Bright lights, loud noises, and old meeting new. Tokyo is all those things, and the same can be said about its Tatsumi Parking Area. Perhaps one of the most famous places in Tokyo for any car enthusiast, if you haven’t heard of it I’m sure you’ll recognize the countless photos and videos from this place. And when you do, you’ll want to be there.
By day it’s an unassuming rest area on the Tokyo Metropolitan highway. At night it transforms into a mecca for Japanese car culture. And not just on weekend nights either—if you’re feeling spontaneous or want your fix of high octane fun on a weekday night you can still see a couple of Skylines or Supras at the very least.
As it’s a highway rest area it’s only accessible by car. So if you want to make a trip up there it’s best to rent a car. I can’t imagine a taxi ride up to Tatsumi would be cheap.
It should also be noted there are two Tatsumi Parking Area, the interesting one is Tatsumi Parking Area Number 1, and it’s ‘Number 1’ for good reason. This is sort of like the United Nations General Assembly for parking areas; it’s about as diverse as it gets. When you think of Japanese car culture I’m sure panda AE86s, turnt-up RX-7s, and vans covered in neon shit are what come to mind. But there’s so much more to it than that.
Of course you get the domestic stuff in spades. There’s never been a time Tatsumi has let down on the JDM front, let’s put it that way. Tatsumi has no favorites; there are no “types.” Everyone and everything is welcome. The meets are random too, and most people come and go as they please. Most of it is done through word of mouth or if a friend is going but social media is also used more these days.
When the cars do show up—everything from the latest Nissan GT-Rs to classic Isuzu 117 Coupes—you won’t be disappointed by the quality and quantity and variety of metal there. The level of customization vary from factory fresh to Fast and Furious catering something for everyone. Like your cars slammed and stanced? No problem, you’ll probably see a couple of those here too.
If your tastes are a bit more exotic there’s still plenty to ogle at as well. Like the JDM stuff, there’s a whole assortment of ways European cars are represented here. Everything from time-attack tuned Mercedes SLs to hypercars and classic poster cars can show up from time to time. It’s sort of like a lucky dip, you never know what you’ll get on your visit there.
One night you might see a couple of supercar owners or groups having a casual meeting at Tatsumi, as the CarGuy group and Morohoshi’s Lambo crew do. Or you’ll get a pinch-yourself movement like when a dozen Paganis took over the parking area during their Japan Rally last year.
That’s the thing with Tatsumi and Japanese car culture in general: always expect the unexpected. For example, you expect to see modified Miatas and Skylines, sure, but chrome wrapped Lamborghinis with more LEDs than a department store at Christmas are something that could probably only happen in Japan.
Meets have happened at Tatsumi for years, including during the peak of Japan’s car culture. It’s great to see this tradition continuing today, despite the lack of interest in cars from most of Japan’s youth. That said, there are still quite a few young folk that visit Tatsumi for Instagram and YouTube content. And these days, more and more foreigners are visiting Tatsumi as well to check out this slice of Japanese car culture.
Now, there are still some young (and admittedly older) guys and gals who go to Tatsumi to find a playmate to lap the Shutoku with them—a little extralegal play, if you catch my drift. Tatsumi sits right at the heart of an infamous loop used by midnight racers to test out their cars. While street racing is very illegal and all but dead these days, there are still some who take part in the late and early hours of the night. For these guys, Tatsumi is used the start/finish line and a place to rest and regroup.
Also, the parking area itself isn’t very big. There’s only a few spots for cars as most of the space is dedicated to buses and trucks. But that doesn’t stop people from parking there. The backdrop of Tokyo’s apartment buildings gives Tatsumi a unique atmosphere that’s both a blessing and a curse.
You see, while those apartment buildings make great backgrounds for photos, they can also hear all the cars going in and out of Tatsumi. That usually leads them to complain to the police, who won’t hesitate to shut everything down. (It’s not really a car meet if you’re not running the risk of pissing off the cops, is it?)
Fret not, as once they’ve kicked everyone out of Tatsumi people tend to move to other meeting spots or just do a few loops around the Wangan Highway.
I’ll talk about the other meeting spots another time. But as places to visit, Tatsumi is highly recommended. If you want to experience Japanese car culture in a nutshell, this is the place to go. Of course you can visit during weekday nights, but it’s most alive on Friday and Saturday nights.
Ken Saito is a writer based in Japan. A Car Nerd’s Guide To Japan will be an ongoing Jalopnik series.