A Day At The Museum Part 1: The Prince and Skyline Museum (with video!)
I've been wanting to go back to Japan ever since the end of my first trip as part of the DSport Tokyo Auto Salon Tour in 2017, preferably joining the tour once again. Unfortunately various other commitments have conspired against my having time to do so. I had vowed that I wouldn't miss out in 2020 but, as you'll find out later on if you follow the blog in the next few months, there was a good reason why I had to abandon that plan again.
Since plans for 2020 were sunk I hatched a different plan to visit the Land of The Rising Sun while I headed off for another vacation in the Philippines scheduled for late June. I was searching for flights and for whatever reason every one I found on a good airline was either too expensive or forced me to have a soul-sucking 10 to 11 hour layover in either Seoul or Tokyo.
I could either fly on a crappy airline with a better schedule or risk dying of sheer boredom stuck in an airport or I could have my gentleman's regions doused in napalm and set on fire - all options were about as equally appealing - OR I could make lemonade from lemons and extend my layover in Tokyo so I could have a fun stay instead!
I checked the rates and it turned out if I flew with Japan Airlines it would cost me the same whether I endured the agony of a 10 hour layover or I decided to chill for a few days.
And so I left Arizona for LAX on a Saturday morning to catch a flight that put me in Haneda Airport the following afternoon. After picking up a portable wifi unit and a rail pass I hopped a taxi that dropped me off at my hotel - the Keikyu EX Inn in Shinbanba.
Why this place? Well, the nightly rate was cheap, the reviews were great, and as you can see from the picture I took later that night, once you step out of the lobby the train station is right there!
Sure the room was tiny but for a few days layover by myself it was perfectly adequate. I was happy to see that despite the cheap price the room had an individual AC unit - if you've ever traveled in Japan you'll know AC is considered a luxury there so some hotels can feel pretty stuffy, especially in the summer.
After squeezing my stuff where it would fit I decided to have a wander and was pleased to see that the hotel had two convenience stores in easy walking distance and a traditional Japanese shopping street was next door as well.
There were a couple of traditional Japanese restaurants, a cafe, and a pet store but most of the shops were closed since it was Sunday evening. I did spy this sign in an alleyway that really made me wonder what type of establishment it was for:
For good or bad, I didn't see anyone that looked like a lady of the night prowling around looking for business so I kept on keeping on and eventually walked the mile or so to Shinagawa Station. I'd specifically chosen to stay in this area because I knew it fairly well from having stayed at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel during the DSport tour.
Oh, I found this unusual sight on the way there - a USDM LHD Toyota Sequioa decked out with aftermarket wheels. It wouldn't be the last US-market vehicle I'd see on this trip.
I had wandered off to Shinagawa Station just to kind of get the lay of the land but since I was there already and had a rail pass ready to be unleashed in my pocket I figured, what the hell, let's go to that wretched hive of fun and geekery, Akihabara.
I spent a couple of hours reacquainting myself with the mecca for anime and video game nerds but shoved off before it got too late since I had an early start the next morning. For my first full day back in Japan I had planned a little excursion to a mystical place known as The Prince and Skyline Museum!
So, what's the deal with this place and why did I want to go there? Well, if you're a GT-R fan, the answer should be obvious - it's a museum dedicated to Nissan Skylines and the Prince Motor Company that first gave birth to the model! Why WOULDN'T I want to go there?
Okay, there's one reason to maybe not go there - it's kind of a long way's away from Tokyo. Either by car or train it takes about three to four hours to get to the small city of Okaya, where the museum is located. On my previous trip to Japan the only time we'd left Tokyo to go to Chiba we were shuttled in a private bus. Although I'd learned how to get around Tokyo back then, leaving the capital to go out into what seemed like the boonies would be a new experience. But hey, fortune favors the bold and whatnot so with Google Maps guiding my way, I decided to take the plunge.
Besides, I had a whole day to kill anyway.
Originally, I'd planned on staying in Tokyo for just a couple of days - just long enough to spend a whole day wandering around Akihabara and then another to visit Yokohama and go to Nismo HQ again. That was the plan until I found out Nismo is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Since I'd be arriving on Sunday afternoon in Tokyo, that meant I suddenly had to find something else to do for a day.
And that's why I found myself waking up early on Monday morning to wander off into the Japanese wilderness.
If you want the CliffsNotes version of my trip then I have a special treat for you - for the first time I've tried my hand at making a travel video! It took forever to put it together since it was my first attempt and I had to learn so many new things such as how to use a gimbal, using Filmic Pro on my iPhone, editing with Adobe Premiere Pro, and most importantly, how to get decently steady video when my hands tend to shake harder than a malnourished chihuahua.
Perhaps you're a glutton for punishment so in that case, read on and I'll bore you to death with all the gory details of my trip.
If you're wondering how I first found out about this obscure museum, it was on this website called Japancarculture.net where they had a list of suggested car-related activities in Japan:
I also found some stellar reviews on TripAdvisor that made me feel better about making the effort to go there:
The museum's website of course was all in Japanese but Google Translate at least let me get an idea of their schedule and admission price. It's important to note that they're only open from April to November and are closed on Tuesdays. Admission was cheap at 1000 yen or about ten of our Trump bucks, 200 yen or 2 bucks for kiddos.
My first concern about going to Okaya was how the hell to get there. Thankfully the internet is a magical place that's full of information and assistance - sure, a large chunk of it is filled with depression, vitriol, and people having an unhealthy sexual fascination with fish, but we'll ignore that part of it.
Anyway, Google Maps outlined all the steps to take for the transit system. It was easy enough, I just had to make my way to Shinjuku Station - something I'd done before when we went to an izakaya to get thoroughly sloshed - then grab an express train directly to Okaya. From the hotel that was a simple twenty minute ride on the Yamanote Line from Shinagawa Station.
Some people online suggest to take a car if you want to go to the museum since there's no bus route to it in Okaya so I thought about renting one. Parking in Tokyo is a hassle though and I really only needed the car for the one day to go to Okaya so I nixed that option. The idea has merit though which I'll talk about later on so if you want to do it that way all it takes is an International Driving Permit that you can get from AAA before you leave the States and you're good to rent anything from a cuddly little Toyota Porte to a macho R35 GT-R to a fancy Lamborghini for pulling all them hot JK's in Harajuku, you dirty lecher you.
At Shinjuku Station I did meet this girl named Azusa:
Figures that the only girl that would put up with me in Tokyo would be a homely-looking one that I had to pay for.
She was nice on the inside though and I settled in for the two hour, twenty minute trip to Okaya.
Azusa is more properly known as the Chuo Line Limited Express Azusa. It costs around 50 USD for the ticket from Shinjuku to Okaya and the train is assigned seating only so it's easier and possibly cheaper depending on how much traveling you're doing if you have a JR rail pass. I did, so it was easy to get a ticket from the Shinjuku Station ticket counter just by telling the lovely lady there that I wanted a ticket to Okaya on the next Chuo Line Express train. If you're worried about not speaking Japanese just pick up a Chuo Line brochure at a JR service counter and use that to point on the map to where you need to go.
Rural Japan is pretty so sit back and enjoy the view if you take the Chuo Line.
Once at Okaya Station Google Maps said the museum was only about 1.8 miles away. I like to hike so I thought about just walking but since the area was unfamiliar I took the chicken's way out and grabbed a taxi.
I showed the driver my destination on my phone and then I was very happy I decided to be a wuss. The park was way up on a big hill with some very steep inclines. It was only a 10 to 15 minute ride but my driver had to work his little four-banger kinda hard in order to get me there.
He dropped me off in front of this courtyard. The museum is located in this big park called the Toriidaira Yamabiko Park. It's a pretty big place and the map the driver pointed me to was unfortunately kinda vague on where the museum was.
These were obviously not the cars I was looking for.
This sign was nearby though, which helped.
If you don't want to wander off in the wrong direction like me, follow this path to the stairs beyond it.
Go up the stairs...
Then head off to the right and you'll end up directly in front of the museum.
The rest of the park is very pretty though so feel free to have a wander if you're so inclined. That pleasant-looking white building in the second photo by the way is the local incinerator. Funny how the Japanese can make even a garbage facility look nice while over here most of them look like something out of Judge Dredd.
And here's the entrance to the museum. It's local tradition by the way that you have to kiss those wooden deer figures beside the entrance before entering any building - twice on the cheeks, and once on their rump, then say loudly "Subarashii!"
Nah, I'm just kidding. Just go in and pay the nice lady at the counter your admission fee.
Once you successfully enter without making a spectacle of yourself by following my suggestion you'll see all these display cases and a large variety of Skyline, Nissan, and Prince Motors related merchandise.
A few examples of stuff they have for sale are Nissan and Nismo official merchandise, vintage stickers, mugs, postcards, and even chopsticks with Skyline drawings on them, die-cast models, and drawings of various Skyline and GT-R models - both realistic and as caricatures.
I had to pick up this one for myself because of my black R35 (this photo was taken back at my house by the way - the merch in the background is my stuff, not the museum's).
These drawings at the back of the first floor aren't for sale but are cool to gawk at:
Yes, just because the name implies the museum focuses on the Skyline and other Prince models that doesn't mean they ignore the R35 GT-R, unlike so many haters who still refuse to acknowledge the R35 as a proper follow-up to past Skylines.
It might seem odd to see this display case full of old World War II aircraft models in one corner of a car museum but there's a good reason for it - Prince Motor Company actually started out as the Tachikawa Aircraft Company during the war. No, they didn't make the Zero, you're thinking of Mitsubishi, so go find an Evo museum if that's your thing.
After the war, there wasn't much point to making more military planes so the firm changed its name to Fuji Precision Industries and started making cars. No, they didn't make the Impreza WRX later on, you're thinking of Fuji HEAVY Industries, that was the mother company for Subaru.
By 1952 precision wasn't swag enough for the company anymore so they renamed themselves to Prince Motor Company after Prince Akihito who was picked as Crown Prince that year instead of just being, you know, a normal Prince. No doubt he had to do a LOT of fetch quests and kill a ton of slimes for the honor.
Off to one side of the entrance was the very first car on display.
That car was a Nissan Prince S57D. If you watched the video you probably heard me call it an S50D which was a mistake, but in my defense it was because the map provided by the museum actually had the wrong info on it. If you look closely on the very bottom right corner you'll see the map posted in the museum, which is an enlarged version of the paper one they give you when you enter, identifies the car as an S50D-1. It was only after I made the video that I noticed in my photos that the car's info placard correctly identifies it as an S57D.
What's the big difference? Well, there is a fairly important distinction between the S50 and S57 that goes beyond just being a "total anorak" as James May would say. Both cars are from the second generation of Skyline, collectively known as the S50 line, but the S50 debuted in 1963 when Prince was still a separate company. It had a 68hp 1.5 liter I4 engine and was a competitor for the Nissan Bluebird of the time.
The S57 on the other hand came out in 1967 right after Prince was absorbed into Nissan and was therefore sold as a Nissan Prince Skyline. The S57 still had a 1.5 liter four-banger but it was a newer model with 88hp, positioning the car as an upmarket brother to the regular S50, so in a way you could think of it as a predecessor to the GT-R line that would come later on. 1967 was also the last year for the S50 generation which would give way to the C10s that would go down in history as the first generation of GT-R.
After talking about this car I think this is a good stopping point for this post because it is getting kind of longish. Don't worry though because soon I'll bring you part 2 which will discuss the rest of the cars at the museum and also the trouble I had with getting back to Tokyo again. Be sure to come back for that installment because I'll talk about the first Skyline, the first Nismo Skyline, and the first Skyline I ever owned (no, it's not my Nismo R32!).
Until then, drive safe everybody!