My thinking was that it doesn't hurt to ask, right? I had four of five contacts and Akira was the only one who offered to show us round. After lots of fun with Google translate Akira and I agreed that we would meet on Saturday 2nd August and to meet outside a station in Tokyo by a big old black train. The finalities of the arrangements were literally decided when we were in Japan, though we'd been conversing for about a month or so.
When Akira asked what I would like to do, I suggested that it would be lovely to go and visit some car tuners as us petrolheads tend to like to do when we visit Japan. I must admit I had no idea what was about to unfold!
So there was Mark and I outside Shimbashi Station, Tokyo having found this big old train on display. I sent Akira a message on Facebook and the next thing we heard this loud exhaust and Mark shouted, 'there's an AE86' over there'! We dashed over just in time to see Akira get out of his car!
And so our taxi awaits! Akira explained that he can't speak English, though it was better than my Japanese and that his friend who could talk more English would be meeting us in 20 minutes.
So off we drove in this very loud AE86 through the streets of Tokyo, the aircon was a bit marginal so it was windows down in 35C. What I should add at this point is that Akira has his pressure plates on his LSD wound right up and this meant that the first time we turned a corner at some lights there was some very loud banging as the diff unwound, I honestly though it was going to break!
I said Akira, 'Is your diff alright?'. He simply replied 'LSD'! Yoshi who was to shortly meet us explained all later.
So, pretty cool, here we are riding through the streets of Tokyo in a very cool hachi roku. :)
Akira took us to where he worked and showed us his office. He explained how he and his colleagues (some were present on a Saturday morning) work very long hours.
Here is Mark and Akira outside his company with his car resplendent in the background behind in Tokyo.
Akira's lovely AE86. Akira runs 10kg front springs and 8.5kg rear. It's low and it's stiff! He's also had a lot of chassis strengthening done.
As we drove around what seemed like an industrial estate we turned down what looked like a fairly non-descript back alley of sorts. And so we arrived at Tec-Arts!
Anyone who knows their AE86's will have heard of Tec-Arts run by the Kamata brothers in Saitama-Ken a suburb out of Tokyo.
Tec Arts have been in business for 20 years and are perhaps best known for their involvement with Tsuchiya taking care of his road car, which is undoubtedly the most famous AE86 in the world.
Kamata-San who runs the shop along with his brother, was present and quickly provided us with free tickets for the 86 Style event at Fuji the following day. Kamata-San is not just a tuner, but he also competes in the Tec Arts N2 AE86 winning the N2 race at Fuji the previous year. Anyone who has seen Hot Version will doubtless recognise him.
This was one of the cars that was at the garage that we would also find on display at 86 Style at Fuji the following day!
Unlike the rest of Japan, tuner garages can tend to not follow the absolutely spotless nature of the rest of the country! Little gems of parts were to be seen everywhere you looked. It was something of a treasure trove really.
Lovely Work Equip 03's, one of my favourite wheels on the AE86.
Yes Tec Arts do work on other cars too as can be seen. Note the famous N2 in the background!
Kamata-San commented that there was a bit of work to do due to it crashing recently and proceeded to show us the damage!
Akira called me outside, back in the searing heat, saying, 'famous car, come see'. So we ventured back into the sun, it was just so hot that day it was like being in an oven!
So here it was, 'the little hachi that could' as Tsuchiya-San calls it. What we have here is the most famous AE86 in the world driven by the most famous driver of them all. The car was on the trailer in prep for it's trip over to Fuji for 86 Style the following day. Kamata-San came out and asked for his guys to move the car in front so that they could pull the trailer out for us to have a better look!
What is immediately apparent and perhaps I wasn't prepared for this, is just how intimate and friendly the AE86 tuning scene is. Clearly it was Akira's knowing the right people that helped, but I couldn't get over just how friendly everyone was and that it was simply no trouble at all for us to have a good look around the garage and all the cars.
I think for us, I wish I knew more Japanese as it did make communicating and asking questions a bit harder. Thankfully Yoshi (Akira's long time friend) came along and he could translate most stuff for us. Thanks Yoshi!
The famous green bonnet, Tsuchiya's trademark denotes this as the car everyone knows in the AE86 world.
At Tec Arts another picture of Akira's car. Classic hachi roku through and throught. Watanabes, Panda colours and the inevitable fog lights of course!
7AGE engine which is the same setup that Tsuchiya uses. This is using the block from a 7A engine at 1781cc with the wide angle head of the 4AGE. It helps to push the torque output over a 4AGE.
How about these for some serious dish? Custom Works wheels, split rim of course to allow for a huge offset to work on the car with it's extended wheel arches.
The famous Tec Arts N2 as raced by Kamata San. This car is highly specialised and has been in development since 2001! The engine makes around 240bhp.
Gold Work Equip 03's looking lovely with gold centres.
Sorry for the blur, we got one of the guys to take a pictures of us with this car, proof we were there!
As we were to find out the following day, Kamata-San (who runs Tec Arts) is a very friendly chap always keen to get in on the photo action. Nice man!
The heat rose yet further and wow were we hot. We went on a long drive out from Tec Arts, not quite knowing where we were going. We passed through Chiba and out the other side. Akira's car runs a stock engine with the usual breathing enhancements and is actually pretty comfortable until you hit a bump and then the high spring rates reveal themselves. It's uncanny that you simply get used to the diff scrubbing and banging everytime you corner, so on we went.
Tsukuba for lunch? Well this is a circuit that the Gran Turismo generation will know inside out. Yes we really were here. We snuck into the circuit cafe and had some gyodon with rice, absolutely lovely, if only UK circuit food could be this good!
Note the low spec BRZ in front of Akira's car.
A view down the straight at Tsukuba. Akira explained to me that this is a very technical circuit and how the AE86 can still push a very fast time round here. He has driven it many times and did instructing in drifting for eight years. Yoshi still does a lot of drifting, these guys know their stuff!
There was a variety of cars there. Here's a MK3 MX5 seen from atop the pits looking down.
RX8's are still pretty plentiful in Japan.
Next we were in for perhaps the biggest treat of all, a visit to see Koshimizu-San who runs KMS. I should point out that is it Koshimizu-San who builds the engines for a certain Tsuchiya-San and in fact does a lot of the tuning for many of the N2 AE86's that race in the championship.
Koshimizu-San also races himself and won the N2 championship in 2005. Yoshi was telling me that he holds the lap record for an AE86 round Tsukuba which is just up the road!
This very tidy garage is where Akira brings his car for tuning and it is Koshimizu-San who does all the work on his car. In the picture here you can see a customer who has a 20v conversion with a decent plenum for the air intake. The customer also had had his air conditioning over hauled as this is a daily driver!
Mark and Yoshi standing next to the 20v. Note TE37's running on 175 eco tyres. I tried to get to the bottom of this, but the general explanation was that it was a daily driver.
Inside of the 20v. Note the digital dash sits in front of the original dash with fuel and oil pressure gauges left uncovered behind.
As one might expect of the AE86 world's top engine builder, there were a fair number of builds in progress.
Koshimizu-San in action, about to show us some top secret tuning techniques for setup. None of which I'm able to reveal of course!
We thought that was cool, well if you go round the back of the garage there are lots of shutters and as we were about to find out Koshimizu-San has some real hidden gems here.
First up was one of his AE86 race cars bearing the famous number 11 decals which is what Koshimizu-San races under. Here is his Group N car. This car runs a very standard engine producing 130ps.
Here is his N2 under wraps! Those who have seen the Hot Version coverage of N2 races will know this car.
A serious engine with around 240bhp!
There was some serious attention to detail here and it was absolutely spotless of course.
Yoshi having a good look around the engine bay.
Koshimizu-San's Group N AE86. As you can see everything is stock even down to the exhaust manifold. Not seen many standard exhaust manifolds on an AE86 in my time!
Once again, completely immaculate!
Here's a well known car. Tsucyhiya-San's TRD N2 AE86. A very famous car indeed!
From there we went to Odaiba which is situationed on Tokyo Bay. I admit that at this point the sky clouded a little allowing Akira's air conditioning to work and so I fell asleep for an hour or so! This is where Akira lives and there is a nice beach too. People were seen to be playing volleyball, sunbathing and the like. It was still incredibly hot at this point well into the 30s!
View from Odaiba to the Rainbow Bridge which lights up at night. The water is not clean enough though to go swimming in it, but a paddle is okay.
The pictures do no justice to just how hot it was. When we got outside Akira's apartment, we met up with another of his freind's, Terihusa, or 'Terry' to us! The beer pouring ceremony soon commenced, we were in serious need of cooling down!
Mark and I enjoy our beer. Akira's apartment looks out over Tokyo Bay, very nice!
Earlier picture of driving around Tokyo!
Sorry these are a little out of order. Akira's car and Tokyo style parking!
Oh and a nice Mugen FD2 also in the car park!
Back to the Welcome Party at Akira's apartment. What better way to start than Initial D? :)
Kumi, Akira's wife laid on a beautiful spread of sushi and appertisers, fantastic food!
In so many ways, this picture sums up what was our favourite time in Japan. We made some great friends that day and we will never forget. The picture says it all!
In the picture, Yoshi, Terry, Akira, Mark and I. :)
A huge thanks to Kumi for all the lovely food and for the little princess for her dancing entertainment!
One last picture of us stood with Yoshi and the legend himself, Koshimizu-San in front of his group N racecar.
I think for us, this was a day spent in the real Japan, with fellow car enthusiasts and it just goes to show how sharing a passion is the same wherever you are in the world and being able to share that passion with like minded enthusiasts is what makes it for us really. Friendships were made, a lot of laughs were had and we got meet some amazing people our hosts of course very much a part of that!
This is a day we shall never forget and this is what will make us come back. An offer of riding in two wheels in Yoshi's drift Corona is reason enough I think!
Here he is in action: