A Car Nerd's Guide To JapanAn insider look at car culture in Japan.

Museums may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to Japan’s car scene, but there’s a surprising amount of them scattered around the country. The nation’s main car manufacturers all have museums, like the Nissan Zama Heritage Collection, Honda Collection, Toyota Automobile Museum and MEGA WEB showroom. But the nicest surprise to me has been this, the Mahoujin Supercar Museum.

Although it is also outside Tokyo, it is far more accessible than the Toyota Automobile Museum and Motorcar Museum of Japan.

Mahoujin is every bit what you’d expect a Japanese car museum would be like. It’s diverse and appropriately weird and wonderful. While the manufacturer museums are all in big fancy facilities, the Mahoujin Museum is housed in an unused train station. More specifically, the old Tochigi JR Station.

Mahoujin is only about 50 minutes away from the Honda Collection Hall in Motegi so I’d recommend visiting both on the same day. It’s hard to miss—there’s a massive sign with a bright yellow Countach outside.

There’s a good reason why an unused train station was used as the home for the Mahoujin museum. Whereas the Honda Collection Hall celebrates Honda’s innovations from the past to the present and future, the Mahoujin is very much a celebration of the past. It’s a time capsule for a bygone era that’s meant to show gearheads today and in the future the beauty of cars from the past.

The most modern car in the museum is a 2000 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage. If you like classic cars, this is the place for you.

Tochigi Station was first opened in 1954 and became an integral part of the local community. It had become a recognizable landmark of the area. When it was decommissioned to make way for the Shin-Tochigi Station (New Tochigi) there were doubts as to what to do with the old station.

In 2001, a petition was signed by over 4,700 people to preserve and repurpose the building. This led to the establishment of ToSCA, a nonprofit that now operates Mahoujin.

The main structure of the old station is still intact. You buy the ¥800 ($7) entry ticket from where the old station office would’ve been. Walk through the gates and it’s like stepping back to a much simpler time. Tochigi Station was inspired by German architecture, so there’s a Hansel and Gretel feel to it.

The first thing you’ll notice is an old JR train car. It turns out this has been converted into a room people can rent for parties. The whole collection is displayed below the platform and is arranged by country of origin.

What makes this museum truly great is all the cars inside are from Japan’s peak economic might. There are no pre-war cars in here or anything from the current century. All of these were the stuff of dreams in the 1960s and ’70s, which then became attainable in the booming economy of the ’80s and ’90s. These were kind of the cars that ignited the passion for fast and collectable cars, transcending the automobile in Japan from a mode of transport to a passion.

The cars aren’t in perfect showroom condition, which is ironic given they’re all displayed in a museum. But that’s because all the cars displayed here still have number plates and are in drivable condition.

Starting with the European cars: There’s a Caterham Super Seven on the platform followed by a Jaguar XJS and Aston Martin DB7 on the main floor. There are also a bunch of other Jags including an E-Type and XK120.

But more interestingly, there’s also an XJR-15. Designed by Peter Stevens and using a chassis derived from the XJR-9, the XJR-15 was a huge hit with collectors. At one point there were about two dozen of these in Japan. For perspective, only 53 of these V12 supercars were built. Remember what I said about the country’s peak economic boom? Right place, right time.

When the XJR-15 came out in the early ’90s Japan was brimming with cashed up collectors betting on these as future investments, not to mention the Japanese love for all things British. Today, there’s probably six XJR-15s left in Japan.

Everywhere you look there’s an interesting car to look at. Just I was finished admiring the XJR-15, the Porsche 911 Turbo Koenig Specials caught my eye. Based on a 930 Turbo, the Koenig Specials is hilariously ’80s. Perhaps the craziest car in the museum, it’s still the only one I’ve seen. Only the roofline is a reminder that this once was a 911. The headlights are from a 928 and the taillights from an Audi.

But the craziest thing about it isn’t the 550 horsepower—a lot today, a hell of a lot back then—but the widebody kit. Crazy kits need to make a comeback. Scratch that, Koenig Specials need to make a comeback.

Behind it were more dream cars, such as an Alfa Romeo Montreal and one of the museum’s two Lamborghini Miuras. It was a lot to take in. There isn’t a boring or uninteresting car in here. Each car has been selected to represent the respective brand and era. The variety of colors was quite refreshing too.

There were only three Ferraris in the museum. The 246GT Dino, 365GTB/4 Daytona, and 512BBi weren’t what you’d typically expect to see in a place like this. It would’ve been too obvious to put a F40 or F50 in here. That said, there are two Countachs here.

There’s also a Porsche 959, a BMW M1 and several Maseratis you’ve maybe forgotten about including a Mistral, Bora, and Merak. Oh, and there’s also a pink Corvette as the sole representative from America to add some balance.

But if that wasn’t enough there’s also a silver Bugatti EB110, back from a time when Bugatti wasn’t part of the Volkswagen Group. I love these cars and there aren’t many chances to see one in Japan. Actually, there’s not very many chances to see most of the cars in here in Japan. Luckily, this same EB110 usually gets driven out to the Hanyu New Year Meet annually.

Of course there’s plenty of Japanese cars. There aren’t many, but the ones that are here are very good.

Let’s start with the Isuzu Bellett 1600 GT-R. This was a proper throwback to when the Isuzu badge used to make cars rather than just commercial trucks. The Bellett GT-R is considered to be one of the best sports cars from this era and a favorite on Gran Turismo.

Moving on to a slightly more familiar badge, the Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO was very much like the contemporary Toyota Celica in that the design was clearly inspired by American muscle cars of the time, just downsized.

Up until recently these were forgotten about but are now slowly becoming collectable, especially considering the direction Mitsubishi today is going.

The obligatory Datsun 240Z/Nissan Fairlady Z and “Hakosuka” Nissan Skyline GT-R are here too. The Toyota 2000GT, arguably the first truly modern collectable Japanese car, takes center stage next to to the Bugatti. Basically, if you haven’t seen a 2000GT before it’s not difficult to see one in Japan.

The Z, GT-R, and 2000GT can also be seen at the MEGA WEB but it’s quite different to see them out here among their contemporaries. It must have been a cool time when you could buy all of those new together.

There isn’t much else to do out in this area. There’s a Nissan factory up the road that does tours in Japanese, and the Dream Auto dealership which has some connections with the museum is also just up the road. But being just a 50 minute drive from the Honda Collection Hall, makes this a worthwhile detour on your way back to Tokyo.

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