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Japan Vacation: What Car Related Things Should I Do?!

I’ll be here, maybe not from this exact spot, not sure what building we’re on top of right now, but you get the point!
I’ll be here, maybe not from this exact spot, not sure what building we’re on top of right now, but you get the point!
Image: Louie Martinez

That’s right people! In a few short months, I’m headed to Japan. The first stop will be Tokyo, then down to Kyoto, and finally back to Tokyo before going home. I’ve got ten days in the land of the rising sun. What car-related things should I do?! I need your help!

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In 2017, I started planning this vacation. With the 2020 Olympics being held in Tokyo, I figured a perfect time to see the city was right before the hordes of drunken tourists arrive.

After 2-1/2 years of research, my head is still spinning, As it turns out, the more I read and watch, the deeper I find the rabbit hole into Japan goes. There is far too much to learn, in too short of a time.

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I’d like to be a polite tourist and represent my country in the most respectful manner. Therefore, much of the learning has been customs, norms, and how to navigate a foreign country. The nutshell of it all is - I shouldn’t walk while eating, don’t make phone calls on trains, and never leave my chopsticks stabbed straight down into a bowl of rice - now you too are an expert.

Some of the many PINs I’ve dropped trying to keep a handle on all the information I’ve found.
Some of the many PINs I’ve dropped trying to keep a handle on all the information I’ve found.
Screenshot: Google (Google Maps)
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I’ve fielded numerous questions from friends, family, and coworkers about the ‘why’ I’m going to Japan. Being a child of the Playstation generation, I’ve grown up with many Japanese things, with cars and video games topping the list. It is incredibly safe, clean, efficient, and the people are polite almost to a fault.

I’ve also been a JDM fanboy ever since I discovered Gran Turismo as a kid. The R34 GTR dreams were very strong at one point - not so much now as owning one isn’t realistic - as have you seen their prices recently?! Regardless, my dream car list is dominated by Japanese cars. I want a Corolla GTS, 300zx TT, MKIV Supra, 3000GT VR4, FD RX7, NSX... on and on I could go!

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My flights are booked, I have a tentative schedule lined up with the cities I’ll visit, I merely need some things to do! I have most of the cultural, and tourist type things squared away. I do need some automotive-related things-to-do as I plan on writing about this trip of a lifetime.

I have found a couple of automotive things to do... does anyone think I’m on the right track?

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Imagine driving through this in a Skyline. This is the Shibuya crossing, made famous from numerous movies, TV, etc.
Imagine driving through this in a Skyline. This is the Shibuya crossing, made famous from numerous movies, TV, etc.
Image: Timo Volz

Car-related Things To Do:

1. Drive a Skyline GTR through Tokyo

Is there a more stereotypical auto enthusiast things to do than drive the car you know you can’t have through Tokyo?! There are a couple of different companies that offer one to two-hour drives through the city with a starting rate of ~$80.

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The most likely company I’ll use is somewhat appropriately named, Tokyo-Drift. The shortlist of requirements are Passport, and an International Driving Permit (essentially a translation of your home country driver’s license into Japanese). They offer R34, R32, and Z33 packages to drive either the Rainbow Bridge or a longer trip through the Shibuya Crossing.

I’ll most likely be choosing the R34/Rainbow Bridge (25km) combination at a cost of ~$160. I’m not against the longer and more expensive journey (40km) through Shibuya and other parts of the city - I’m merely trying to save some money where I can, but maybe you guys talk me into it..?

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I have no desire to race away from the Japanese Police like in Tokyo Drift, as much as you might think I do. I’d prefer not to be persona non grata after getting arrested on my first trip. I’m willing to bet the drive in a Skyline through the city will be within the acceptable safety requirements the company outlines in the ‘before you drive briefing’.

Regardless, I want to do it, if not to say that I did, and to see more of the city. It should be entertaining for my buddy coming with me on the trip to watch me struggle with RHD. I’ll be turning on the wipers when making turns, and selecting improper gears with my left hand... not to mention driving on the left!

2. Megaweb Toyota City Showcase, Odaiba, Tokyo

How in the world did I stumble across a car theme park?! It seems very appropriate for me considering my current fetish for Toyota products (17' Sienna & 20' Tacoma owner). There are current Toyota models on display, a test-driving course, racing simulator, and history displays.

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It would be fun to drive a Japan-only Toyota model to see all the unusual features we aren’t getting. As long as I’ve got the IDP with me it looks like they might let me take one for a spin - if not I’ll stamp my feet and tell them I’ll never buy another Toyota again.

Illustration for article titled Japan Vacation: What Car Related Things Should I Do?!
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3. Honda Welcome Plaza, Aoyama, Tokyo

This is where Asimo the robot lives. He lives around many Honda products with exhibitions showing a “life potential expansion” - I am not sure what that means but, I like it.

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It seems there is a presentation every few hours on a new Honda product either car or motorcycle. You can check out the cars, and sit on the bikes. This looks to be a short trip to see some cars, historic or racing vehicles, and grab a shirt before ducking out. Looking at the map it isn’t too far from Meiji Jingu Stadium where I’ll hopefully be seeing a baseball game.

Too bad these are a bunch of used parts shops. I’d be picking up plenty of parts for cars I want to own!
Too bad these are a bunch of used parts shops. I’d be picking up plenty of parts for cars I want to own!
Photo: Alex Knight
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4. Tuner Shops, Parts Shops, and ???

The greater Tokyo area has numerous automotive-related shops of all kinda. To the east of Shinjuku and Shibuya lies the ward of Suginami - here can be found Spoon, Seeker, FEEL’s, and RWB. I believe shops would require reaching out to them, to see if they could accommodate a tourist walking around.

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If there are any events going on in late April, I could pop on down to the Daikoku Parking Area, but sadly this is not the trip to go exploring up in the mountains to find all the Initial-D related togue runs.

From the Kiyozumi Dera, Kyoto. This is on the itinerary.
From the Kiyozumi Dera, Kyoto. This is on the itinerary.
Photo: Su San Lee
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5. Kyoto Rich In Culture, Not So Much For Automotive Enthusiasm...

Kyoto, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have much other than a few shops on the southside of town. Tommy Kaira was previously located south of town but, now it’s shuttered.

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I have plenty of ‘other than car-related’ things planned for a weekend in the Gion District. I have exactly zero plans or any knowledge about anything car related inside the inner city of Kyoto. Does anyone have any suggestions?

So ridiculous, it might be worth it - if only to see more of the town.
So ridiculous, it might be worth it - if only to see more of the town.
Image: Voyagin
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6. Mario Karting around Tokyo?!

I’m sure you’ve seen this... people dressed up as video game and anime characters driving go-karts through the streets of Tokyo. The good old IDP will be required and prices start around $66. You are required to follow a guide, so as not to get lost, and end up on the Wangan!

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It turns out there are numerous different operations offering this type of experience. The company I first read about had to change their shop name and no longer allows Nintendo character outfits after legal action was taken by Nintendo. Kinda lame that Nintendo is so overly zealous with their lawyers...

The operations offer tours of Akihabara, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Asakusa, and Tokyo Bay (with a BBQ) from a one hour experience up to three hours. I’d probably choose either the Akihabara or Shibuya areas as I’m slated to stay close to both of those.

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I believe that is the Rainbow Bridge, not like the one from Mario Kart at all...
I believe that is the Rainbow Bridge, not like the one from Mario Kart at all...
Image: Alex Knight

7. What Do You Think I Should Do?!

If you’ve been to Tokyo, live in there, or even if you’re an expert - you know more than me! I have six nights in Tokyo to fill with food, drinks, temples, sights, events, and hopefully cars. Leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to look into it.

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