While I was in Nagoya visiting Liberty Walk it would’ve been rude to not have stopped by Toyota—it is their hometown, after all. And the Toyota Automobile Museum is only a 40 minute train ride from Liberty Walk.
Getting there was quite an experience in itself. The nearest station to the museum is Geidaidori Station, which runs on the very new and very MagLev Linimo Line. It reminded me a bit of the driverless monorail that runs from Tokyo to Odaiba, coincidentally where the Toyota Mega Web showroom is located.
Unlike the bright yellow building that was the Museo Enzo Ferrari in Maranello, the Toyota Automobile Museum was just a big grey concrete building only recognizable by the massive red “T” sign letting everyone know who runs the place.
There are two buildings; the Main Building and the Annex. The Main Building has three floors, though the first floor is the entrance and restaurant. Tickets cost ¥1000 (about $9) and that gives you access to both buildings.
The museum was first opened its doors in 1989 and has recently undergone several renovations with the final work aiming for completion in time for the 30th anniversary in 2019. Currently, there are over 160 vehicles on display.
Now, like me, you might be expecting 160 different Toyota vehicles. But to my surprise more than half were cars from other manufacturers, both from Japan and overseas. The exhibits were split into 13 different “zones” over the second and third floors.
Naturally, the displays were arranged in chronological order with numbers on each information box to let you know you’re going in the right direction. There weren’t any extravagant show stopping cars there, don’t expect to see a Ferrari 250 GTO or a Lamborghini Miura.
Instead, the cars on display were ones that were significant to Toyota, Japan’s automobile industry, and the automotive world in general. In true Toyota fashion it was all very well thought out.
A notable feature of the museum was not just the layout, which was also quite spacious—nothing irks me more than museums that have cars tightly jammed inside—but the lightning too. It was one of the best I’ve seen in any museum. There’s a lot natural light that came through from the roof, which lit up the middle section of the museum.
The museum starts with the Dawn of the Automobile marking a new era for mobility in Japan and the rest of the world. It was interesting to see the various gasoline, electric, and steam cars from this time and how we’re now currently in a pivotal moment in the history of the car with hybrids, EVs, and fuel cell vehicles eventually taking over gasoline and diesel powered cars. The rickshaw tucked away in the corner was a nice touch.
From the first mass-produced car (an Oldsmobile Curved Dash) to the first car to adopt a front-engine rear-wheel drive setup (Panhard et Levassor B2), the influence of the cars here still be seen today.
It’s not until you get into Zone 6 where you see Toyota’s first car, the Model AA. Japan had produced a few cars before the AA by observing imported cars, but due to a lack of industrial resources and infrastructure never made into mass production. Nearby, the Datsun Model 11 Phaeton and Tsukuba-Go were other examples of early Japanese cars.
Then there’s the Kaiser Frazer Henry J, the first licensed-produced car in Japan after World War II. This trend of licensing helped build the early Japanese car industry. It carried on with other manufacturers and resulted in stuff like the Nissan Austin Model A50 and the Hino Renault Model PA62.
On the opposite end of the scale, while everyone else in Japan went to licensed production of foreign cars, Toyota introduced the first generation Crown, made entirely with Japanese components and technology. Its was heralded as the groundwork for Japan’s auto industry to grow organically.
Among all the Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Subaru cars the museum also had a couple of the weird and quirky cars Japan has produced. Take the hilariously named Flying Feather, built to be “the most economical car.” It was apparently described as having “stipped down functionalism.” Only 200 were built, and over 800 bicycles went without wheels.
Then there’s the Fujicabin Model 5A. It was designed amazingly by the same chap responsible for the Flying Feather. This thing was a three-wheeled cyclopean car made from fiber-reinforced plastic. Only 85 of these were made due to the complications of making from the bodies.
There were certainly a few surprises here and there; the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, Jaguar E-Type Audi Quattro, and even a Ferrari 512BB. The main building concluded with a display of a Lexus LFA as well as the first generation Toyota Prius and the 2011 FCV-R concept. Quite a transition.
The Annex is also three floors. You’ll find the museum shop and a cafe on the first floor. The second floor was divided into two zones: the Feature Exhibition Zone, which had taxis from around the world on display including the prototype for the new Toyota taxis set to debut in 2020, and a “Motorization, Lifestyles, and Culture in Japan” exhibit showing the different lifestyles from each period.
The third floor was a library with an extensive collection of Japanese and English books and magazines available for everyone to read. It’d be pretty easy to spend a few hours going through old Japanese magazines here looking at used car ads. Or maybe that’s just me.
If you’re in Nagoya it’s worth checking out the museum, regardless if you’re a fan of the company. It’s one of the nicest museums I’ve been to and while it’s only 40 minutes away from Liberty Walk, after going there this museum is going to feel like an entire world away.