Mr. Wake

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Location: Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Day of Smashing

My J class ended so I’ve been working full time at the factory for the last two days. Also, I’ve moved on from the quality check room to working on the Factory Floor.

Yesterday: Work starts at 8:00, so Papa-san and I arrived at 7:30. Had a little video meeting with Shacho. He’s in the Shirakawa factory. Then Kojocho (his title. It means “Factory Manager”) brought me to the presses. I was face to face with the Aida 45. It’s about as big a two refrigerators with one fridge laid across the top. It’s the smallest of our presses but still 45 tons of delicious smashing power. Fortunately there were a few boxes of items the desperately needed smashing nearby, so I didn’t have to just start on whatever I could get my hands on. The boxes contained thousands of little doodads about 5 inches long that HAD NO HOLES IN THEM, FORSOOTH! Thank goodness me and the Aida 45 were there to give them what for. The little doodads wished they’d never been born, or maybe they just wished they’d been born with holes already in them. But before I could start my orgy of smashing we had to install the die.

The die is about as big as a Thanksgiving turkey with a thick rectangular base and a tick rectangular top and a bunch of muckimuck in the middle. You could carry it if you REALLY wanted to, but we got a forklift guy to move it to the press. Forklift guys are always buzzing all over the factory. If you need one for something you can give them a little wave like you’re asking for the check, and he’ll buzz on by. Somehow I never have to tell them what I need done. They always just do it. The die bolts into the machine it a way that the top half will smash into the bottom half.

With the press in the “up” position you stick a doodad onto the die. They are literally made for each other, so it’s a perfect fit. You could put it in wrong if you wanted to, but they make it pretty easy to do right. Then smash away. This is the part where you want to keep track of where your fingers are. Again, they make it easy to do this. The press will smash only when two buttons are pressed simultaneously. So you need both hands to work it. Also, there is an array of electric eyes in front of the smash zone, and if anything breaks the beam, all smashing ceases. Smashed doodads are removed from the die by hand and placed in a box to the side. The box, by the way, when full of doodads, is too heavy to lift.

Smashing continued apace until 10:00am. At 10:00 a chime sounds the break time, and all smashing must STOP. The factory becomes quiet and everyone wanders around, smokes, and/or gets a coffee. At 10:10am a chime sounds that smashing is to resume, and it does with gusto.

A chime sounds at noon to signal lunch. The factory grows quiet again as works file to the lunch room. Lunch is a Japanese-style lunch box. They are prepared offsite and brought in. The lunchbox has little compartments with pickled vegetables, fried pork or fish, shredded cabbage, and some other morsels that I can’t identify. The lunch room has big windows that overlook the surrounding farmland and Mount Fuji, misty and huge in the distance. People finish eating around 12:15, but are not allowed to get back to work until lunch is over. They dramatically do not work. One guy slept in a forklift. Many wander around. Two girls sat across from each other in the office and said absolutely nothing to each other. They just stared at the floor. I have a hard time being without the internet for 20 straight minutes, so I logged in from my desk. Most workers don’t have a computer, but I do because I will someday use it.

At 12:40 a “get ready” chime sounds, five minutes later the “back to work” chime sounds, and the heavy sounds of tortured sheet metal instantly fill the air. Chimes bracket another ten minute break at 3:00, and announce the end of the smashing day at 5:00. Thusly, the day is broken into 4 2-hour chunks. When the chimes sound no one just finishes this batch and then takes their break/heads home. When the chimes sound people nearly drop what their doing to stop smashing.

At the end of the day I had punched two holes in each of 2,550 doodads. I have no idea what these little guys are for, but I sleep easy with the knowledge that they can all be bolted to something. My body was sore from standing on a hard floor in crappy shoes for 7 hours. Everything about the shoes is crappy except for the toes, which are encased in steel. I was also tired from stooping to see inside the die, as the machine is of course a little low from me.


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