Surreal moments on last day of Enda’s Japanese adventure

Taoiseach and entourage up at crack of dawn to visit Toyota City car production plant

Taoiseach Enda Kenny checks out a car at the Toyota plant

Taoiseach Enda Kenny checks out a car at the Toyota plant

Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 01:00

”His Excellency, Enda Kenny, prime minister of Ireland.”



Michael D won’t like that. Everybody knows that the President of Ireland is the only Excellency in the village.

Enda Kenny, and him a mere politician, has some nerve.

But this was the title up on screen at various ports of call during the final day of the Taoiseach’s visit to Japan. Enda has been introduced as His Excellency more than once during this five-day trip.

We could see the Japanese were impressed (which was probably the point of the exercise).

We were puzzled.

His Exellenda didn’t object.

So we can only assume the protocol is correct. But it doesn’t sit right, particularly in light of the parade of “excellencies” we’ve had in recent times.

It’s a safe bet His Exellenda won’t be insisting on the same form of address when he gets back to Ireland. But it served a purpose in Japan.

The Taoiseach kept buttering up his hosts by saying the Irish and Japanese are very alike – a risky strategy. We all love good literature and good Irish music and, erm, a burning desire to work harder and deliver perfection.

But we aren’t the same.

Yesterday was bonkers.

Having travelled from Tokyo on the bullet train the night before, Enda and entourage left the city of Nagoya at the crack of dawn to visit the Toyota City car production plant.

It’s the second oldest “prant” in Japan, as our guides told us.

Enda visited to see their successful model of “cost effectiveness and lean management”, a system he says has already been introduced by a number of top Irish companies.

Wonders of Toyota
Before touring the building, the visitors were treated to a “pree-zen-tation” on the wonders of Toyota by the prant’s “external affairs” man, who sounded like a cross between Ron Burgundy and Kent Brockman from The Simpsons.

A prant worker gave a little speech but nobody understood a word he said. The Ron/Kent man showed a short video about the company and its work. A female voice narrated in a flat monotone while plinky-plinky musak played in the background. The Irish delegation tried not to giggle. Enda kept his eyes fixed on the screen, looking absorbed.

Then it was out to the factory floor – or above it on a gantry, to be more precise. Here we could see the cars in the final stages of assembly.

The vast packing area, with its stacks of plastic crates, looked like a fish market.

Enda cooed in admiration.

Then came the assembly line. “We hang the body then we assemble the elements,” said a proud Toyota staffer.

Enda did his best to give the impression he understood what was going on and tried to ask questions, when all he wanted to do was kick a few tyres and high-five some mechanics.

Around and around the walkways above the clanking conveyors he went, falling silent for much of the tour. There’s only so much you can ask about bumpers. He spotted a man in overalls working on a chassis. “How long did it take to train that lad?” he asked.

At least it was something to say.

Back outside two flashy new cars were parked in the forecourt – a pink Toyota crown (aka Mary Mitchell O’Connor mobile) and a big Lexus sports car. Apparently the Lexus has Formula One-type controls on the steering wheel. The Taoiseach clambered in and held the wheel tightly, turning it from side to side like a child on the bumpers.

Then it was off to Osaka to meet the governing council.

This city presents a treasure trove of business opportunities for Irish companies, so His Excellency pulled out all the stops.

After a rip-roaring episode of business card promiscuity and extreme head bowing, the Taoiseach settled in for lunch with the local business grandees.

But not before he made a toast, rolling out another new phrase in Japanese before shouting “Kampai!” with vigour.

This was the highlight of the lunch, along with the nugget that Osaka makes the finest nuts and screws on the planet.

Next stop was the Panasonic Centre, where Enda was shown some futuristic homes.

Magic mushrooms
It was at this stage we knew that somebody put magic mushrooms in our bento box.

A young assistant showed him around the model of a house where new technology makes life easier. It was designed for an older couple, in their 60s. Enda (62) watched and listened. He tried to look enthralled. You see, with your smartphone you will be able to cook your chicken yakitori without touching the microwave and “you can have face to face conversations with your family even when cooking”.

The Taoiseach’s eyebrows quivered. Fionnuala would kill him if he brought these contraptions back to Mayo.

The demonstrator showed him lots of things in the kitchen, including a clothes dryer and face steamer, but marched right past the bathroom of the future, with its big lavatory. We cannot describe our disappointment.The best bit happened in front of a big digital wall. Enda was asked to stand on the floor in front of it and suddenly, a troop of cartoon soldiers materialised at his feet. When he moved, the soldiers danced after him. He nearly wept for joy.

Finally, the group photograph was taken beside a giant blue snowman in a top hat near an opened suitcase with a stuffed ferret in it.

”This must be what it feels like when you’re doing heavy drugs,” mused one observer.