I was just in Tokyo on Important Jalopnik Business, and, as always, I was thinking about you, my readers. Aside from writing "Mrs. Jason Jalopnikreaders" over and over again on my notebook, I made a point to take a stroll through Tokyo so I could give you a glimpse of the very unique carscape of this huge, dense city.
Most of these photos are from about an hour-long walk from the Harijuku area to the Shinjuku area. I think. Tokyo's roads seem like they were designed by an urban planner who saw Jackson Pollack's Number 3 and thought "let's just use that for a map" so I was usually pretty lost and bewildered. Among those spaghetti'd streets were some pretty interesting cars, so let's see what we've got:
Let's start with something I've already made clear I'm a bit obsessed with right now: tiny vans. This one's a Daihatsu Tanto, but there are about a billion thousand varieties of these things. The streets of Tokyo are full of them, making up probably about a third of all the cars you see. They do everything from acting as work commuters to carrying ladders on their roof for painters and everything in between. They're a great study in space maximization.
At the other extreme of the Japanese automotive spectrum is this Century. It's made by Toyota, but not outwardly badged as such, preferring instead that wonderful bird that I think is a peacock. Maybe a phoenix? I'll have to ask one of the guys at Gawker's upcoming new ornithology blog, Feathered.
The Century has been Japan's home-grown answer to high-end executive cars like Bentley or Maybach, and has the never-changing, understated, conservative look of a well-tailored suit. It also boasts Japan's first and only production V12. Taking pictures of this one, a valet from the hotel asked me to "please not touch car" but when I asked if I could take a few pictures, the powerful-looking man inside reading the paper gave the slightest of nods, and no one bothered me after that.
I wish I could store and use that guy's nod whenever I needed it. You can get anything with a nod like that.
Look at this old slice of nostalgia pie: a late 80s Nissan Cedric wagon, with freaking wood panelling appliques. This one appeared to be lovingly maintained, and seems to be the Japanese equivalent of an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon, right down the sort of boring-but-crisp look and detailing. Also, check out those awesome foglights that make up the sides of the grille! And, it has that very American affectation of little driver-facing lights on the fenders to show when your indicators are blinking. I'd drive it.
Let's look at another Kei van here— this one's a Honda Vamos/Acty. I like this picture because it shows how well these vans use space. Look at the Nissan next to it— the Acty is only as big as the sedan from the windshield back— all that useless hood is gone, and I know that van holds more than the car. In a city where buildings have literally been built in alleys between other buildings, this kind of space utilization is smart smart smart. Hoods? Please. What have they ever done for me?
There are bigger vans as well, closer to American-standard minivans. Like this Mazda Biante. Minivans in the US are bought usually because you have no other choice— nobody really gets excited about them. Maybe that's because they don't look like awesome spaceships from the year 2525, which probably have girls lounging around in bubble helmets and silver bikinis inside. Why isn't this sold in the US?
Japan's other take on larger vans is to make them look sort of like big, fast trains, like this Toyota Hiace. I think this looks pretty good, too. I'd paint mine in vintage Santa Fe livery.
I didn't see a single car in Tokyo in lousy shape, and not many old ones. Taxes and licensing fees discourage vintage car ownership. So you can imagine my embarrass-the-other-journalists delight when I saw this stunning RHD 1974 VW Super Beetle with the rare semi-auto transmission. It's even badged as an automatic! I could tell it was a '74 because the fenders had cutouts for the big American 5 MPH bumpers even though it used the smaller units. It was immaculate. It made me want to go home and wash my '73 Bug just out of shame.
Another ham slice in my "why don't we get cool shit in America" sandwich came in the form of this great Will Vi. Under the skin it's basically just a geriatric's choice Toyota Echo, but look at that awesome 4-door body. The corrugations, the reverse-rake rear window, the space-Gallic charm— I love this thing. It's the sort of design balls and daring I wish we'd see more on these shores, even if it's polarizing.
Maybe one of our friendly Japanese readers can tell me what the hell's going on with all these road colors and markings. It looks like a Navajo sand painting or an early Mondrian or something.
I saw a number of these little covered scooter dealies zipping around the city, but only one with a "Type R" badge on the dash and an added tachometer. I'd love to be riding with this guy when the VTEC kicks in, yo.
American cars are pretty rare in Tokyo, since they're scaled more for the monsters that occasionally destroy the city as opposed to those that live in it, but I did see a Camaro and a Mustang or two. I was not, however, expecting to find a butter-cream Crossfire. But I was pretty happy to see it.
Look at this little jewel. Old Minis are pretty popular in Japan, for obvious, space-related reasons, and this one was clearly adored. It was mildly race-prepped, with an absent passenger seat and a racing seat and partial cage. I'd like to think it gets tracked every now and then, this spunky-looking little bulldog.
Who wants to get a little more pissed about all the cool stuff that doesn't float in Stateside? You? Good, then look at this great 5-door 1-series BMW we'll never get. I know, right?
"Would you mind grabbing my bike for me?"
"Sure, where's yours?"
"The middle one."
I was really excited to see a Mitsuoka! This one's a Ryoga. Under that mid-50s Jag exterior is a boring Nissan Primera. I love that there's a company that makes these faintly absurd but wonderful cars from normal, boring, reliable vehicles. This is another niche I wish we had filled in the US. Are American tastes really as safe and limited as all these companies seem to believe?
Who wants to see another tiny van? You do. You want to see this sleek Mitsubishi Minicab. I liked this one because it's clearly not a commercial vehicle— this is someone's private ride, and they want to look a little dangerous and fast. Man, I want one of these things.
EDIT: It's a commercial vehicle. The plate colors are the giveaway. Now I know! Maybe it's like a tiny limo.
"Hello, I'm from Tokyo. What? Oh, this? You mean you don't ride around on genetically modified cyborg moto-cheetahs where you're from? How fascinating. However do you people get around? Whatever cyborgs do you ride?"
Tokyo isn't immune from the charms of the Italian Stallions. This pretty filly was in the parking deck of the Tokyo Hilton.
Quick, your wealthy Japanese uncle died and left you the Subaru test facility that he owned. What do you use for your track pace car? An SVX with lights and sirens and lots of stickers? We have a winner!
Okay, this last one is a brain teaser. What is this Honda Cub I saw in Harijuku used for? Look at that absurdly over-engineered aluminum box suspended precariously over one side of the bike. Look at the network of springs, dampers, and cantilevers. Gravitation experiments? Human organ transplant rapid transport? Gyro-stabilized portable nuclear reactor?
I had to ask a local. It's a noodle shop's bike, and all that is used to keep soup from spilling on deliveries, no matter how the bike weaves and bobs. Amazing.
Have you seen anything amazing in Tokyo? Show me your Skyline pictures and more below!