Association, Inc.

Issue No. 2, 2010

Japanese Car Museums

Japanese cars, and the industry that supports them, are mostly about today and tomorrow. Cars, in other words, that are on the market today and those coming down the pipeline. But what about yesterday?  Japan’s car makers have not forgotten their heritage or about the models that helped put them on the map. Far from it, which is why there are several outstanding manufacturer museums to be found in and around Japan. Nearly all are open to the public and are fascinating places to visit for enthusiasts and families alike.

The Toyota Automobile Museum near Nagoya is one such “must see”. Toyota, to its credit, has put together a stunning collection of cars for its purpose-built museum which showcases a number of ultra collectable European cars as well as many historic Toyotas and other Japanese cars. The Toyota Automobile Museum is also online for those who’d like to make a virtual tour.

Honda, in turn, houses a magnificent display of cars and bikes in a special collection hall at its Twin Ring Motegi circuit.  For many perhaps, the highlight will be the racing cars that took Honda right to the top of the world in Formula One, but Honda’s motorcycles and often ingenious production cars are also peerlessly presented at Motegi, which is about two hours out from Tokyo.

Suzuki is not a company that normally seems to shout too much about history but that’s all changed with the opening last year of the Suzuki Plaza in its home city of Hamamatsu. From weaving looms to motorcycles, to minicars and ATVs, to outboard motors and fuel cell cars, it’s all there and more in the Suzuki Plaza which charts the history of this remarkable company in absorbing detail.

As befits one of Japan’s most inventive makers, Mazda houses a stylish, well kept museum in its Hiroshima home office and this was completely updated and refurbished in 2005. Mazda’s museum is another to be viewable online and very smart it looks, too, with cars like the classic Cosmo Sport (Japan’s first rotary-engined car) to the fore.

From Nissan, we have something different. Nissan has a huge collection of historic cars stored in its Zama factory and this really is something to see. Some 300 cars from Datsun, Prince, Nissan and Infiniti; race/rally machines; show car concepts; production cars; trucks; one-offs, the scope here is just staggering. Unfortunately, this Nissan Heritage Car Collection is not normally open the public but again, you can get a very good sense of what it’s about via the web.

Mitsubishi, Daihatsu and Subaru also keep some classics from their back catalogue and every once in a while, some come out, maybe to help promote a new model. Daihatsu, commemorating its 100th anniversary, opened their historical museum "Humobility World" in 2007, with a unique building next to its home office in Ikeda city, Osaka. Subaru recently went a step further by opening the STI Gallery, a showcase for its many World Rally Championship successes located in the Mitaka suburb of Tokyo.

When you start to tour some of these museums and take in the cars and technology on show, you realise what a fascinating story the Japanese car industry has to tell and how far it’s come over, say, the past 50 years. Some are also starting to see the cars and the museums themselves as useful brand building blocks for the future. This could mean, then, that you’ll be seeing and hearing more about Japan’s unique array of car museums in the months and years to come and that it’s not just a case of Yesterday Once More.