DSport Tokyo Auto Salon Tour 2017 Day 4 - Super Mega Tokyo

Saturday, January 14th, was the halfway point for the 2017 DSport TAS tour and the day would be devoted to sightseeing in the amazing megalopolis of Tokyo. After surviving the hectic cauldron of Tokyo Auto Salon the day before we were looking forward to a more leisurely pace. We weren't due to meet in the lobby until 8:50 am so like I'd done previously I went and had a stroll through the nearby area to take some pics before I met up with the others for breakfast.

 I decided to first check out the other end of Shinagawa Station. Along the way I snapped this pic of Tokyo's rail system to give you an idea of what it's like. Shinagawa is located where that red arrow is in the middle of the circle at the center. Yeah, the whole thing looks overwhelming at first but once somebody teaches you the basics it's actually fairly straightforward. If you've ever visited New York and been able to master the subway there Tokyo is child's play by comparison, with the added bonus of far less risk of bodily harm and random people urinating in your rail car.

That circle in the middle is particularly important because it's the Yamanote line. It conveniently runs to a lot of the major areas in Tokyo that might interest you like the geek paradise of Akihabara, the teen fashion district of Harajuku, and the nightlife area of Shibuya. For most of us on the tour today would be our first proper taste of the amazing Tokyo rail system since we wouldn't be taking the charter bus like the previous two days.
I mentioned before that Shinagawa Station is massive and here's the main building in all its yugeness. 

Beyond the station is a square surrounded by skyscrapers. Past the square, in the collection of smaller buildings you see directly in front of the first picture was where we had found the Japanese pub, or izakaya, that I enjoyed my first dinner in Tokyo three nights before.
Speaking of izakayas, there are plenty of them but finding one will be a true test of your luck and skill at guesswork if you have the Japanese language skills of the average American (i.e. none-at-all) since signage like this isn't unusual for your typical Japanese building. There's a bar here someplace apparently...

Thankfully that's what the tour organizers are there for!
In the square I also found this koban or police box. You can see a sign in the corner near the top that says koban so if you get lost, mugged, or overcharged by a maid cafe then look for that sign to seek help. On second thought, they probably can't help you with that last issue - a cute Japanese girl gave you a personalized meal, just suck it up bro.
Before heading back to the hotel and joining my esteemed tourmates for a tasty breakfast of Japanese Egg McMuffins I found this taxi stand which is interesting because of the variety of cars that you can see in the pic. At the back you can see the classic Toyota Crown that's as much a staple of Tokyo as London's black cabs or New York's angry psychopaths...er, yellow cab drivers. In front of it though is a more modern Crown, and in front of that is a Nissan Fuga - our second-gen Infiniti M-series. 

Come nine o'clock, the group gathered up and we headed to the train station for the first of many train rides that day. First stop was Japan's answer to our Pep Boys and Autozones - only way, way cooler: Super Autobacs.

Why is Super Autobacs way better than our stateside auto parts stores? First off, look at the size of this particular one - the first floor has the service bays, second floor is the large retail space, and there's a third floor mezzanine on top of that with more stuff. Autobacs carries stuff from the mundane - like seemingly every possible scent of air freshener - to hard-to-find JDM tuner parts from Nismo, STi, and the like. I fought off the temptation to buy some of the cool Nismo pieces they had since I knew we were going to the motherlode tomorrow - Nismo Omori Factory - but it still made for some great window shopping. 

Not everything at Autobacs is well above the level of Pep Boys - these fake fender ducts would look right at home at your local branch, except these are better organized and not mixed in with the dusty trailer hitch covers that say "Sex Machine" or "If you can't Dodge it, Ram it!".

Some of the guys whiled away the time by indulging in their racing driver, transgender, and weird Japanese pop idol fantasies.
Outside I snuck a peek at their service bays. That definitely looks more respectable than your average American parts chain bay where you're liable to slip on the pool of oil left by the car that just departed minus the oil filter that Jimbo forgot to replace.
Your local PepZone probably won't have a well-executed tuner car outside either. You're more likely to see a riced-out "tuner" car that's asking to be executed.

The GT86 wasn't even the coolest car outside. Not only was this TommyKaira ZZ rare, sporty, and very, very orange it was fully electric to boot. And one of our group got to ride in it! But just around the block...hopefully due to time limitations and not due to the car having the driving range of a street mime trapped in a box.

Instead of a clapped-out Honda Civic with speed holes in the rear bumper and an Aquaman action figure hanging off the rear-view mirror like you'd see parked outside a typical American auto parts store, you get this - a well-cared-for R33 GT-R. Autobacs FTMFW.
After leaving Autobacs we then headed to the artificial island of Odaiba. Among the first sights we saw after getting off the train was the distinctive Fuji TV building which should be familiar to any anime fan.
Our first stop was Diver City mall - don't ask me why it's called that 'cause I sure didn't see many people walking around in wetsuits with air tanks on their back.
Job one was to find some grub and many of us gravitated to the food court where there was a wide selection of Japanese as well as foreign dishes. I opted for some tasty katsu-don which was a rice bowl with breaded fried pork on top but we couldn't help but notice this place...and promptly started laughing our asses off. Why? Well, check out menu item number 1...
Well, that sounds dirty...

Just outside the food court was Japan's best hope should aliens, monsters, or China ever decide to invade - the RX78-2 Gundam. Too bad they haven't figured out how to make it do anything besides light up its head. Maybe that's why they tore it down this month in order to replace it with a new statue. Hopefully the new version will be more capable of random acts of mass destruction.

It started snowing as we stood outside gawking at the giant robot so we crossed the street and made our way to the Toyota Mega Web. Yes, the name makes about as much sense as "Diver City" and no, it's not where Toyota shacked up Shelob after she lost her gig guarding Mordor. Instead Mega Web is a huge exhibit hall for Toyota's current car lineup as well as housing a small car history museum and restoration center.
First up was the MegaWeb History Garage, Presented By Toyota. It's at this point that I have to make a small confession - Toyota is by far my least favorite Japanese car manufacturer. I don't hate Toyota - I daily a Scion FR-S after all - but let's just say I've nurtured a keen indifference to their products. And I'm a Nissan nutjob after all. Apparently, whatever cosmic forces govern gearhead fate sensed my Toyota skepticism and decided to f*ck with me because as soon as I set foot in this bastion of Toyotadom one of my camera settings went as out of whack as a bachelor party in the White House.

What ended up happening was that the ISO setting on my camera's Aperture Priority mode got set to default to 25,600. If you don't know a thing about photography I'll illustrate the problem that causes with this image:
Yup, there's more grain there than a vegan's breakfast. ISO settings dictate the sensitivity of your camera's sensor to light. The higher you set it, the darker the conditions that you can shoot in but at the expense of more "noise" in the image, which shows up as graininess. Normally you'd shoot at ISO 100 to maybe 2000 or 3000 tops because the grain really starts showing up once you hit the 1000s. As you can guess, a setting of 25,600 is a one-way ticket to Noisytown. What's worse is that I didn't notice the bad setting until the next day! So, instead of showing you some nice pics of what Toyota Mega Web was like I'm going to have to resort to boring you with many words right? 

No, dear reader! For I have slaved away and squeezed every last drop of my minuscule digital processing skill to salvage as many pictures as I could - including that one of the lovely 2000GT above:
Not bad, eh? You can hardly tell I screwed up so badly. Now forget I did before I die of shame!
So anyway, the Mega Web History Garage is a small car museum chronicling some of the rich history of the automobile. Despite being a Toyota facility it mostly displays cars from other makes.
You wouldn't expect a little BMW Isetta to lead off a Toyota-sponsored exhibit right?

Nor would you expect a bunch of classic Americana either.
It must be the Japanese love for the cute and adorable but the Isetta wasn't the only bubble car on the premises as you can see from this tiny Messerschmitt KR200 three-wheeler. That Snoopy plushie isn't a huge one, it's just that small a car.
They also had some odd car culture-themed decor like this faux "Heartbreak House Motel". Sounds about as inviting as the Bates family's version.
The History Garage also acknowledged Toyota's rival manufacturers. For example, this vintage Datsun pickup was on display.

In the adjoining corridor was a collection of diecast cars from most of Japan's car manufacturers including Toyota themselves, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, and so on.
Past that corridor was the museum shop that had a large selection of car-related merchandise including a crapton of diecast cars, a cornucopia of automobile-inspired metal signs, and a limited number of experienced auto mechanics that you could buy to take care of your large automobile collection, just like Jay Leno!
Well, the mechanics weren't really for sale. They were veteran Toyota staff that had been hand-picked for the small restoration shop on the premises. 

I think it's fair to refer to these guys as "artisans" rather than simple mechanics. They go way behind your average greasemonkey who's only handy for fitting parts and actually handmake a lot of out-of-production items or restore tired ones to full functionality. I might as well be playing with Legos when you compare my meager mechanic skills to craftsmen like these. Much respect to them!
After walking through the adjoining mall we made it to the actual Toyota MegaWeb. There's no entrance fee to either the History Garage or the MegaWeb itself by the way so if you're in Tokyo and looking for something car-related to do that won't cost you a single yen (well, other than the train fare) then Odaiba should be on your list.
The main attraction at the MegaWeb is the large display hall where Toyota has several examples of pretty much its entire Japanese lineup for people to check out. In addition there's a gift shop and it contains a variety of merchandise from Toyota as well as other car manufacturers like Nissan. That was a pleasant surprise when you consider that if an American car company had an exhibit hall like this you can be certain it would only sell their own company swag. 

Besides the gift shop there's also a motion-control theater (also free of charge, just sign up with the cute attendant and make sure you're taller than a hobbit so you make the height cut-off) and a test drive area where apparently even gaijin can sign up to have a go on the closed course as long as you have an international drivers license. I didn't have one so the staff breathed a huge sigh of relief that an out-of-control Toyota Crown wasn't about to damage the premises.
Since several of us had been fascinated by all the cool vans in Tokyo we wanted to check out the Alphards and Vellfires that we're on display.
Toyota really has the market cornered on massive grilles that look like they're about to turn unsuspecting pedestrians into Soylent Green.
Peek inside the Alphard though and you might actually want to get swallowed by that massive grille. Check out the fancy reclining seats inside that would make a La-Z-Boy hide its head in shame (if it had one). They even have a fold-out table so you can take care of those all-important, master-of-the-galaxy type activities that a VIP like you has to deal with - such as sinking your fellow passenger's battleship. 
 The TRD Vellfire would be more my style though.
The seats look no less comfy and they have a lot less of the "old dude's armchair" vibe going on.
Speaking of old dude vibes, the massive Toyota Crown certainly gives off that feeling - apart from the corporate pedestrian-eater grille of course. 
Even Toyota's smaller models seem to be getting in the act of trying to see how many pedestrian giblets they can consume. And with a name like "Roomy Tank" sidewalk strollers probably need to be extra vigilant.
One Toyota that managed to escape the Freightliner grille treatment but did get saddled with an unfortunate name was the C-HR. C-HR just sounds like somebody's really bad at spelling "chair" and when you find out what it actually stands for it gets even worse: Coupe-High Rider. Really, Toyota? THAT IS IN NO F*CKING WAY A COUPE! And High Rider sounds like a type of Pampers disposable diaper. Just give it a proper name, like Juke for instance! No wait, that one's already taken. Regardless of the awkward name, the C-HR will be terrorizing Old Navy parking lots here in America pretty soon as a 2017 release.

The FT-1 concept may also suffer from alphabet soup naming but at least it's one sexy beast. Sadly most of my shots were ruined by the ISO issue but I at least managed to rescue these few images.

After checking out the FT-1 it was about time for the group to meet up again and head back to the hotel. Tonight was the official izakaya night where the plan was for everyone on the tour to have a fun night of bonding, eating, and getting totally sloshed. We had some time to spare before we had to head to the pub though so a group of us decided we'd go and check out Tokyo's geek central - Akihabara. Since Akihabara - or Akiba for short - is the epicenter of anime, manga, and video game culture in Japan I wasn't about to miss out on that.
A short 20 minute ride on the Yamanote Line had us soon walking in the district I'd dreamed of visiting ever since I discovered that otaku blood flowed through my veins. Akihabara is also called Electric Town because it used to be the place to find all the latest electronics (which to a smaller extent it still is) before it became the nerd culture mecca of today.
Massive billboards for the latest anime series or video game releases light up the main street of Chuo-dori and this being a Saturday massive crowds of people were everywhere perusing the shops, arcades, as well as another staple establishment of Akiba:
The maid cafe. If you've never heard of them because you're, well, normal, maid cafes are cafes where young Japanese girls wear maid outfits, greet you as "master" when you walk in, decorate your food with cute animal drawings or special messages, and wave their hands over it to bless it with their "delicious magic" charms before you eat (customer participation expected by the way). Usually they'll put on a show as well and if you pay an extra fee you can get a picture or "two-shotto" with a maid of your choosing or get a special show of your request. Yup, it's basically a nerdy version of a lap dance club minus the overt sexuality.

We didn't have time that night to fool around with the maids though since we had to get back to the hotel in time to join everyone else in getting drunk so we made our way to the Akiba branch of Don Quijote. Several of the guys had been wanting to visit a "Donki" store and Akiba's is probably the most famous branch since it's eight floors high and at the very top level is the theater where uber-popular Japanese pop idol group AKB48 holds its performances. Donki itself gets its popularity because it's a discount store chain with a huge range of merchandise packed from floor to ceiling ranging from basic groceries to electronics to clothing to anime goods to handmade wooden penises with a bottle opener on one end (no, I shit you not on that last one. We actually found those at the Akiba Donki and I wouldn't at all be surprised if they'd been made in my old home of the Philippines).

While the others busied themselves on the lower 5 floors I made my way to the sixth and seventh floors where they had an arcade and loads of gashapon machines which are vending machines that you get random little trinkets from. Although usually the stuff inside are anime and video game related you can get some weirdly random things too like little plastic dinosaurs or miniature assault rifles. I snagged a few anime keychains as gifts for friends back home. While at TAS I did find one with some awesome car stuff inside including a tiny Mazda Cosmo that became a gift for my friend Laren.

We'd all agreed to meet outside Donki in an hour but I got done inside with some time to spare so I wandered around some more taking pics of Chuo-dori. I had to get these shots of the ads for the latest Macross TV series since my friends wouldn't have let me live if I hadn't since its our favorite anime franchise of all time. I also managed to find time to accidentally wander into a hentai game store which was definitely NSFW. I didn't hang around checking out the dirty merchandise though because it was time to get our butts back to Shinagawa.
The izakaya DSport had reserved that night was in Shibuya, a district of Tokyo famed for its nightlife but is probably most famous for its super-busy 6-way pedestrian crossing that's been shown in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and the Resident Evil movies. Getting there was another simple ride on the Yamanote Line showing how well-situated the tour hotel was for getting around.
If you're meeting someone in Shibuya chances are you'll tell them to rendezvous at the famous statue of Hachiko, the ever-loyal Akita that came to Shibuya Station day after day for nine years even after his owner suddenly died. We had to meet someone ourselves that night because a couple of the tour attendees hadn't made it to the hotel in time to join the rest of us there.

That night's pub was a more modern take on the traditional izakaya and had regular tables instead of the low ones recessed into the floor at other places. The decor was also more current and we had a nice seventh-floor view of Shibuya through the tall windows. Everyone was soon enjoying beers and munching on delicious chicken, dumplings, and a variety of other dishes. Word of advice if you're at a typical izakaya - skip the whiskey highballs and soju (Korean wine) and stick to either beer or sake because the former two were very watered down and we were told that's not uncommon at these all-you-can-drink places. 

Many, many beers later and after some of the group had infiltrated a group of Japanese college girls getting sloshed one table over (none of us went missing when they left in case you were wondering) we headed out. We were supposed to hit a local dance club before heading back but it was pretty small and super-packed so the half of the group that got there later opted out instead. After chatting with everyone back at the square near the station we started making our way back to the hotel and hit the sack. Tomorrow most of us would be looking forward to visiting the epicenter of Nissan Motorsports, Omori Factory in Yokohama, so I'll tell you all about that next time.