Another Day At The Museum Part 3: History Lessons at the Nissan Guest Hall

I'd previously said that the Nissan Guest Hall was just supposed to be a quick stop before I headed over to Nismo HQ but as you can tell from this guide now reaching three parts, there really was a lot to check out there. And now we get to the last section - the other gallery on the second floor that covers Nissan's history.

As I mentioned in part 1, the building itself is pretty historic on its own. It started out as the original main offices for Nissan back in 1934 but then they were moved to Tokyo's Ginza district in 1968. It was then used as a guest hall but its current configuration showcasing Nissan's history, technology, and engine catalog started in 2002 when the building was renovated.

During the renovation the second floor hallway was preserved in the same configuration as when the building was still used for offices and this plaque mentions that.

On one side of that hallway is the engine area discussed in part 2, but crossing over to the other side the focus shifts to chronicling Nissan's entire history including the time when it wasn't called Nissan yet.

To help you understand the convoluted history that led to Nissan as we know it today there's this handy dandy wall chart. 

Ignoring the Engrish spelling errors for now, the chart has plenty of interesting info if you're curious how Nissan got its start. Even though Nissan didn't officially become Nissan until 1934 (more on that later) the company can actually trace its roots all the way back to the start of the 20th century. 

The history of modern day Japan is split into different periods named after the emperor that reigned during that time so 1868 to 1912 was known as the Meiji Era after Emperor Meiji, 1912 to 1926 was the Taisho Era after Emperor Taisho, and in a time long ago in a galaxy far away it was called the Palpatine Era after our dear Papa Palpatine, or so the great historian Lucas once said.

Anyway, the Meiji Era was a big deal for Japan because prior to that time it was an isolated society with little ties to the outside world - kind of like North Korea now, only with more ninjas and less threats of nuclear holocaust. In 1853 however the US of A thought Japan could use some grade-A, all-American, totally bodacious Freedom shoved down their throats whether they liked it or not so Commodore Matthew Perry decided to sail his modern fleet of gunboats into Tokyo Bay for a friendly chat - the profligate firing of cannons was totally just a cordial American greeting y'all and not meant to intimidate anyone. No siree.

And that, little Timmy, is how we got the term "Gunboat Diplomacy".

Samurai swords were hardly going to cut it ("cut it", see what I did there? I'm here all week, folks!) against a bunch of cannons so Japan got all friendly all of a sudden with the Western powers - and a wave of Westernization and modernization swept Japan. This also meant foreign cars started showing up to replace those quaint horses and slaves they were still using for transport. Ford and GM were the trendsetters (imagine that) but Japan wanted to get in on that action too.

And that's where this guy comes in. Matsujiro Hashimoto decided to found the Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works in 1911 which translated to "A Good Company Automobile Manufacturer". Great name right? Sure beats "Shitcan Assembly Corporation".

After three years of work Kwaishinsha came out with its first car in 1914, which they called the DAT by taking the initials of those three dudes in the pic above who were the company's main investors. This picture is definitive proof that the DAT name didn't come about because Hashimoto-san was a hiphop fan and kept using "dat" for everything - like "dat car" or "dat sun" or the ever popular "dat ass".

Kwaishinsha expanded its business over the next decade until it merged with the Jitsuyo Jidosha Seizo Company, an Osaka-based car manufacturer, in 1926 and became the DAT Jidosha Seizo Company.

In 1931, a couple of big things happened. First, DAT Jidosha Seizo became a subsidiary of Tobata Casting - a company that was under the umbrella of the Nihon Sangyo conglomerate of companies that had been founded by Yoshisuke Aikawa in 1928. On the Tokyo Stock Exchange the Nihon Sangyo conglomerate (or "zaibatsu") was known by the abbreviation Nissan (after NIhon SANgyo) - and that's where the name Nissan started being associated with cars. 

This was also the year that DAT Jidosha Seizo developed a new car called the DATson - with an "o" - because they wanted it to be seen as the offspring or "son" of DAT. But new owners Nihon Sangyo put the kibosh on the Datson name because "son" is fine in English but in Japanese it means "loss". Since naming your car "dat loser" seemed like a bad idea they decided to call it the DATsun - with a "u" - instead because it's always sunny in Yokohama, and on the Japanese flag too.

Tobata Casting's automotive section was initially established in 1933 on a huge section of reclaimed land in the Shinkoyasu area of Yokohama - the same land that the #1 plant and the Guest Hall still stand on today.

By 1934 Nihon Sangyo said "all your stock are belong to us" to the combined automobile manufacturing assets of Tobata Casting and DAT Jidosha Seizo and renamed the whole shebang as Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. And that as they say, was that, as far as how Nissan was born.

Yokohama Plant #1 has obviously seen a lot of history over the years and to emphasize that there's this diorama in one corner of the hall near the timeline mural. It shows a scene from 1969 when the new Fairlady Z (our 240Z) was shown off in front of the building together with other great Nissans of the time like the Hakosuka GT-R and the 510.

In front of the diorama are a bunch of buttons. Most are there to let you turn on the headlights of the model cars while one lets you move the model train forward. Sadly the train makes no choo-choo noises while I had to make my own...softly, so that the other tourists wouldn't stare at the crazy man.

More deets on Nissan's fortunes over the years are spelled out on the various displays scattered through the middle and sides of the hall. As you can see, several of them had a big collection of model cars included to showcase the company's large catalog of products.

Over by the windows were four display cases chock full of more model cars. This first one focused on the Skyline and GT-R legacy from the very first Prince models to the latest V37 Skyline and R35 GT-R.

Interestingly some of the displays also included non-Nissan vehicles to show off their rivals of the time period.

The next case focused on Nissan's various sporty cars apart from the Skyline and GT-R. Again some rivals were thrown in like the ever popular Hachiroku.

Next you had a mix of Nissan's non-performance-oriented vehicles including the Gloria and Bluebird sedans, and the quirky S-Cargo kei van - which obviously Nissan wasn't able to find a model of that was the same scale as the others. If the real S-Cargo were that big it'd be romping around on Monster Jam.

Last but not least was a display of Nissan's various legendary race cars. There were plenty of Skylines and GT-Rs in this case too of course.

If you had any doubts about the GT-R being Nissan's most important model then you just had to look to the opposite side of the room because smack dab in the middle was yet another display case focused solely on Godzilla himself.

The next case was a bit more whimsical with memorabilia from the early years of the company. If that red and yellow van in the middle picture looks familiar to you then I'll refer you back to my visit to the Zama heritage collection. That very same van is the one that's in the collection as an example of the earliest actual Nissan badged vehicle.

If you needed reminding that Nissan has expanded a lot from those early days there was a globe in one corner that was marked with locations of their plants all over the globe - well except for Japan, because then the stickers would just cover the whole country up. Number 9 is the assembly plant in Laguna, part of my old home of the Philippines.

Tennessee and Mexico in the house over here.

Wait, what, there's a Nissan plant in East Africa?

Woah, Kenya! I assume they've lion-proofed that factory. 

Out of curiosity I snuck a peep at Antarctica to see if Nissan had a surprise for me there but alas, no sticker. Maybe that's where Carlos Ghosn has his supervillain hideout?

Walking around all those displays is tiring so for a spot of much-needed rest you can plop your keister down and watch a video in this corner of the gallery.

While resting you can admire this Model D10 truck motor which apparently is based off a  tiny 495cc four-cylinder design created by DAT Jidosha Seizo all the way back in 1929. Over the years the capacity was increased to make the Type 7 motor on display beside the Datsun 14 roadster it powered downstairs, and then this 860cc D10 motor after World War II.

I could have stayed for much longer at the Guest Hall since there were so many details in the various displays to go through but I'd already been there for a couple of hours and still had to go to Nismo HQ. Since we've also covered a lot of stuff already in this post I'll save all the cool things I saw at Nismo and during my remaining sightseeing before I caught my flight out of Japan for the next article. I hope you'll return for that next week!