    I was politely escorted away. My questioning produced the information that it is a wild cherry tree (Yamazakura/Prunus serrulata.)The questions produced absolutely nothing about the meaning, or the ceremony.

  • avatar

    It’s a very small house by modern standards–two bedrooms and one and a half baths (with a nice conservatory) if I’m reading the plans correctly.

    As for the tree: if it was a completely private gesture, why was an English translation provided on the sign?

    • 0 avatar

      My guess is that it’s important internally to Toyota and the sign is there mostly for the benefit of Toyota personnel who are lucky enough to visit there for some inspiration.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    I’d assume that Detroit has forests full of their annual New Beginning trees, and that they may receive carbon offsets from them.

  • avatar

    Cannot wait to ses how that tree get’s cut down. Real grudges go down generations in East-Asian society.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the amplifications Bertel.

    (I did also find somebody’s comment about the english-subtitled tablet under the tree instructive and enlightening … which aligns well with the adage: “with a message, always consider your audience” … and wondered if the real message is “the only way to go forward, is by going back and honoring that which served us so well for so long…”)

    I got to thinking about the whole “companies often fail in the 2nd or 3rd generation (because the values of the founder fail to become a transending theme because they fail to be imbued into his descendents, or the values themselves are not adaptable to change) thing.

    Was thinking about Krupp:
    – the family kept the little cabin of the founder in the Werksgelände, long after the earlier descendents had built Villa Hugel, or were sodomizing their boy toys on Capri, or the last descendent flying around in his Jet-Star and living a decadent lifestyle on Sylt and Rio (as the business, the family tradition, the legacy his father built-up for him; in short, his birth-right cratered into bankruptcy, restructuring, care-taker ownership, and a kind of GM-like rudderless existance…

    Then thought of Thyssen:
    – the old man found his success much quicker, restored a castle, rubbed elbows with Adenauer (German Chancellor), but in the end, the family devolved into a bunch of unhappy, squabbling, drunk collectors of often-derided, oftentimes minor, artwork.

    Or Carnegie (US-Steel), or the New York Central System (the pride of the Vanderbilts), or newer technologies that came after steel, connected with names like Westinghouse, Edison, or Bell, or that came after cars (like Douglas, McDonnel, Grumman, Northrup, Hughes, Lougheed, Wright, Curtiss, etc., or Galvin Mfg.)

    And all of the car companies, even with a much shorter time-span between the founder, the descendents who sold-out or were taken-over, and in the process whos founding families and principles have been washed out to sea over time…

    And it occurred to me, that Toyota is really very unusual, in that it is probably the most stable (from a DNA perspective) of all the companies with a family member somewhere in the management (like Ford, Peugeot, or holding shares like BMW or re-agglomerated like VW ) …

    But, I am still wondering how Kiichiro-san’s descendents are living today, do they have the little house on the hill sensibility, or have they also moved-on to the often G5-flying, mega-yacht sailing, sometimes scandal-sheet-sizzling-affair lifestyles of many of their competitor companies founding families?

    p.s. House looks like a japanese-interpretation of a swiss-style cottage… here’s an austrian-interpretation of the swiss-cottage motif:

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