DSport Tokyo Auto Salon Tour 2017 Day 3 - Not Your Momma's Salon Part 1

My series of posts on the DSport Tokyo Auto Salon Tour 2017 continues today with day 3 and the headline event for the tour - Tokyo Auto Salon itself!

For those of you who may not have heard of TAS and are wondering why a car nut would be so excited about going to a "salon", well, it's definitely not the same place that the females in your life (or you yourself, if you're of the fairer sex) go to have their follicles massaged or their nails dipped in powdered amethyst or whatever else goes on in those mysterious places. Instead Tokyo Auto Salon takes the "salon" part from the alternative French meaning of a gathering or exhibition. And so, TAS is the largest trade show for modified cars and aftermarket parts manufacturers in Japan. It's been going on for over two decades and takes up four huge exhibit halls in the Makuhari Messe convention center near Tokyo. If a JDM part manufacturer wants to show off their new stuff it'll probably be here and even the OEMs get in on the act by showing off tuned versions of their cars and the occasional concept or new model launch. This year, Nissan had planned to unveil the 2017 version of the Nismo GT-R so for a Nissan nut like me that was something to look forward to.

After going to Zama, UpGarage, and Nissan Global Headquarters the day before most of us had gone to bed relatively early since it had been a tiring but fun-filled day. We had a relatively early start scheduled for our journey to TAS but that wouldn't be much of a problem for many on the tour since jet lag was still rearing its ugly head. I for one was up by 4 am and couldn't get back to sleep so I decided to make the most of it and head down to take some pictures. While packing up my camera gear Brian, my roommate, also woke up so I told him my plan and we decided to meet up downstairs for breakfast at Mickey D's after he showered and got ready.

Snow is rare in Tokyo but even so mornings in January are chilly with an average daily high just in the high 40s. A few hotel guests were already up despite the frigid temps but the streets were still mostly deserted by the time I made it down at 5 am. With the lobby pretty empty I took the chance to snap this pic. As you can see the Shinagawa Prince is a big hotel but if you want to see just how big it is then check out the information map in the lobby:
As you can see the complex has four towers, four restaurants (two of which are buffets), a penthouse bar, two cafes, a food court, a small shopping area, a theater with IMAX, a bowling center, golf center, tennis center, a residential apartment complex, an aquarium, and a combination wedding chapel/shotgun emporium. No wait, I'm confusing that last one with hotels in Vegas. 

Anyway, it's got a lot of bigness. Unfortunately that bigness didn't extend to the rooms. We were staying in the main tower which we were told was better than the older East tower but even so the rooms were tiny!
Your eyes don't deceive you - this room would make a Porta-potty feel massive (most of that mess is mine by the way since this was taken as I was packing to leave Japan). It was awfully cozy for two normal-sized adults to share (and Brian's ex-Army and ex-Marines so he's not a small guy) but we managed to keep our sanity for the week we were there. 

Oh, and the AC didn't work so the room felt pretty warm when we first got in. Apparently it gets turned off in the winter so our repeated stabbing of the thermostat was useless. That little box in the corner was some sort of humidifier/fan thingy that did cool down the room though to comfortable levels. Before you think we just got stuck with a crappy hotel I was told most Tokyo hotels are like this apparently. Kind of puts the creature comforts we enjoy here in the States into perspective. I'd have loved a nice Vegas suite instead though since I'm a decadent, capitalist pig.

After I finish writing about the tour I plan on writing some tips for first-time Japan visitors and part of that will be some advice on coping with the idiosyncracies of Tokyo hotels so if you're planning on a trip to Nippon keep an eye out for that.
The hotel looks pretty imposing on the outside though so I had fun doing some long-exposure shots of it and the streets around the area.

In the middle of freezing my butt off and getting bemused stares from early-rising salarymen I also took some more regular touristy shots like this one of the 7-11 on one side of the hotel complex:
You've heard how vending machines are everywhere in Japan? Well, so are convenience stores and they can be lifesavers. Not only do they have the usual stuff you might expect in an American convenience store but they also have tasty boxed lunches (bento) and microwaves to heat them in, useful travel necessities like powerbanks and spare undies, and random souvenirs. 7-11s in particular have ATMs that let you withdraw yen using your US bank card which is handy.
As I mentioned in my day 1 post the large Shinagawa train station is just across from the hotel. We'd be catching a lot of rides from here in the coming days.
Eventually 6:30 am rolled around and Brian and I made our way to the McDonald's just outside the hotel after meeting in the lobby. This is what the breakfast menu at a Japanese Mickey D's looks like in case you're curious. Looks pretty much the same as the American version right? Except it tastes better! I love me some Sausage Egg McMuffins in the morning but these tasted a cut above what we get in America. The egg in particular tasted juicier and more natural than what we get over here. Japan takes pride in its food which is why Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than even Paris so I don't know if its better burger flippers or simply better ingredients but even the fast food was first-rate in Tokyo.
At 7:30 the tour group met up in the lobby and we boarded another charter bus to take us to Makuhari Messe on the other side of Tokyo Bay for the Auto Salon. If you're wondering what the buses were like here's a pic. Pretty typical tour bus with some useful amenities like power outlets and sometimes a toilet fit for leprechauns and little green men.
Since Shinagawa is on the other side of Tokyo Bay from the convention center the drive took about an hour and gave us a chance to see the famous Rainbow Bridge that's lit up in three different colors every night. On the way we also saw quite a few modified cars - far more than on the previous day - all of them obviously on the way to TAS.
Not surprisingly the parking lot at Makuhari Messe was overflowing with cars of every shape, size, and state of modification by the time we got there. We arrived at around 8:45 and the show wouldn't open until 9 so we burned up the extra time checking out the parked cars.
First off was this slammed Toyota Alphard. Never heard of it? Well, this isn't your neighbor's kid-fetcher and moldy Cheerios receptacle. If any Toyota van deserves to be called by that stupid slogan of "Swagger Wagon", it's this baby. With a 270hp V6, a middle row that makes La-Z-Boys look like medieval torture devices, and an imposing front end that makes kindergarteners spontaneously wet themselves in fear, the Alphard is cool full stop. Oh, and it has a higher-spec version blessed with one of the awesomest names in the history of awesome - VELLFIRE! I'm sure demons worship a stone carving of it in Hades.

Unlike here in the States where they're considered about as cool and trendy as catching tuberculosis, vans are everywhere still in Japan and most of Asia. If you're loaded they make for great chauffeured vehicles as you forget the stresses of another day by luxuriating in your leather captain's chair while spitting your champagne at passing plebeians.  To the passing plebeians though they're practical, efficient transport for the whole brood on long drives or short - and can double as emergency shelter in event of domestic disputes. Ever pile a van full of your homies and gone on a long road trip? That's more fun than a van full of monkeys right there. Asia gets that, which is why they have cool vans like the Alphard and Nissan's rival Elgrand while us Americans desecrate the environment driving alone in coal-rolling Tonka-truck wannabes. Western civilization FTW?
That's not to say the Japanese are immune to the appeal of a vehicle that seems tailored to weathering the next Biblical flood, like this FJ Cruiser. They do seem to trade dick-waving accessories like Truck Nutz and trucker girl mudflaps for far more adorable add-ons though:
Yeah, that cute diorama was sitting on that Toyota's dash. Ain't it just precious?

Speaking of add-ons, check out this 350Z channeling the quirky Japanese kyusha style with it's external oil cooler, extra lights, and more air horns than the whole National Hockey League.
His neighbor on the other hand preferred to be more subdued - if that's really a word you can use for a Z with a Lambo-esque body kit and a big orange racing stripe.

My tastes lean toward less is more personally - like these two more simply modded Skylines.

If we're gonna get all shouty though then I'd love to roll around in this copy of Han's famous Veilside RX-7 from Tokyo Drift. RIP Han! We all know you shot first!
Nine o'clock was getting close so we cut short the parking lot crawling and headed to the pedestrian bridge connecting to the convention center. The DSport staff had headed in already to secure their media credentials but they'd given us our VIP passes and left us in the capable hands of Big Tom, one of their contacts in Tokyo. He's that ginormous dude in the beanie left of center and is an American living in Japan building race cars - I'd hate on the lucky bastard if he weren't so nice. No, I'm not jelly, what make's you say that?

On Friday, TAS's opening day, only industry people, media, invitees, and VIP pass holders can get in from 9am to 2pm. Starting at 2pm they let in the "premium ticket" holders - regular ticket buyers who paid extra to get in the first day. The regular public gets in on Saturday and Sunday. Tom led us past a huge crowd of people and into a line with guys obviously repping the various local shops and companies since they wore uniforms from places like Top Secret and Vertex. Next thing we knew, we were in and got our first glimpse of TAS before it was inundated by the swarms outside.

This was Hall 1 of Makuhari Messe. If you've never been there it'll probably help you to visualize how huge TAS is by checking the map I've included below. The view you can see in the pic above is just Hall 1 which for TAS is combined with Halls 2 and 3 to make one huge exhibit area and then the same is done for Halls 4 to 6, 7 to 8, and 9 to 11. Smaller exhibits litter the center mall, esplanade, and international conference hall areas while drift exhibitions take place outdoors. Yup, TAS is massive.

Oh, and if you've been wondering all this time at the exhibition center's weird name, - Makuhari Messe gets its name from the area, Makuhari, and the German word for "trade fair", messe, so it's not called that because it used to be the city landfill, if that's what you we're thinking.
This being my first trip to TAS I didn't have much of a game plan at first and just wandered around checking out the nearby booths. First one I ran into was Fujitsubo.
Before going into the show we'd actually seen an R35 that looked to be a Fujitsubo shop car since it was all stickered up with their logos and sported their GT-R exhaust.
I know Fujitsubo is one of Japan's top exhaust manufacturers so I was kind of disappointed to see their new R35 carbon tips were pretty unoriginal looking. They were basically yet another clone of Akrapovic's design that's been around for at least six years now, only with Fujitsubo lettering. Over at the adjacent Blitz booth they'd come up with a carbon tip design for the Nur Spec exhaust that had a little bit more flare and originality to it thankfully.

I wanted to hang around Blitz's booth a little bit longer especially since I'd just recently installed their coilovers on my FR-S but I got distracted by the stuff next door - something that tends to happen at TAS.
First I saw this display of the cool Zenos E10 roadsters from the UK. I'd seen them featured on The Grand Tour, and with a curb weight of just 1580 pounds thanks to a carbon tub with power from a mid-mounted fourbanger pushing out up to 350hp they sure seemed like a real hoot. Unfortunately, shortly after TAS the news came out that Zenos Cars had gone bankrupt. Too bad for any people who happened to order one at the show.
Then there were the gorgeous models posing for the cameras at the nearby Noblesse booth. Seeing the large scrum of people trying to get pictures reminded me of one of the peculiarities I'd heard about TAS - it seems like half the people attending are just there for the booth babes and don't care about the cars at all. Of course people taking pics of pretty car show models is universal but the Japanese photogs seem exceptionally hardcore with many of them toting crazy multi-camera setups (both still and video) and flitting around like deranged flashbulb-toting hummingbirds on crack gunning for one girl after another. Some of them you could even see getting down almost to the floor for the perfect "low-angle" shot. It all gets a little creepy after a bit.
And speaking of photography and TAS, another peculiarity I noted is that the Japanese seem to be less cognizant of people taking photos and staying out of their way. In the States my experience has been that people often go out of their way to wait or go around you when you're taking a shot but at TAS they didn't seem to give a crap even when there was room to move around like that guy above or this wanker below:
The Japanese are a very polite and respectful people so this kind of behavior surprised me and others on the tour. Maybe it's the "big city effect" of living in close proximity to so many other people that made these guys give as many f*cks as a honey badger. Who knows? Just be forewarned if you're an avid photographer. 

Having repeatedly suffered from Photographus interruptus at this point I remembered some advice Mike, DSport's publisher and our head guide, had given us. He had said that in the morning while we had the benefit of the thinner crowds we should hit the places we really wanted to see first and take the pics we wanted to get while the show wasn't packed yet. With this sage wisdom in mind I immediately acquired target lock on Nissan's huge booth that dominated the back of the hall.

Along the way to the Nissan booth I ran into my first Super GT car of the show, the #38 Zent RC F.
And I have absolutely no idea what she was promoting (in-car entertainment I believe) but she was cute and I ended up stopping to take a picture so she did her job.
No booth babe needed for the Yokohama Advan stall where this totally on point FD RX-7 pulled me in. Drool...
The first R35's I saw inside the show were these two lovely ones at Kansai Service but I was bound and determined to get to my goal.
And finally there it was! Nissan's display area which was by far the largest in the hall - and the first car I ran into was my all-time favorite Super GT racer - the current-spec Nismo R35 GT500 GT-R! Finally seeing it for really reals meant I stared at it for a long time with the kind of leering eyes that'd get me jailed for sexual harassment if this were a girl. Double drool...

 I hope I got enough pics...okay, maybe just a bit more...

Oh baby, just one more for the road...
After getting all hot and bothered over the Motul Autech GT-R I had to climb down off my high gradually so I turned my sights to the car behind it, Kondo Racing's #24 ThreeBond GT-R that had won the top ST-X category of Super Taikyu this past season.

More GT-R goodness awaited on the central podium where the 2017-spec Nismo GT-R was being unveiled for the first time, looking appropriately awesome in its full N Attack trim.
Leave it to a Nismo GT-R to make a brand new 2017 R35 be ignored big-time.
There was plenty more to check out though in the booth. Right after stepping off the podium I ran into their merchandise counter. I saw a bunch of Ebbro 1/43rd scale diecasts I was tempted to buy but the clothing was what really caught my eye. See, I had been waffling on a really ace GT-R jacket while at the Nissan Boutique the previous day but ultimately had passed on it. I regretted not buying it that night though once we got back to the hotel. Lo and behold they had it at the Nissan booth and I took that as a sign from the car gods that I had to have it. I therefore scored my favorite souvenir of the trip!

Also at the booth was the Skyline Premium Sport Concept that was decked out to show off Nissan's optional trim parts for the current V37 chassis. It would win the award for Best Sedan of the show.
On the opposite side of the stand and on the price spectrum was the current Nismo March. We don't get this little bundle of fun here in the States but our friendly northern neighbors in Maple Leaf Country do get its non-Nismo little brother (but called the Micra there) as well as the option to buy a full-race version to use in the fiercely competitive Micra Cup. Lucky Canadeese people. With the new, sharper-styled fifth-gen Micra now announced this should be getting a replacement sometime soon. Maybe we'll get that one...or maybe I'll get a million bucks and a garage full of supercars from my long-lost Nigerian half-brother...
After fulfilling my main goal of perusing the Nissan display until my eyeballs begged for mercy it was time to hunt down other cool cars, which isn't hard to do at a place like TAS. I only had to turn around from the Nismo March to spot the Rowen stand where they were showing off their slick new World Platinum body kit for the 2017 R35.
And right beside it was a Ferrari 488! At this point I was thinking those spare undies from 7-11 might have come in useful...
Over at the Bridgestone booth this lovely lady was trying hard not to be outshone by the black beast of an AMG GT GT3 car beside her.
Meanwhile at other booths, even the robots were eating up the eye candy!
It wouldn't be TAS without a Mitsuoka Orochi causing more people to go WTF than a hippo on a unicycle handing out peanut butter-coated bananas while singing Katy Perry's "Roar".
At the KW suspension exhibit they had these very nice classic VW Golf GTis with Pandem widebody kits.
Speaking of TRA Kyoto's Pandem kits, this slick Fairlady Z had one on as well. The big company stalls tended to occupy the back, center, and sides of the various exhibit halls while the front area had merchandise shops and a selection of show cars, like this Z.
And beside the Z was yet another Pandem-outfitted car, this sweet matte grey R32 GT-R. This kit is so new Pandem USA doesn't even have it listed yet on their website.

No surprise that near the older Nissans were more examples of the latest generation. I thought this new Level V R35 body kit from V-Vision looked pretty slick, especially with the swan-neck wing that's now becoming all the rage. The whole kit's not too wild but still adds some extra sizzle to the already eye-catching GT-R design.
Japan has some truly awesome shops specializing in restoring vintage Nissans like the one-man shop of TA Auto or famed restomod specialist Rocky Auto. Up there among the best is Star Road who had this simply stunning Hakosuka Skyline 2000GT lined up across from the Pandem duo. So clean, much sexy.

Clean and sexy could also be applied to Akrapovic's exhausts, like this one on a BMW M2. I still remember the first day I got my GT-R's exhaust in from Canada (this was so long ago Akra didn't even have a US distributor yet and I was probably only the second guy in the US with their R35 exhaust) and I swear I've yet to see an exhaust with welds as clean or curves as smooth as Akrapovic's. Even the exhaust hanger stays were like works of art!
The lines may be a bit too sharp-edged to use "work of art" as a description for it but the latest version of the famous Kamikaze-R at the Varis booth was stunning to look at nonetheless. And it's functional too, with the previous version of the kit setting a lap record at Fuji Speedway.
More suited to the street but no less eye-catching was Varis's new Magnum Opus body kit for the 2017 GT-R. Another great addition to the company's already impressive line of parts for the R35.

I still have more photos to share but I thought bookending this post with pics of Varis's R35s would be a good stopping point. Thanks for reading but please make sure to come back for the next installment - there's lots more to see from TAS like the Calsonic Impul GT-R, Top Secret's awesome R32s, and sexy nuns! Yeah, that last part's no joke. Until next time!