I woke up very early once again, 5 AM this time, no sign of a hangover, and took a
look around. It took a few minutes to remember that I had been at the cabin, at the
barbecue. My hosts from the previous evening apparently didn't fare so well. It
looked like the end of a really bad John Wayne World War II movie, because there were
Japanese bodies scattered everywhere, as if they were corpses. OK, it wasn't quite
that bad, but it was very close to "sleep where ever you pass out and fall".
I decided to go outside and take a walk. It was an area that looked like a national
or state forest or park, and the scenery is really pretty, I thought I would take
a look and see what was going on in the neighborhood.
I got to the bottom of the hill, and the Isuzu SUV owners club had rented a few camp
sights and it looked like they had almost as much fun the previous evening as we
had at the cabin.
In the parking lot, there were several new Isuzu cars that had arrived during the night,
their owners had decided to arrive very early and sleep in their cars.
I took about a half hour walk down the little two lane road leading to the park, got
back to the cabin, and all of my Japanese hosts were up, awake, and ready to go
down to work the car show. a pretty miraculous recovery, 45 minutes earlier I would
have bet they would all be out of action for the day.
I had planned some gifts for the people at whatever welcome party I knew would be
planned, and quickly handed out "Isuzuperformance Racing Team" baseball caps to all
of the people who attended the barbecue. These would become the hot ticket at the
car show as the day went on, because everyone wanted one.
Then it was checkout time at the cabin, everyone packed up and headed down to the show.
The Gemini Owners Meeting
There was light rain as I headed down the from the cabin to the parking lot. It seems
like rain at the Gemini Owners Meeting is a tradition or a prerequisite, but it's June
in Japan, there's a 99.99% chance of rain every day of the month.
The bad news was that the Taiko Drummers cancelled out and the Okazaki City officials
who usually give a little speech at the opening ceremony also cancelled.
The good news was that Isuzu cars are reasonably waterproof, and Japanese Isuzu
enthusiasts, considered somewhat crazy just for being Isuzu enthusiasts, for the most part
don't have enough sense to come in out of the rain. So attendance was high despite the
threat of foul weather.
I'm not sure which group was the first to arrive, but when I got back down the hill and over
to the administrative tent, there was a line of Vehicrosses.
The Front Row members had parked their cars on the grass behind the administrative tent.
Registration was up and running at the administrative tent.
I took a closer look at some of the Vehicrosses, and some were styled pretty wildly.
There were even Commercial Trucks and Fargo Vans arriving.
Gate check in and information was supplemented by Mr. Yoshiyuki's son.
And there was a little time for some horsing around among the group directing traffic.
I believe this is Mr. Yamagishi showing proper technique for carrying a doughnut with
the teeth, to Mr Oyama.
Back over next to the administrative tent, under the blue tent, was a group of motorized
Vehicross SUVs on a little children's toy track. They just ran on and on, all day long.
This is a Piazza JT221 (FWD Coupe similar to the Impulse JI for 1992 and 1993, with the
1.8 liter engine). This car is decked out with neon, strobe lights, LEDs, and all manner
of flashing and glowing accessories. It won the Best Piazza JT221 award.
The line along the back edge of the parking lot grew and grew.
And more and more Isuzu arrived, rumbling across the parking lot and lining up.
Customized Piazzas and Geminis by the dozens.
The back end of the parking lot began filling in nicely with cars.
The front end of the parking lot began filling in with SUVs and trucks.
And busses. Ride tickets were offered to ride on the white bus.
The middle of the parking lot quickly filled with all years of Geminis and Piazzas,
custom and original condition.
An odd sight to see, "Art Trucks". These are commercial delivery trucks that have been
decorated in a rather flamboyant style by their owners who are fiercely proud of their
artistic creations. The styling is sort of "chrome meets Tron video game". And anything
that is flat has a light mounted to it. For the ratio of chrome and auxiliary lights per
square foot, these far outdo the Freightliners, Peterbuilts, and Kenworths on American
OK, if the full sized Art Trucks are not curious enough, take the same styling and put
it on a Kei class van or truck, and you get "Mini Art Trucks".
The rain got a little more persistent as the lot became full, and the umbrellas came
Darth Vader's bathroom. The instrumentation of the Piazza and Impulse JR was originally
referred to as "Darth Vader's bathroom" in the American automotive press, because of
it's obvious fighter jet like layout as well as new twists on the placement of
environmental and lighting controls on the pods so that everything but the radio is
at the driver's fingertips, and also the unique turn signal switch that is mounted on
the pod instead of the steering column. Now, take the stock car, and add gauges,
video screens, GPS navigation, electronic boost controllers, and a host of other
These gentlemen from the Bellett Owners Club were convinced that I was Spencer, the American
117 Coupe owner from Seattle. It took quite a bit of explaining to tell them that I wasn't.
Hungry? Stop by the food vendor tents for beer, burnt rice on a stick, or a bit of
In 2002, this same Gemini owner brought this same showroom display sign, and the little
hand written note said "Not for sale, don't even ask". This time, the little hand
written note said "For sale". I asked how much, and the gentleman would not state a
price, he would say only that it wouldn't cost too much. Actually, he seemed more than
interested in selling it to me whatever I offered, but I had to explain to him that it
wouldn't fit into the overhead compartment on the airplane, so I couldn't take it.
Bus ride. OK, my memories of riding the bus when I was small are not happy ones.
The bus was more or less an unregulated battleground for teasing and bullies.
But the Gemini Owners Meeting always has bus rides, and from all the smiling faces,
Japanese children aren't the little terrors that American children are when they
are without direct adult supervision.
After the bus ride, a representative of Isuzu Motors Company gave a lecture about the
design and history behind the Piazza JT221 (Impulse JI). I would love to have a
transcript of the speech, almost nothing is known of the story behind this car outside
Japan. One of the central themes was the tie in with the advertising campaign "European
Spirit by Isuzu". Isuzu adapted the Gemini Coupe chassis, using the capsule design theme
of the Gemini Sedan, and incorporated the European styling cues of the original
Piazza JR, to create a more European look and feel for the sports coupe they would
market as uniquely their own. There was even mention of the Impulse RS AWD, unique to
the US market, because it had the turbocharged engine and all wheel drive drivetrain of
the Gemini JT191S. Meanwhile all of the Piazza JT221 cars came with the 1.8 liter
non-turbo engine, and front wheel drive. This was the only car in Japan that the 1.8
liter 4XF1 engine was used in, and it is not generally considered to have much performance
potential compared to the 4XE1 DOHC 1.6 liter engine.
The Awards Ceremony. Awards were given for each generation of each model of car, and each
recipient was given the opportunity to give a little speech. I assume it was something like
"I would like to thank my family, for putting up with my insane love of these cars, my
spouse, for letting me spend so much money on my car, and everyone else, for not having
me institutionalized because I love Isuzu cars."
Jan Ken : Rock-Paper-Scissors.
The popularity of this in Japan can not be understated. Rock-Paper-Scissors is played at the
end of each Gemini Owners Meeting for prizes. The coordinator (in this case Mr. Yoshiyuki)
holds up the item to be given away, and then leads the group in each successive round of
the game. Each round sounds something like "Si sho mago, jan-ken pike". The last word
corresponds to the hand gesture the leader chooses, and everyone who chose a different
gesture drops out. The game is played over and over until the crowd is whittled down to
one or a few people who are awarded the price.
The ever popular Isuzuperformance Racing Team hats were a hot commodity in the Jan Ken
competition, and this young Isuzu enthusiast proudly claims her prize.
More Jan Ken.
I shot some video between all the still images. Put it together in a little music video. It is
very close to chronological order and matches with the sequence of the still images above.
Following the closing ceremony, the Front Row members quickly broke down the tents,
tables, and chairs, and had everything quickly loaded, almost as if the entire experience
were a dream that didn't really happen. Isuzu enthusiasts of all types packed up and began
Ride to Yokohama
I left the show with my friend, Mr. Eiichi Nakaoka. I would ride home with him to
Yokohama and spend a few days visiting, sight seeing, and shopping for car parts.
I had met Mr. Nakaoka on my trip in 2002 and had ridden to Yokohama with him after
that show also. Mr. Nakaoka drives a cab in Yokohama, and their work hours are
something like 18 hours on and 18 hours off. It works great for someone with
a serious automotive hobby like racing. But I don't like the idea of someone
staying awake for a day and a half and driving passengers around on busy city
streets while trying not to fall asleep.
Anyway, we were off to Yokohama, and Mr. Nakaoka did his Initial D Touge impression,
blasting over the windy little mountain roads between the Ravine Park and the
highway. I would say it was a windy little two lane road, but a lot of it was only
one lane, with two way traffic. There are wide spots for traffic to pass both ways,
but you don't want to find an oncoming car while blasting over a one lane section
at 50-60 MPH.
A little video set to music with some footage of the ride from Kuragari to Yokohama, and
a little footage of riding around in Yokohama also.
Once on the highway, we were lucky enough to encounter some other Isuzu enthusiasts
traveling the same direction. Some beautiful 117 Coupes.
We stopped for gas. Interesting because a tank of gas (11-12 gallons) cost about
$28.00, while we in the US were paying $3.00+ per gallon at the same time.
We had to stop at a rest area, Japanese law, you can't pass a rest area in Japan
without stopping... This is the 2006 Toyota dB, we know it as the Scion XB in the
US, but this is the newer, rounder version that will replace the XB in 2008(?).
Rounder maybe, but it looks like someone crossed a Mazda 3 with a steam locomotive
This was also the point that I realized something, if a car is parked in Japan, there
might be someone sleeping in it, even at 5 PM in the afternoon. And they tend to
look a little annoyed at the foreigner with the camera taking picture of their car.
Remember Darth Vader's bathroom? The custom blue Piazza JR was at the rest area.
We arrived in Yokohama after dark, and made a quick side trip to the famous Daikoku
Futo Service Area, the southern end on the Wangun Circuit. This is the highway racing
loop consisting of the tool road that rings Tokyo and Yokohama. Japanese performance
enthusiasts, without any open roadway to race on, determined that they could pay the
toll of $8.00, and drive around the beltway all night long, racing.
Mr. Nakaoka said that the circuit takes about an hour at speed (half hour to Tokyo,
half hour back).
Click here to go
back to the Visiting Japan for the 2006 Gemini Owners Meeting Index Page.