Establishment of Honda Taiyo,
Kibo-no-Sato Honda and Honda R&D Taiyo / 1992

Chapter 1

Meeting with Dr. Nakamura

The city of Beppu, in Oita Prefecture, has for centuries been beloved as a hot-springs resort. Today Beppu is home to a number of rehabilitation facilities that take advantage of the region’s abundant spas, which are rich in minerals having great therapeutic value. Taiyo-no-Ie, or House of the Sun, is a welfare facility for the disabled located in Kamegawa-cho, Beppu. It is the first facility in Japan to offer people with serious disabilities an opportunity to work.


The sampling inspection process at Taiyo-no-Ie, when the operation was still functioning under the Precision Machinery Section

Taiyo-no-Ie was founded in 1965 by Dr. Yutaka Nakamura, an orthopedic surgeon who once said, "There are people with mental and physical disabilities around us, but there is no such thing as ‘disability’ when it comes to work." An advocate of the concept of "work opportunities rather than protection," Nakamura worked to ensure that disabled persons would have a chance to experience true happiness in life; to use the remaining functions in their body to participate in productive work together with able-bodied people. In this way, he felt, they would share the joy of being productive members of society.

Soichiro Honda was introduced to Dr. Nakamura at Taiyo-no-Ie in January 1978, by Masaru Ibuka, the founder of Sony. As Honda was touring the workplace under the guidance of Nakamura, he said suddenly, "I don’t know why, but I can’t hold back my tears. Let’s do it. Honda must do something that is as good-spirited as this."

Chapter 2

Establishing Honda Taiyo

Honda Motor established the Precision Machinery Section at Taiyo-no-Ie in July 1978 as a place where the disabled could receive special vocational training*1. The section’s initial assignment was to assemble motorcycle speedometers and tachometers ordered by Nippon Seiki. The section went into operation with sixteen employees, twelve of whom were persons with disabilities. However, the scope of production soon expanded, thanks to orders for motorcycle electrical parts from Stanley Electric the following year and from Toyo Denso the year after.

The worldwide recession and ongoing trade friction with the United States and leading European nations was at the time causing a considerable slowdown in Japanese exports. Domestic demand was low as well, as a result of decreased personal consumption. Japanese industry therefore had no choice but to downsize its operations. Yet, despite the difficulties of that economic environment, Honda decided to go ahead with the establishment of Honda Taiyo. Behind this decision was Soichiro’s sincere support for the ideals advocated by Dr. Nakamura. He had long wanted to provide real work opportunities to people with serious disabilities.

Honda Taiyo was established in September 1981, with funding from the three companies and one organization that had been supporting the project since its inception, as well as from Honda Lock and Mitsuba Denki Seisakusho, now known as Mitsuba.

A modern factory was constructed on the premises of Taiyo-no-Ie, as part of the annexed work building. The first, second, and third floors were occupied by Honda Taiyo, Sony Taiyo, and Omron Taiyo Denki, respectively. This new factory complex adopted a unique system in which individual companies would take responsibility for the management and operation of their production activities, while Taiyo-no-ie provided support in the areas of healthcare and daily activity.

Honda Taiyo was approved as a special-treatment subsidiary of Honda Motor on May 26, 1982*2.

The subsequent appreciation of the yen and other critical factors brought a considerable degree of change to the country’s economic environment. However, the collaborative ties among the five companies remained strong, and Honda Motor continued its support of the operations at Taiyo. In addition to motorcycle parts, which were key products at Taiyo during the early years, the facility began taking orders for parts used in cars and general-purpose machinery. Work volume increased in accordance with the plant’s expanding scope.

*1: Special vocational training for the disabled: Vocational training designed to help people with disabilities so that they can once again function as productive members of society.

*2: Special-treatment subsidiary: A company approved as such under the law regulating the promotion of employment for the disabled, established for the purpose of expanding employment opportunities for disabled persons. Businesses are required by law to employ disabled persons in numbers amounting to a certain percentage of their entire workforce. If this requirement cannot be met, however, companies are on an exceptional basis permitted to hire disabled people through a subsidiary that meets the set criteria, treating them as employees of the parent company. The Honda Group currently operates three special-treatment subsidiaries: Honda Taiyo and Kibo-no-Sato Honda (subsidiaries of Honda Motor), and Honda R&D Taiyo (a subsidiary of Honda R&D).

Chapter 3

Takeshi Yamashita, First Factory Manager

Dr. Nakamura always introduced Takeshi Yamashita, then the factory manager of Honda Taiyo, with the affectionate comment, "Mr. Yamashita injured his neck, losing the use of his arms and legs. Yet, it is he who keeps this factory in order."

Yamashita had been a gymnast during his college years. Once, while he was practicing the rings—coincidentally his strongest event—he fell and injured his cervical cord. The accident left his arms and legs paralyzed. After difficult, strenuous rehabilitation, Yamashita entered Taiyo-no-Ie in 1970 as the first employee with severe paralysis caused by a cervical cord injury. He was given a room in the model housing project built for people with serious disabilities. It is important to remember here the difficulties people with serious disabilities faced when attempting to gain employment and resume their place in society, so in this case Mr. Yamashita was something of a pioneer.

Despite a general lack of acceptance toward the disabled, Dr. Nakamura decided to appoint Yamashita to the position of factory manager at Honda Taiyo. Yamashita, who at first intended to decline the offer, finally relented to Dr. Nakamura’s enthusiasm and accepted the job. After all, no one understood more than Yamashita the passionate desire of Dr. Nakamura to show the world that a person who had lost use of his limbs could still manage a factory. Thus, in February 1980, Yamashita officially took office as the first factory manager at Honda Taiyo.

Honda Taiyo was incorporated following similar moves by Omron and Sony. Accordingly, people with relatively minor disabilities had already been working at Omron and Sony at the time Honda Taiyo finally became a company. However, large numbers of people who came to work for Honda had serious disabilities of one type or another. Moreover, the majority of them had work experience relating only to woodworking, so the assembly of motorcycle parts was entirely new to them.

Yamashita had his doubts, of course. "The purpose of this facility is to provide work opportunities for as many disabled people as possible while maintaining sound company operations. Can we truly achieve this goal if we employ people with serious disabilities? Even if we employ them, can they continue working until the age of sixty? Of course, even if they should work for only five or ten years and decide to leave, I feel it would still be great if they have contributed in some way as employees during those years and become proud of themselves for having done so. Yet, as long as this is a profit-making organization, management must not be blinded by too much compassion, or we will risk the company's future."

Although Yamashita had virtually no management experience, he went great lengths to identify the best management practices for the company. For Yamashita, the first ten years after the company’s inception represented a period of struggle in which he challenged the immense difficulties of managing people and running a company, and above all the sadness of being treated as special by other Honda employees without being accepted as a colleague.

Yamashita describes what he learned from his personal experience:

"After all, whether the final product becomes a good one or defective one depends on the person who makes it. So, the improvement of efficiency is possible only when the employees decide to do it themselves. The ultimate objective of company management is to ensure that the employees are happy with their work and their lives."

Honda Taiyo, in reflection of Yamashita’s beliefs, has to this day implemented management policies based on the motto, "people above anything else."

Honda Taiyo’s business grew dramatically as a result of the efforts of Yamashita and the plant’s employees. By 1991, when the company celebrated its 10th anniversary, the number of employees had increased to 62, including 34 persons with disabilities.

Chapter 4

Expanding Business - Enhancing the Work Environment

Following Honda Taiyo, Honda R&D Taiyo was established in the same city in July 1992 as a special-treatment subsidiary of Honda R&D. The goal was for Honda R&D to play a similar role in enhanced employment opportunities for disabled persons.

However, since Honda R&D lacked sufficient knowledge regarding the employment of people with disabilities, the establishment of a special-treatment subsidiary was managed as a project of the entire Honda Group. Following extensive discussions the Kamegawa district of Beppu was decided on as the site of a facility, because it could benefit most from the expertise of nearby Honda Taiyo. Moreover, Beppu - already home to Taiyo-no-Ie - provided an optimal environment in which to accommodate persons with disabilities.

No special-treatment subsidiary of a Japanese research-and-development organization existed at that time, so the establishment of Honda R&D Taiyo drew considerable attention as an initiative intended to create a work environment for disabled persons and expand their scope of employment. Following its establishment, Honda R&D Taiyo functioned as a research branch, conducting CAD (computer-aided design/drafting) and production for the assembly of motorcycle lock sets. When at the CAD operation got on track and Hiji Plant was completed, the lock-set assembly operation was transferred to Honda Taiyo, and Honda R&D Taiyo concentrated on CAD operations.

Chapter 5

Completion of the Hiji Plant

"We must further expand our effort to create employment opportunities for people with serious disabilities, so that they can work with motivation and energy, contribute to society and share their joy with others."

This was Yamashita’s dream. It was 1985, the year of Honda Taiyo’s fifth anniversary, when he began envisioning a new plant, which could employ as many as 200 people.

Ten years later, in May 1995, a joint plant for Honda Taiyo and Honda R&D Taiyo was completed in Hiji-machi, a town adjacent to Beppu. That plant, situated on a parcel of land covering 43,400 square meters, was complete with a factory, welfare offices, and residential quarters. Every facility was designed with special consideration for people with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs, so that their mobility would not be limited. Just about every fixture, including power switches, door knobs, and water taps, was designed so that it could be used easily by anyone.

A grand ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of Hiji Plant, and among the many distinguished guests were His Royal Highness Hirohito Mikasanomiya and his wife. Addressing the audience at the ceremony, Mr. Kawamoto, then the president of Honda Motor, was very encouraging to the employees. "Let’s all work together," he said, "as colleagues in the Honda family."

Trees of many species and varieties have been planted on the factory grounds, where seasonal flowerings benefit the employees throughout the year. Moreover, there are no walls surrounding the site, a fact that encourages a casual, "drop-in" attitude among the local residents. Emphasizing harmony with the local community, the plant’s management group has implemented numerous events intended to foster friendly relationships with the local residents. These efforts were recognized in 1997 when Hiji Plant was selected by the Japan National Greening Center as one of the nation’s outstanding factories in promoting the greening movement.

The completion of the new Hiji facility brought in all of Honda R&D Taiyo’s functions from Kamegawa. By then the total number of employees at the Beppu Plant had grown to 100, including those in special vocational training. The Hiji Plant employed an equal number of people, including twenty from Honda R&D Taiyo. The "plant employing as many as 200 people" that Yamashita had envisioned ten years before had at last become a reality.

Chapter 6

A New Start

The 15th anniversary of Honda Taiyo’s founding was celebrated on September 25, 1996, and the following November, a commemorative ceremony was held. Among the many gathered in the ceremony hall were Mrs. Hiroko Nakamura and Mrs. Sachi Honda, wives of the founders, and representatives from the companies that had long been so generous with their support and cooperation. All around there was the jubilance of employees from Honda Taiyo and Honda R&D Taiyo.

Addressing the crowd gathered at the ceremony, Kazuo Hatada, the president of both companies, said, "I wish to congratulate the employees for the hard work that has made this day possible. Today is a new start toward the next stage, another step toward the achievement of our goal, by which we will become an even stronger company that can adapt to any change. We shall become a model plant for all the world, where people with disabilities are important members of the workforce."

Mr. Yamashita, then the plant’s executive director, expressed gratitude on behalf of the employees, sharing his sense of determination. "We want to set a good example here," he said. "We want to show to disabled people around the world that they can work with joy and energy; that they can live fruitful lives, just like us."

The declaration of the NSP (New Sun Next Stage Plan) was then recited, underscoring the commitment of each and every employee to the creation of a company that could adapt to any change the market environment might bring. The NSP principle is also the embodiment of "people, above anything else," a fundamental ideal shared by the two companies. That principle is reflected in the collective experience of the Taiyo employees, in which they share not only their work but their daily and recreational activities.

The 15th anniversary was more than simply a commemoration. It was a defining moment in the life of a model facility for the world to see.

Chapter 7

Establishment of Kibo-no-Sato

Kibo-no-Sato Honda, or Honda’s Home of Hope, was established in Matsuhashi-cho, Kumamoto Prefecture, in August 1985. The project’s objective was to establish a workplace wherein disabled persons could work side by side with able-bodied people. Based on a program promoted through the auspices of Kumamoto Prefecture, Kibo-no-Sato was an altogether new community facility - one designed to foster friendly interaction between people with physical or mental disabilities and members of the local community. Today, the facility features a gymnasium and sports complex, both of which are open to the public so that the plant’s disabled employees can experience athletic activities together with local residents as an adjunct to their employment.

Kibo-no-Sato Honda was established jointly by Honda R&D, Kumamoto Prefecture, and the town of Matsuhashi-cho. It was the first automotive production facility established as a joint venture between the private and public sectors (known as the third sector), and was designed to employ large numbers of persons having significant disabilities. At Kibo-no-Sato Honda, the disabled employees are in fact treated no differently than their able-bodied colleagues. They work together, manufacturing parts for motorcycles and cars, which are generally supplied to Honda’s Kumamoto Factory.

Today’s automobile manufacturers procure their parts and components from factories all over the world. Therefore, in this competitive environment even a welfare-oriented factory can not expect exceptional treatment when it comes to targets in quality and productivity. Therefore, in the more than ten years since the start of production, Kibo-no-Sato Honda has carried out its operations under the guidance and support of Kumamoto Factory. Under a "quality first" motto, the facility continually renews its commitment to enhanced production efficiency in an environment in which disabled persons can learn to become independent, enjoy community interaction, and discover the purpose in their lives through dedication and work.