Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Toyota's Mega Web

On my last full day in Japan, I decided to visit Toyota's Mega Web in Tokyo. It's located on a reclaimed island. In addition to the Mega Web, there's a fancy mall, a ferris wheel, and other touristy attractions.

The Mega Web is more than a car dealership or car museum. As you walk to the entrance, you see a whole bunch of different Toyotas. Each model can be driven slowly along a short, closed course for $2.50. Even that Century down there can be driven for $2.50. Everything else at Mega Web is free. 

Unfortunately, my California driver's license was useless. In order to test drive a car, I needed a Japanese or international license.

The main building has virtually every Toyota currently sold in Japan, and more. There was even a new Toyota Tundra. Here is an 86 police car. With every car on the showroom floors in the main building, you can sit inside them.
Lots of kids were playing Gran Turismo. They were all driving the Suzuka Circuit.

I don't know what Gazoo Racing is, but they tarted up this Scion iQ.

I couldn't resist driving a couple of laps.

This Land Cruiser drove around the entire Australian continent last year.

Here is the FCV concept. I tried to get a nice shot of it, but it's butt ugly from every angle. I got to sit in a production Mirai as well, and the exterior on that one was no better.

This is an interesting concept. You drive a mixed street and dirt course in a gasoline-powered car with 100ml of fuel until you run out of fuel. Then, you drive the same course with the same amount of fuel in a Prius. You can literally see where your old car ran out of fuel as you pass by it.

And here we have the Century. The term "vault-like" gets thrown around a lot. I've opened the doors of virtually every large German and American sedan. This door was not only heavy, but the closing action was extremely smooth and precise. I don't think it matters much to the owner, as the chauffeur would be opening and closing the door.

The interior was definitely cramped, compared with the long wheelbased versions of the big Germans. Even with the front passenger seat pass-through down, I had trouble contorting my legs through the seat. The fabric is thicker and plusher than any couch I've ever sat in. I can see it feeling very hot or uncomfortable in the summer without the A/C on, but I don't see chauffeurs letting that happen to their captains of industry employers.

I asked one of the nice uniformed ladies working there to open the hood and trunk for me, as I don't think I've seen anyone else do that before on other blogs.

Here is the key. It felt a bit heftier than a normal Toyota key, but it's quite simple.

The trunk is not exactly cavernous.

When I was researching this place, I read about a huge car brochure vending machine. I wanted to buy a Century brochure as a souvenir. But alas, the machine is gone.

With the main building done, I walked through the cheesy mall to the other half of Mega Web, which contained classic cars. The mall had that fake sky you see at the Paris or Venetian in Las Vegas. 95% of the customers were Mainland Chinese.

Toyota is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Crown, and they had every generation lined up.

There was a long hallway. On the right were dozens of Crown poster ads. On the left were hundreds of 1/43 scale diecast models detailing the history of the automobile.

As you go downstairs to the diecast car store, you see this mural of a Celica rally racer. Remember when that car dominated racing and video games?

Outside on the patio were more classics. My mom and dad's first car was this Carina, in the exact same color. In fact, I may have come home from the hospital in this car.

Those taillights are gorgeous.

Toyota TF101.

Here is a Mazda Cosmo MAT. Does anyone know what MAT stands for?

I thought it said Alpina, but it actually says Albino.

That laptop for the F1 car runs on Windows 2000.

Here are a couple of old men restoring cars. You can buy their Toyota overalls at the store. They even come in kid sizes.

I was wowed by the 2000GT's lights.

This was pretty cool. They projected on a big screen every Crown TV ad, ever. I sat there for about ten minutes and they barely covered two generations of Crowns.

Finally, on the way back, I used Yelp and found this ramen place near the Oimachi transfer station in Shinagawa. It did not disappoint. Thanks to Rchen for the suggestion of getting a pocket wifi unit for my trip. I rented one online for around $50 a week. They mailed it to my hotel and I got it upon check-in. It helped my trip tremendously with maps, email, Skype, and just general entertainment. As I left, I just stuck the wifi unit in the mailbox at the airport. It was seamless.

That's it for my trip to Japan. Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 Suzuka Grand Prix weekend

The weekend started on Saturday morning to see qualifying. The track is about an hour south of Nagoya (Japan's 3rd largest city) in a rural area. Despite its remoteness, the trains are very convenient. The tiny Suzuka Circuit Ino station is just a short 20 minute walk to the track. Along the way, there's plenty of people watching to do and there are plenty of cars to see on the roadway and the parking areas.

Outside one entrance, fans wait excitedly for the teams to show up. It's mostly vans full of pit crews and mechanics, but once in a while, you'll see a driver or team principal. Here is Maurizio Arrivabene in a Ferrari FF. I also saw Christian Horner in a big Infiniti QX80.

The merchandising available was astonishing. Here are some Suzuka F1 cookies for ten bucks.

I got a seat in section B2, at about the middle of that grandstand in the center of the photo.

My view from my seat. It was pretty incredible. I'll have to upload a short video I took of everything I could see from that vantage point. I highly recommend it.

The only "celebrity" that I saw was Susie Wolff/Stoddart, with an anime cutout of herself.

The Japanese fans are just that-- fanatical. In terms of costumes and team gear, they beat everyone else in the world by far. I actually yelped a little when I turned around in a line for curry and the guy waiting in line behind me was wearing a Japanese bull costume, with horns and everything.

Since deciding to go to Suzuka, I've wanted to ride the iconic ferris wheel. I wanted to see the track from high up and I thought it might help me conquer my fear of heights.

I did see the track from high up, but I was still frightened. I was alone so my car was already lopsided. I didn't want to switch to the other side because I didn't want the car to oscillate. I basically sat there, frozen, the entire time.

Almost to the top.

The view from the summit.

The car lots were not super interesting. There were a bunch of NSXs. I liked this shot of a Mercedes-McLaren, a McLaren, and a Mercedes.

The food was fantastic and beats every sporting venue I have ever been to. Over the two days, I had beef on a stick (twice), doner kebab, kara age (fried chicken), and beef curry rice.

Here's Free Practice 3. All the cars were running the entire time because FP1 and FP2 on Friday took place in the rain. For most of Saturday, it was hot and humid. I lost a lot of fluids that day. It was uncomfortable.

Here are some classic F1 cars on display. It was a real struggle getting close enough to them. It was a zoo of humanity.

Qualifying ended with a red flag because of Kvyat's nasty crash. Here's the ambulance responding to it. Because Rosberg was on top during the crash, he got pole position by default.

We ended the day with another visit to the tiny restaurant.

Sunday was a bit cooler, breezier, and less humid. I got to watch this conductor do his business. He was very methodical about his routine.

The race was a lot of fun to watch, but unfortunately, Hamilton passed Rosberg on the first corner of the first lap, and the results had been dictated already. I thought I was going to be disappointed with the noise of the new engines, but they were just fine. They were less loud as before, but that just meant you could hear all of the other fun noises the cars were making. Plus, there's no need for ear plugs.

The walk back to the train station after the race was a bit tight, but everyone was very orderly and we all got on the train rather quickly.

One of the parade cars during my walk back to the train station.