DSport Tokyo Auto Salon Tour 2017 Days 1 and 2 - Nissanity! Part 1

Welcome everyone to what promises to be a long series of posts about my first trip to Japan! As I mentioned in my last post I've been wanting to go to the land of Nippon for a long time because of my love of import cars and anime but hadn't been able to for various reasons. Japan is an amazing country but it's also a daunting place to go to without help because of the language barrier and vastly different customs so to make my first experience easier and more enjoyable I decided to join a tour.

There are lots of options for people wanting to book a tour of Japan but for the dedicated gearhead there's one clear choice: the DSport Magazine Tokyo Auto Salon Tour. If you're an import enthusiast you've probably heard of it before but in case you haven't the tour has been going on for years with the prime feature being VIP entrance to Tokyo Auto Salon. In addition to TAS however there are a lot of other varied activities. Usually those include tours of various parts manufacturers, visits to UpGarage and Super Autobacs stores, Tokyo sightseeing, and of greatest interest to me, recently they've included trips to key Nissan facilities such as the company headquarters and heritage garage as well as Nismo Omori Factory. DSport tries to keep things fresh with a varying itinerary each year so for 2017 they extended the tour by another day and held the inaugural DSport Tuner Challenge.

I'll go over all the amazing stuff we did on the tour in the course of these posts but we should naturally start at the very beginning so for today we'll talk about Days 1 and 2 with the trip from Eagleland over to the Land of the Rising Sun, our first night in Tokyo, and then the first day of the tour proper.

The first day of my trip started super early as I woke at Two Dark Thirty on Tuesday, January 10th to make the long drive from Arizona to Los Angeles International Airport. Because of my work schedule it hadn't been possible for me to catch a flight to LAX so I booked a one-way rental from Enterprise for the first leg of my long journey. The drive from Yuma to L.A. was one I'd done more times than I can count but unfortunately I made one miscalculation. I set off at around 3 am and normally that would put me at LAX with plenty of time to catch my 11 am flight but I typically make the trip on a weekend and had totally forgotten about the hell that is weekday SoCal traffic.

I ended up catching thicker and thicker of gobs of Los Angelenos clogging the freeways as I got nearer to the airport and I started to sweat as time ticked by with the car just creeping along at a speed that would have insulted a garden snail. Thankfully I left early enough that I still made it to the terminal with a couple of hours to spare.

After dropping off my two huge bags that I hoped would soon be full of Japanese goodness and making it through the usual TSA circus it wasn't long before I was waiting to board United Flight 32 to Tokyo Narita. Unlike a lot of my friends I enjoy flying since it means traveling to interesting places usually and I was looking forward to riding again in my current favorite airliner - the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I'm a bit of an avgeek aside from a gearhead so if you're a non-aviation enthusiast I'll just say the 787 is quite the revolutionary plane. With a mostly composite structure the 787 is quieter and more efficient than any other current airliner and has a more comfortable cabin too thanks to higher pressurization, improved cabin humidity, 30% larger windows (with cool electrochromic tint rather than plastic window shades), and a generally more spacious feeling interior design.

I don't normally drink alcohol except when I'm out with friends but as I settled into my seat I thought my first proper Japan trip called for some celebratory champagne. It came in this interesting flute that I just had to take a pic of, with a piece of delicious chocolate on the side.

With the booze in my system it was time to hunker down for the eleven hour flight to Tokyo. In case you're wondering the DSport tour gives you the option to just pay for the land-only package that basically covers your arrangements in Tokyo minus the flight there, or you can choose to include round-trip airfare to Japan and back. In my case I planned to fly to the Philippines after the tour so I booked separately but the tour flight was All Nippon Airways Flight 5 that left about an hour after my United flight so I was due to meet up with the rest of the attendees pretty soon after I landed. I whiled away the time by watching four movies on the plane's entertainment system starting with Jason Bourne, then the excellent "your name" (Japan's highest grossing film internationally ever), some crazy Chinese flick called Chronicles of the Cursed Tribe, and then the latest Toho Godzilla movie.

Despite what some people I talked to had claimed Japanese immigrations was a breeze and I was soon trying to track down the rest of the people of the tour. Thankfully DSport had told us to download the Line app to our phones to make a group chat and I was able to link up with everybody else pretty easily. You can see here the big group we had, none of whom I'd met before in person but I'm happy to say we all would become fast friends over the course of the tour.

If you don't have someone with you on the tour DSport will assign you a roommate unless you'd rather pay extra for a solo hotel room. On the far right of the pic is Brian, an Evo owner from Georgia who ended up being my roomie for the next week.

Scoping out the cars in the airport parking lot was already interesting since there were so many we don't get in the States. I was surprised to find this C5 Corvette though parked beside a Toyota Alphard. It wouldn't be the last USDM car we'd see. We also saw an R35 which whetted my appetite to see more JDM goodness.

One of the great things about the DSport tour is that transportation is included to all the major tour events. Even better though is that they also teach you how to get around Tokyo for the optional stuff and any personal trips you want to do. That's pretty awesome because you can sit back and relax regarding transport to the main stuff but at the same time you learn how to manage if you want to wander around on your own on this or future trips to Japan!

On our first night in Tokyo the priority of course was hitting up our lodgings so we piled into a charter bus and headed to Shinagawa, one of Tokyo's many wards. Our destination was the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in the picture to the right.

If you've never been to Japan, it helps to know that Tokyo isn't actually one city - it's a conglomeration of 23 districts or wards clustered around Tokyo Bay that make up the heart of the Tokyo metro area plus 26 more adjoining cities and several towns and villages to the west that all together officially make up Tokyo Metropolis.

A really mind-blowing thing about Tokyo I learned is that it actually also includes the Izu and Ogasawara Island chains that reach as far out as over 1000 miles from the main city. Even though they're so far away they're still officially part of Tokyo!

We didn't travel that far of course but Tokyo's large size meant that it was over an hour's bus ride from Narita Airport to the hotel since they were on opposite sides of Tokyo Bay from each other. The ride gave us the chance to get a glimpse of some of Tokyo's sights though like Makuhari Messe where the Auto Salon was to be held and Tokyo Disneyland.

Checking in to the hotel was the first order of business which was ably handled by Mike Ferrara, DSport's publisher and head of the tour plus his staff but after that we were ready for some grub. Before that though Mike gave us the first of many useful lessons on getting around Tokyo by helping us get our Suica cards.

The Suica card is a handy cash card that is mostly used to pay for train rides but is also accepted by taxis, many vending machines, and even at Japanese 7-11 stores so it came in really handy during the tour. To get them we headed to Shinagawa Station just across the street from the hotel which was a pretty massive building as you can see from the picture. We'd be visiting the station a lot over the next few days because not only did it have stops for many of the major train lines it also had numerous shops and restaurants, plus a money changer as well. There's even a Shinkansen platform that can take you to Osaka and Nagoya using Japan's famed bullet trains.

After getting our Suica cards Mike explained some of the food options to the group including a ramen place and the Tsubame Grill where the "hanbaaga" was supposed to be awesome. In Japan by the way "hamburger" doesn't mean a burger in a bun instead it means Salisbury steak. We split into  groups and I thought I'd ended up with the not-burger hamburger group but it turned out Mike was taking us to somewhere even better.

What you see there is the entrance to a Japanese pub or izakaya. On the tour schedule was an official izakaya night for the whole group a couple of days later but Mike had decided to go to one with our small group this first night so we got an early taste of what to expect. Izakayas are usually set up as "nami-hodai" (all you can drink) and/or "tabe-hodai" (all you can eat) for a set price with a time limit of one to three hours. For the next hour or so we ordered up a bunch of drinks and delicious appetizer-type food like karage (Japanese fried chicken) and yakitori (BBQ chicken on a stick) while chatting it up around a traditionally-low Japanese table. Then we made our way back to the hotel to hopefully get a good night's sleep before the big day tomorrow.

Most of us though, including me, woke up super early thanks to jet lag. In my case I burned some time shooting pics through the hotel window while desperately trying to keep quiet enough not to bother Brian.

Seven am rolled around but Brian still had to get ready so he said I should go ahead and I went to the lobby and met up with Kao and True, two funny and friendly Hmong guys I met while the group gathered in the airport the day before. There was a McDonald's right next to the hotel but all three of us were first timers to Tokyo so we decided to give the hotel buffet a try first. It was pricey at 2600 yen but it was all you can eat at least and had a good variety of both Western and Japanese cuisine.

After gorging on food (and complaining among ourselves about the runny scrambled eggs and seemingly undercooked bacon which were both tasty but weird to our American palate) we met up with the rest of the group and boarded another charter bus at 8:30 to go to the first of the tour's big stops: Nissan's Heritage Collection at their Zama plant in Yokohama.
On the way there we kept checking out all the new sights. We briefly passed by Tokyo Tower but I was sadly on the wrong side of the bus for a good shot - that kept happening to me by the way because of my rotten luck.

One thing that surprised us was the amount of American cars in Tokyo. They weren't super common but we'd see one often enough that I was disappointed to note that I'd seen more Cadillacs in my first two days in Tokyo than I had seen Skylines. Yes, that's a left-hand drive Lincoln MKX in front of our bus amidst Tokyo morning traffic.

Just like us Americans with our fascination for JDM cars there's a small but fervent following for US cars in Japan, to the point that I would later find "USDM" stickers at UpGarage. How crazy is that when you think of all the ricers here that go gaga over "mad JDM"?

We also got our first glimpse of legendary Mount Fuji on the way.

Few Japanese are fluent in English but they sure do love to use English words which is how you end up with the infamous "Engrish" signs in Japan like this one. Dunno what they sell at Hard-Off. Cold showers maybe?
How about the Neko Punch cat cafe? Neko is Japanese for cat so I'm not sure a chain of "Cat Punch" cafes would get very far in the US before PETA started rioting and leaving used cat litter all over their entrances.
"Where are the cars, Oliver?" I'm sure you're asking 'cause you're tired of me talking about Japanese beer houses, watery eggs, and feline fisticuffs. Well, here you go - our first glimpse of Zama, a place spoken of in legends, epic poems, and whispered gossip by Nissan diehards.
In case you're not one of those Nissan diehards (in which case I need to work at brainwashing you more) Zama is the site of a Nissan factory that's been partially converted to house the company's heritage collection of historical vehicles. It's not really a museum (it's referred to as the Nissan DNA Garage or Zama Heritage Car Garage officially but never called a museum) and is more of just a storage facility - a really clean and well-organized one though. Until recently it wasn't open to the public and you could only get in if you had appropriate connections with Nissan brass and/or signed a blood pact to name your first-born son "Cedric" and swear his eternal fealty to Carlos Ghosn.

Nowadays your son can stay safe from grade-school bullying and you can sign up online for one of the few guided tour spots that Nissan allows twice a day. You have to read Japanese though, arrange your own transportation there, and get lucky enough to be selected, plus the public tour is only an hour long versus the over two hours we had to look around so if you're not on the DSport tour well, Cedric may have to work his butt off after all.
Not to mention the DSport tour lets you get in through the "cool door" while the unwashed masses use a guest entrance. This snazzy red door is where they move cars in and out of the facility rather than just some normal entryway and when it opens it reveals:
A collection of Nissans that's positively YUGE! Nissan has over 400 cars in its heritage collection starting from the earliest days of Datsun to the present. Zama only holds about 230 cars at a time so the collection changes as cars get shuffled to other storage sites, Nissan's headquarters, or various exhibits. Regardless of when you go though you better wear some nice grippy shoes so you don't slip on the drool that'll accumulate.
As a GT-R fan seeing two R35s right off the bat made me happy but even these two cool cars were just an appetizer for the rest of the awesomeness to come. More on these two later because we had to meet our tour guide.
For this year's DSport visit we didn't get just any tour guide, we got Eiichi Shimizu, the curator of the Heritage Garage himself. As a 40-plus year Nissan vet, former PR executive for Nismo, and previously the right-hand man to the famous Mr.K - father of the Z, we were in great hands for our trip through all this concentrated Nissan nostalgia.

Zama is simply massive with row upon row of amazing cars. The first thing we saw was the selection of Group C race cars in the pic right above but the collection is so big it's impossible to decide where to start on your first visit. Shimizu-san knew where to go of course and first took us to the start - Nissan's beginnings as Datsun.
In one corner of the facility are the very earliest Datsuns ever made. On the left of the pic is the Datsun 12 Phaeton from 1933, in the middle is a Datsun 15 Roadster from 1936, and the blue car on the right is a 1937 Datsun 16 Sedan. You can see an empty slot beside the 16 for one of the cars that were out of the facility that day.
The Datsun 12 Phaeton may date from 1933 but Nissan's roots actually stretch back all the way to 1911 when the Kwaishinsha Motor Works was founded as Japan's first car manufacturer. Their first car was the DAT, named after the three founders. After that first car the company concentrated on making much-needed trucks but later decided to make another car in the 30's which they wanted to call the "son of DAT" or DATson but "son" has negative connotations in Japanese so the name was changed to DATsun instead to give it a brighter, cheerier impression. By that time Kwaishinsha had merged with the Jitsuya Jidosha car company that was under the Nissan conglomerate of companies and this was the beginning of the current Nissan Motors.
Opposite from those three cars was this cheerfully tiny 1935 Datsun 14 Roadster. It's hard to tell from the pic of the previous three but all of these cars are positively miniscule. In this picture though you can compare the Type 14 to the gigantic-looking 1937 Nissan Type 70 beside it. That car is 187 inches long, about the length of a modern midsize sedan. To really show you how absolutely tiny the Type 14 is, it's overall length is listed as 2800 mm or 110.2 inches, that's just the wheelbase of an R35 GT-R! I kept expecting a Shriner to jump out of hiding and steal it.
Speaking of tiny, this adorably cute 1950 F4146 fire engine was nearby and I'm sure it would be a hit at children's parties. Especially if it had clowns riding it...and ninjas...or better yet, CLOWN NINJAS!
Not to be outdone in the cuteness stakes is this 1947 Tama electric car. Yup, well before the Leaf Nissan was making vehicles powered by electrons. After the war gas was scarce so electric car development was encouraged for a time by the Japanese government. The kinda-boxy, kinda-curved styling makes the Tama like an English bulldog, adorable despite being awkwardly ugly. I'd rock one - and slap an SR20 in the back to scare the bejeezus out of people shortly before I succumb to the inevitable carbon monoxide poisoning. But oh what an awesome death that'll be!
But enough about cars that are simply adorbs, let's get to some that are a bit more testosterone-laden. This is a Datsun DC-3 Type 1000 sedan from 1952. Right after the war the Allies were still busting Japan's balls regarding manufacturing limits (starting a world war and making some of the world's deadliest fighters and warships will kind of do that) so automobile production was prohibited at first. The restrictions gradually relaxed and small scale production resumed. The DC-3 followed after the preceding DB-2 passenger car and was the closest thing to a GT-R in immediate postwar Japan. The four-cylinder engine's pants-tightening output was all of 2o horsepower but at least it had some of the sporting intent that would eventually lead to later high-performance Nissans.
With Japan a right mess after the war the car companies needed some help getting back on their feet so Nissan collaborated with British company Austin and began producing "knockdown" versions of their A40 Somerset in 1952 followed by this A50 Cambridge in 1959. The majority of the car was British-made initially but the tires, batteries, and glass were made in Japan then by the time of the A50 the whole car was made locally. Hopefully that helped with the notoriously dodgy British electrics...
If the toy cars and British knock-offs were boring you then this should hopefully perk you right up. Two dull old sedans right? Not when the magic word "Skyline" is associated with them! The one on the right is a 1954 Prince Sedan AISH, the first car made by Prince Motors. If you know your Skylines then you'll be familiar with Prince Motor Company. Starting out as the Tachikawa Aircraft Company, after the war they stopped making warplanes and started making cars due to the aforementioned Allied ball-busting. First they made that cute Tama electric car I talked about earlier but in 1952 they aimed for greater things and renamed themselves the Prince Motor Company not after a certain recently-deceased singer, but after current emperor Akihito became Crown Prince of Japan that year.

In 1957 Prince gave us the name that would go down in history by coming out with the first-gen Skyline (a.k.a. the ALSID-1) that's on the left. It had just 60 horsepower but its descendants would forge the most legendary nameplate to come from the Land of The Rising Sun.

In 1966, Prince merged with Nissan and became the Company-Formerly-Known-As-Prince, which was too bloody long so they just decided to keep the Nissan name for simplicity.
Across from the Prince Skyline you had this collection of its contemporaries from Datsun - the Bluebird. Before the Bluebird Nissan named all of its cars only numerically with a type number so this car was the first with an actual word for a moniker. Don't recognize the Bluebird name? If you're an American that's no surprise because the name wasn't used here but it was also called the Type 310. Yes, you guessed it - this car was the ancestor of the beloved "Five and Dime" Datsun 510.

By the way, if you're confused about how Datsun became Nissan: When the Nissan group of companies (did you know Nissan used to be a big real estate company and is still actually a group of businesses that include Hitachi?) absorbed Kwaishinsha Motor Works (maker of the original Datsun as I mentioned before) in the '30s they kept the Datsun name for their car division so all Nissan cars were Datsuns while the trucks were Nissans. By the '60s Nissan Group decided to start branding their higher-end cars Nissans (like the Cedric luxury sedan or the Skyline that came from the Prince merger) but the cheaper cars - with the notable exception of the Fairlady Z - were still Datsuns until the '70s. When Nissan expanded to the States they used the already-known Datsun name but by the '80s they also changed to the Nissan branding as well over here.

The first blue car in that pic is the original Type 310 Bluebird from 1959. Powered by a 1.2 liter 43hp four-banger it sold well enough but the following year Datsun upgraded it to the interesting car you see beside it. 

Wondering what's up with all the graffiti? I was about to tell Shimizu-san that some a-hole had written all over his nice car but it turned out this car had toured all around the country to promote the newly-improved Type 311 of 1960. With 12 more ponies under the hood it went around getting signed by the governors of all the prefectures at the time, hence all the squiggly marks on its body.
At the same time as the Bluebird was coming out Datsun started making more sporting vehicles. In 1959 they came out with their first proper sports car, the S211, but only 50 of those were made before it was replaced by this pretty little thing - the SPL212, better known as the Fairlady - named after the Broadway musical. Notice that it's left-hand drive? This was the first Datsun sports car sold in the States although it lost the fancy name while it was on the boat coming over 'cause they thought it sounded too girly. With it's pleasing mini-Corvette styling I'm sure Audrey Hepburn would have rocked one regardless of its name (and paltry 48hp).
When mentioning "Nissan" and "sportiness" together though one nameplate rises above all, the Skyline and its sportiest trim level, the GT-R. In 1968 Nissan debuted the third-generation C10 Skyline and in a bid to take on the legendary European marques at their own game of road racing they stuffed a 2 liter S20 straight-six motor in it and begat the first GT-R. That generation of Skyline is affectionately known as the "Hakosuka" (Japanese shorthand for "box skyline") and this is a pristine example of a 2000GT-X from 1972. Though not as fast as the GT-R it still had a potent for-the-time L20 motor with 120 horsepower - and electric windows.
Speaking of the S20 motor, every American import fan should recognize the classic S30 240Z (known as the Fairlady Z in Japan) that debuted in 1969 - but this one isn't any normal 240Z. This is a rare Fairlady Z 432, one of only 420 ever made. Under the hood is the S20 motor from a Hakosuka GT-R giving it a 30hp boost over the standard 130hp L24 motor. With magnesium wheels and an LSD from the factory this was meant to go road racing so most were thrashed hard. A clean sample like this one would easily fetch six figures if ever sold.
But the S20's original home is in this bad boy. The cars at Zama aren't meant to just be static display pieces, instead almost all the cars in the collection are runners. To keep them in running order the staff regularly start up the cars on a rotating basis and that day we came it just so happened to be the turn of this beautiful 1970 KPGC10 2-door Skyline GT-R. The amazing sound of that advanced-for-its-time 2 liter, DOHC, 7000rpm straight-six motor soon filled the building. With 160hp in street trim, the race versions supposedly put out 250 and laid down the cornerstone of the GT-R legend with 50 straight touring car victories.

There's still lots more of Zama to cover but this post is already pretty darn long so I think this is a good point to stop but please come back for part 2 of Nissanity when I go over the more modern cars including such legends as the Group A and Super GT race cars, and we go visit Nissan Global Headquarters!


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