Sunday, 3 August 2014

Ikaho, Initial D downhill, Yokota Museum, Tokyo traffic and flat batteries

Okay so on Thursday we got up a little later and sauntered down to the car park which is underneath the hotel to make our way to the M Yokota museum. We got to the car and as I approached it I naturally pressed the button on the key fob. No flashing of lights and I instantly knew the battery was flat. Now, when we stayed at the hotel in Gunma before when the car was delivered back via valet parking the hotel staff asked me to turn off the car and start it again. I was a bit confused by this, but I thought at the time the battery must have gone flat. 

Sure enough when I got in the car, it was totally dead, not even a glimmer of life and I had only left it for just over a day. Clearly this is not right and I was soon fretting as I knew this would delay us. 

Mark and I gathered the car paperwork and headed for the concierge, who to his credit sorted everything out. Ten minutes later a man from the nearer Toyota Rentacar appeared with a set of jump leads. It was pretty obvious he hadn't done this too many times before so with the translatory help of the nice concierge man we waited so the car could get some charge in it and sure enough it started okay. We agreed that we would pop back before 10pm that night and go to the car hire place that is less than a kilometre from the hotel where they would replace the battery. We lost about forty-five minutes in total, but one thing for sure, in Japan there is no messing about and when something is agreed it happens, no question. So we hit the road and yes, we had to pass near Tokyo so that meant the usual tedious traffic before we could clear it and hit the expressway (think Motorway). 

Now I know people are expecting cars and well, there is a lot of that, but this place is about eclectic as you can get.

It's actually called the 'Toy, Doll and Car Museum', but really they might as well have added teddy bears and squirrel sanctuary too. It's a wide variety of things, from teddy bears from all over the world, toys representing what was available in Japan from the 1930s onwards and also there are a number of dolls. There are recreations of a Japanese sitting room in the 1940s complete with old TV's playing old cartoons from a bygone era. 

I think for the Japanese it is certainly a place to take a trip down memory lane. However having said all that you then have to mix it up with M Yokota's passion for cars and racing. He did quite a lot of competition himself and really it's his old racing cars that are on display as well as other Japanese cars that are of interest to him. 

The story behind Masahiro Yokota is that he was from a poor family but mastered the art of carpentry and latterly house building whereupon he made his money during the economic boom in 1980's Japan. Apparently when he was knocking down houses he amassed a vast quantity of unwanted toys and memorabilia and so in the 1990's he decided to open the museum. Whilst it was something of a gamble displaying more modern history, a trip down memory lane thus nostalgia is what makes people happy and this was the spirit in which the museum was created. 

Certainly from our tour around it, we watched as people talked about the items they saw on display and doubtless commented on the memories it invoked. 

For Mark and I of course we don't remember much from Japan from the mid 1930's on that is apart from the cars of course. I know it's obvious, but to us we saw a lot of things that we weren't aware of because when it comes to cars even though we may be well versed in rare and desirable Japanese classics we certainly don't know it all. 

Yes we were greeted by a giant polar bear with a plane flying over his head! 

Giant teddy bears were the nature of the day and as can be seen in the background there are a number of smaller variants. It turned out that a lot of these have been donated to the museum and come from all over the world. There is definitely a lot of teddy bear love out there! 

What museum would be complete without a stag and a seal complete with a giraffe and some other wordly creature staring back at you? I've got to be honest I'm not even sure what it is on the right, but that's the appeal of this museum, there is always something to surprise you! 

A selection of toys from various post war (mostly) era in Japan. 

A little bit random, but that is the nature of the Yokota museum, here we have a Japanese post box. 

Here are the oldest toys dating from the early 1930's. 

So we move on to some car stuff and this is kind of one of the early Japanese cars that sold well in Japan, the Subaru 360. 

Samurai? It's hard when you can't read characters to understand what is going on a lot of the time and I'm sure this means that we miss out a on a lot as a result. A shame, but unless you have a Japanese friend with you, these things can't be helped. 

Here is a fairly random collection of Japanese car parts. This section was set out as a bit of a classic garage. 

Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, the classic and beautiful pose. I included this as in the museum there were a lot of photos of bygone Japanese celebrities which were of course lost on Mark and I. But it would seem that the most famous made it all the way to Japan of course. 

Now, this looks familiar and well it is. So now I have to try and explain the relevance of an AE86 outside of what looks like a Tofu shop. The story goes that 'Initial D' is a manga and anime that is about a young lad who has been delivering tofu for his dad in an ageing AE86 Sprinter Trueno. But unbeknown to him a certain Takumi Fujiwara, his dad has been carefully giving him tips and making him practice how to drive this car and quickly too. All Takumi's friends are interested in racing the mountain roads that he has been driving (illegally) since he was about fourteen years old. So the story goes, Takumi has a real talent and his father was in his day renowned as an expert driver. As time goes on Takumi starts winning races on the mountain roads. 

In Japan it is something of a tradition to be in a 'team' of drivers, this is local drivers who go out drive or race together and naturally there is a great sense of loyalty within the team. Takumi soon becomes known as the best driver of the 'Akina Speed Stars' and he goes to other mountain roads known as 'Touge' to race other teams. 

This series is a manga (cartoon/comic) and was also made into an 'anime'. An anime in this case is a computer generated cartoon and soon 'Initial D' achieved a cult following. This was in the mid 1990's and when it's popularity proved enough to make it worthe exporting, Mark and I discovered it around 2002. 

Initial D was made into a film in 2005 and Mark and I being big fans even saw the premier at Manchester Printworks. Initial D, did not spark my love for the 'hachi roku) (literally 'eight' and 'six' in Japanese), rather I had known about the car since around 1984 as a young teenager and always had a liking for it. 

So, to complete the story, though the manga and anime is based around fictional characters, the scenes where the inspiration was drawn are real locations in Ikaho, Gunma Prefecture. To place it, it's about 100 miles north of Yokohama. 

Mount Akina is actually Mount Harunasan and the Yokota museum is around a half hour drive from where the locations were used for many scenes in Initial D. 

In 2010, the original Tofu shop which Initial D was based on was demolished. M Yokota managed to save the original facade complete with 'Fujiwara Tofu Shop' (which was changed for the film from the original name of the family that ran the tofu shop) and preserve it in it's museum. The family from the original tofu shop were involved and contributed a great deal to this. 

Obviously the car was in the manga and anime but not in real life. Tec Arts one of the most famous AE86 garages (in the world really!) recreated the car even down to the cup of water in the cup holder in the dashboard. The story goes that Takumi had to learn to drive as quickly as possible without spilling any water and thus ruining the precious tofu he was carrying. This was of course another rouse to teach him driving technique. 

So for me and no doubt, Mark, we approached this display with some reverence and rightly so! 

There is even a bowl and knife donated to emphasise that tofu was made here! 

Moving onto the more interesting display floor at the Yokota museum, there is a display of some very cool cars indeed. A 2000 GT to start with. 

Honda S800

Datsun Fairlady 432. 

The rarest Skyline of them all and my personal favourite a KPGC110, this was known as the 'Ken & Mary' Skyline due to a popular advertisement campaign showing a young couple enjoying the Hokkaido countryside. So it was that only 197 were built making it incredibly rare and extremely valuable. I have seen valuations in the £200K region. the oil crisis hit sales and this was the last Skyline until the R32 emerged in 1989. 

Engine bay of the straight six Datsun Fairlady 432. 

The first Skyline, the KPGC10 which was put into production in 1969. It is known as the 'Hakosuka', which translated is 'box & an abbreviated pronounciation of skyline. Everyone loves this car, though it's specification is not as good as the KPGC110 as it had disc brakes all round on the later car. 

Here's a car fairly unknown to the UK. The Mitsubishi MR GTO. This was a car that was intended to compete in the JCCA Grand Prix, but the subsequent oil crisis effectively put this out of the question. The MR was a DOHC 1600 with twin carburretors producing 125PS which was quite impressive for 1970. The power output was dented by stricter emissions standars in 1973. The GTO was however succesful in rallying, notably the Japanese Alpine Rally. 

Here is the Isuzu Bellett 1600 GTR and yes the badge on the front wing reads, 'type-R'. Serious stuff indeed! This car hails from 1969 and the original variant derives from the Hillman Minx would you believe. The Type-R was available to individual customers as  racing variant. The car had a 1600 DOHC engine producing similar power to the Mitsubishi MR GTO. Anyone who has played Gran Turismo is likely to know this car as being a good car to use in the early progression of the game. I admit, that's how I know of it originally too. It's a cool car!

Here is a racing version of the KPGC10 Hakosuka. 

Note the oil cooler sitting out front, a little vulnerable there one has to think. 

Here is the Mazda Cosmos, their first venture into rotary engines. It was of course NSU that were the first manufacturer that marketed a rotary engined car, though they were plagued with reliability issue. For Mazda this wasn't so much the issue, the engine had  displacement of 982cc and produced 110bhp which is pretty impressive. 

So after the Yokota museum we grabbed a bite to eat and decided to drive up Mount Harunasan. In Initial D there is a famous meeting point for Takumi's team the Akina Speed Stars. This was known as the start of the downhill on Mount Akina. Obviously the manga and anime are fictitious but this meeting place was based on a real location and here it is! 

Those that have seen the manga and anime will instantly recognise these pictures! 

I then drove the 'Mount Akina Downhill'. It's a tight in places but fast downhill road with a steep gradient that in all honesty is deadly. The road was drying from earlier rain and I had to be careful. I admit to ignoring the speed limit in places and I drove a good half of it without any traffic slowing me down. The problem is at about the halfway point speed humps have been put in inbetween the hairpins these are of the undulating variety, so you have to slow down to the 40km/h speed limit. Still it was immense fun reliving what Mark and I had watched in anime some 11 years earlier! 

I should also add that if you drive down the long straight atop the meeting point there is on of Japan's 'musical roads'. There are three in total in Japan and this is one of them. What happens is if you are speeding the manner in which you hit grooves in the road play a tune that you here in the correct time as you pass over them. I admit I knew I was going to be turning round so I floored it off the top (in what is the opposite direction to the downhill) and I heard a tune that I swear sounded like it was being played through loudspeakers! It scared the life out of me though Mark instantly knew what it was. 

At the bottom of the 'dowhill' Mark and stopped at the famous stone steps, again another thing that is featured in the Inital D manga/anime. Cool! 

Having battled 3 hours plus of traffic to get to Gunma I then had to drive back and it wasn't much better I must have done around seven hours of driving. But we still had to get the battery changed on the car so we went straight to Toyota Rentacar when we arrived back in Yokohama. A woman shot out and said 'battery' and the next minute a man appeared with a new battery and in the intense humidity he battled to get the job done. These people are efficient alright and we were soon on our way back to the hotel. 

We were planning to go to Daikoku Futo a famous meeting place for car meets in the Yokohama bay area but honestly, I was just shattered so a few cold beers won the day. :)

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