Focus: In the shoes of a TYK worker

As promised, here are the articles about my work at the TYK factory in Tajimi. In this first article you are gonna discover about thirty photos of the life of a TYK worker and my vision of the factory during my two months of work, from February to March 2016.

TYK is a factory dedicated to the creation of refractories and technical ceramics, which was created on February 5, 1947 by Mr. Susumu Ushigome. TYK’s current president is his son, Mr. Nobutaka Ushigome. The head office is located in Tokyo and the main factory is located in Tajimi. TYK has many factories and offices throughout Japan and the world (England, France, Germany, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and USA). The Tajimi plant is made up of the Ôbata plant (pictured), the Research and Development Center and the Akasaka plant. The motto of the company is “Challenging mind, Tenacious spirit, Mature consideration, Speedy action, Chain reaction creativity.”

The research and development center where I worked is on a small hill just behind the Ôbata factory. Mainly dedicated to technical ceramics, the center designs and develops small series of new products (thus top-secret) which will be used mostly in factories and requiring for example a very strong resistance to heat or low thermal conductivity … A dozen team of five / six people each are working in different environments of the center.

For young people working at TYK and not older than 30, the factory recently built a brand new dormitory about ten minutes from the factory and R & D center. Held by Mr and Mrs Okamoto, the dormitory, clean and quiet, offers small functional studios with private bathroom for girls. The boys must go to the public bath on the ground floor. Morning and evening during working days are offered Japanese-style breakfast and dinner prepared by Mrs. Okamoto and her daughter.

Every morning, I leave the dormitory around 7:45 am after having breakfast to arrive at 7:55 am at the R & D center. Workdays start at 8am and finish at 5pm. I change in the locker room for women and put on my work uniform. For people from the R & D center, the uniform is pale green. For the people of the Ôbata factory, it is blue / gray like mine. For others, it is pale blue and so on. Added to this are the black reinforced shoes and the helmet (mainly for people working in the warehouses). On the helmets are glued different stickers indicating the ability of the person to, for example, use the crane or drive small trucks. On mine is stuck a green and yellow sticker meaning “trainee or newcomer”.

At 8:05 am, it’s the morning warm-up. Everyone gathers in line in front of the main building. A bell rings the beginning of the session and a music starts, punctuated by the voice of a man stating the exercises and the tempo (“one, two, three, four, and we start again”). For ten minutes, we do several exercises to stretch and reinforce team spirit and cohesion. Following this, the group still grouping on line, states by heart the principles of work at TYK, followed by a little speech from a different person every morning, the objectives of the day, the accidents to which she was confronted or the clients with whom she works. Then each team gets together for a second speech by the team leader and the work day begins.

Video of TYK – Morning training  (by Kanji-san) :

Sounds of TYK – Morning talks :


The R & D center is composed of 3 main warehouses, a first building dedicated to analyzes and a second building with offices, meeting rooms, refectory and cloakroom. The whole seems to date from the 90s.

During my two months at TYK, I went through all the teams at the R & D center. In this photo, I work for the New Material Team, which develops as its name suggests new products based on ceramics. Using a mortar and pestle, I’m mixing for twenty minutes, two compounds to make a mixture, which will then be used by team members to test a new idea. During my two months of work, I practically only did manual work.

Some pictures to introduce TYK people to work. In this picture, Ishimaru-san and Kubo-san of the New Material Team prepare product name, number of pieces and technical data sheets for product inspection the next day. 

Kawasaki-san from the Analysis Team is analyzing the percentage of carbide silicon in samples. As the name indicates, the Analysis Team is responsible for testing and analyzing samples brought by the other teams, by the workers of the Ôbata factory or by companies outside the factory (against remuneration). 

Sato-san from the New Material Team, is also busy preparing a mixture to test new ideas.

Amano-san of the New Material Team is cleaning containers after using them.

The almost complete New Material Team (from left to right: Kamiya-san, Kanji-san, Satô- san and Kubo-san) in the middle of testing and thinking about a new product.

In the morning at 10 o’clock and in the afternoon at 14:40, we are entitled to a ten-minute break. It’s an opportunity to drink, eat something and relax or chat. In this photo I am in the room of Andô-san (center) of the Team Sensor Team which manually assembles small ceramic sensors. Kanji-san (right) and I often find Andô-san for breaks.

In one of the R & D center rooms is a large goldfish in a small aquarium covered with green algae. Purchased several years ago for an experiment, its owner has since changed plants and left him behind. The people at the center feed him a bit randomly, which may explain why he’s so fat.

At noon, it’s mealtime in the eating hall. bentô are prepared by the canteen of the Ôbata factory and brought every day around 11:30 am. Blend of salads, Japanese cucumbers, vegetables, omelettes or sweet potatoes, some meat or fish and sometimes a fruit. Everyone takes his bento with a bowl of rice and a glass of tea and eats while watching the news on television or talking with colleagues. Unlike French canteens the atmosphere is very quiet.

On the streets along the factory and inside (especially at the R & D center level) are several cherry trees. At the end of March, they began to bloom, depositing fragile and very beautiful touches of whites and roses everywhere. When the weather is nice, with the cherry blossoms, the sun in the big yellow grasses covering the hill where the center R & D is located, the view of the volcanoes and birds singing, the place is very beautiful.

Inside the Ôbata factory is a small shrine dedicated to the kami Ofudou-sama. From what has been explained to me, it is a protective god of warriors, capable of curing diseases. Every 28th of the month, the morning warm-up does not take place and the TYK people take a few minutes to pray at the shrine. In the middle of the factory’s warehouses, the place looks like a paradise of greenery and serenity.

Kasami Katô (here with Kanji-san) is in charge of the secretariat of the R & D center. Behind and beside his desk hang the monthly schedules, the tasks of the day and the schedule of everyone. Everyone can consult them.

Once a month, there is a product quality meeting and a plant safety theme meeting. Here, the New Material Team and Analysis Team teams in quality meetings are discussing different projects.

The work atmosphere within the R & D center is relatively quiet and relaxed. The pace of work is not infernal (or I have not been confronted with it) and exchanges with the hierarchy are normal. The workers talk without any problem with their leaders, leaders and president. During my two months of work we had several visits from Susumu Ushigome (former president) and Nobutaka Ushigome (current president) and apart from the more remarkable use of the marks of respect (in behavior and language), the discussion remained normal.

From what I’ve seen, people at the R & D center get on well with each other and the atmosphere between the teams is nice. A lot of exchanges, fun and help. On the photo Satô-san (New Material Team) and Takagi-san (Alpha Team).

At 5pm, it’s the end of the day. “Otsukaresamadesu” (which could basically be translated into French as “Good work”). Everyone enters his code when he leaves (like in the morning when he arrives). Most people leave between 5pm and 5.30pm. Some work overtime in the evening, others on the weekend. I leave my uniform in my locker, change shoes and walk back to the dormitory. At the end of the afternoon with the setting sun and the pink reflections on the clouds, the return walk is a moment of absolute calm.

In the evening I dine around 7-8am in the dining room of the dormitory. Mrs. Okamoto and her daughter always welcome me with a big smile. Salad, fried donuts, rice and Japanese vegetables. Every Friday night, it is curry rice and fruit for dessert. Half of the young people staying in the dormitory do not eat breakfast or dine in the refectory. So the atmosphere is very calm. Usually only two or three people eat at the same time as me. The meal finished, cleaning the table and rinsing with water dishes. “Gochisosama deshita” (which could be translated as “Thank you for this very good meal”) and then sleep!