Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Late for the Train
I was up and awake at 7AM, but Mr. Nakaoka was still recovering from his cab
driving shift. I got caught up on writing, and woke up Mr. Nakaoka around 9 AM.
As soon as he realized what time it was, he got into a hurry to get ready, we were
late to meet my former language tutor in Tokyo.
Black Cat and the Train Station
Our first stop on the way to the train station was at Kuro Neko, to drop off
my suitcases, so that they would be forwarded to Tokyo and the hotel I would be staying
Then we rushed to the train station.
We took a commuter train, not a shinkansen, but the ride did not take very long to get
to the Shimbashi Station.
Arrival in Tokyo
We arrived at the Shimbashi Station and were greeted there by my former language teacher,
Ms. Okabe. I had not seen her since she returned to Japan four years ago. She was a
tutor at St. Louis Community College, where I had taken Japanese classes in 2001 and 2002.
She helped me with a lot of communication with Mr. Tsuzuki and the Japanese Isuzu owners
club, and also helped me learn a lot of grammar and vocabulary beyond the narrow focus
of the "Japanese for Busy People" text book.
Ms. Okabe and Mr. Nakaoka went over some plans for the day. I had exchanged many emails
with Ms. Okabe about touristy places to go that were not Disney World like (fake and
shallow). I had asked to see some of the everyday things that normal people do, but
there were a few amusement type things that didn't seem too bad, as long as they had to
do with automobiles and technology.
I think the bad thing was that once I had met my friend from many years ago, I reverted
back to English (however bad my spoken Japanese is, some is better than none at all), and
Ms. Okabe had many questions about her friends who were back in St. Louis. I think
Mr. Nakaoka felt a little isolated and left out.
Our first destination was Odaiba. This is an area of reclaimed land in Tokyo Harbor.
Fancy language for filling in part of the harbor with dirt and probably garbage, building
an island, and then building entertainment and recreation businesses, and museums on the
We were headed to Toyota Mega Web,
a Toyota automobile themed amusement park. OK, it's
really a big promotional venue for convincing people to buy Toyota cars, and probably an
excuse for Toyota management to build a lot of fun amusement stuff, but no one is
Mega Web is part of a big shopping center called Palette Town, which has a regular outdoor
amusement park next to it. Actually, it looks more like Mega Web has
enveloped the shopping center. The main hall is in the middle of the shopping center, and
there are satellite pieces scattered around the shopping center. It is sort of between
the scale of a miniature golf course and a Six Flags amusement park. This is actually more
common in Japan, and there are a lot of these mini-parks with every possible theme.
The middle of the main
hall is much like a very large, oversized dealership show room, with the current Toyota
offerings (for the Japanese market) all displayed. Around this, there are displays for
hybrid technology (Hybrid Zone), handicap accessible vehicles (Universal Design Cars
and Welcab Drive Corner), a antique car museum (History Garage), several restaurants
and gift shops, and a ton of games and rides. The Kids Hybrid Ride One ride, for
children, allowed kids to build a hybrid powered go cart and drive it around a track.
The E-Com ride allowed adults to ride in an electric powered (EV) two seat commuter car
that was totally automated, so it actually drove and the occupants were only there for
the ride. This was set up with a track that snaked around the Mega Web and acted like a
transportation system between the different areas.
But we headed straight for the One Ride, which is a test drive of a current Toyota model
on a track below the shopping mall. It cost a whopping 300 Yen, and I had my International
Driver's License, and if Toyota was foolish enough to let this Gaijin loose with one of
their cars, who was I to explain how bad an idea that was? First, I had to pick a car.
There were three of us, so the MR-S (MR2, still available in Japan) was out of the question.
I also thought it would be best to go with an automatic transmission, because the steering
wheel was going to be on the right, and 15 years of training has me unconsciously shifting
with my right hand.
They said they did not have a Supra available (not technically discontinued in Japan, they
continue to supply them for JGTC or Super GT racing). We asked which of the cars was fast,
and the clerk at the counter commented that the Prius was very fast, but I am not sure if he
was commenting on the instant torque from the electric motor, or if they try to steer their
lead footed visitors to something a little safer. I settled on something that looked like
a sporty executive sedan called a Mark-X, with the 2.5 liter V6 engine and six speed
automatic transmission. We had a little while to wait, and hadn't had
lunch yet, so we headed out into the mall to find some food.
There was an upscale indoor shopping mall as part of this big complex, which is
called Venus Fort. I am not sure how they came up with the name, it seems like they
picked two words that definitely do not go together, and I could not find anything
fort-like about the entire place. The store fronts were all done in a classic European
style and the ceiling painted and lit to look like the sky, it was like Las Vegas.
It was pretty obvious that this was the female amusement area conveniently located
next to the male oriented car amusement park. Lots of high end shops with purses,
clothes, shoes, etc.
We started looking for a good restaurant, and found one called Cafe Ozen Mariage. The
entry was very elaborate,
you walk along square stones that are surrounded by water, around a corner, take
your shoes off, and across a little bridge, into a minimalist dining room.
I found another "beef bowl" type entree, and you would think that I would have figured
out by now that they were going to throw a big scrambled egg in there to screw things up,
but I had not. Next trip, I learn to say "without the egg". But I ate around the egg,
and it wasn't bad.
Back for the Test Drive
We returned to the Mega Web, and headed downstairs to the One Drive.
The cars are actually stored in these motorized, vertical machines. When they need a
car, they raise or lower the rack to remove the car.
Before driving, we were treated to a lecture, in Japanese, about safety. There were two
main points: 1. Don't drive over 40 KPH. 2. Don't hit anything with the car. I'm sure
there was some "You break it you bought it" mixed in too. The lecturer pointed out several
tight spots on the course, which appeared to be designed more with the intention of aesthetic
beauty than for safety and accident avoidance. Ms. Okabe asked if I understood the lecture,
and I responded "Don' hit nuthin'". She said I got it.
We walked out to the car and located the one I had reserved, it looked a lot like the
older brother to an Alteza. A little less Boy Racer and a little more Yakuza.
The staff actually assisted each group into each car and give a few last minute
instructions. I got the feeling that they had a lot of people who were totally unfamiliar
with automobiles, or they were taking extra care with the gaijin...
Once behind the wheel, the terror began. No, not really.
One last group picture before the beginning of the wild ride.
I expected they would have speed governors on the cars to keep us from trying to take the
course at highway speed, but they did not. There must have been something in the lecture
to scare the fear of god into the locals, because that 40 KPH limit was not an enforcement
problem. Maybe everyone figured out that with only two laps, the ride would be pretty short
at a higher speed.
I finally did the math in my head, and came to the realization that 40 KPH was about 25 MPH.
Now we had a problem. That was way too slow, so I looked at my passengers, and said "They
won't let me go over 40 KPH, but they didn't say I had to drive a steady speed, let's
see how this thing accelerates and brakes". We eased around the corner from the staff
members, I slowed almost to a stop, stood on the gas pedal, watched the needle quickly
reach 40 KPH, at which time I stood on the brake pedal and repeated. The six speed automatic
transmission didn't want to upshift into second at first, and the engine really howled at
25 MPH. I also couldn't figure out how to get the tiptronic style transmission to drop
into neutral so I could do neutral drops, so we had to take off from a slightly rolling
stop. Even so, the Mark-X would almost chirp the tires from a rolling stop.
We came to the slalom, which wasn't terribly tight and wouldn't be too exciting at 25 MPH,
so I drove it way wide and cut back and forth as if the cones were offset an extra five
feet or so, and my passengers cheered.
We came to the end of our first lap, and the staff didn't come running out to wave me off
the course, so we made another lap of acceleration and brake tests and wide driving the
slalom, and they didn't throw us out, so either they expected as much from a gaijin, or we
hadn't managed to push the limits of acceptable driving for the Mega Web.
I don't look too bad in this thing.
Notice the walkie talkie clamped to the driver's door. I am not sure if this was to
call for help or for the staff to tell the drivers not to drive so recklessly.
Next, we headed to the end of the mall and to the History Garage. It is
an antique car museum specifically a Japanese antique car museum. American antique car
museums typically exclude Japanese cars all together, might have a few European cars,
but typically concentrate on Model A and Model T Fords, 50's cars with tail fins, and
60's muscle cars. Not much for the fan of fuel injected small cars like myself. And
this being Toyota, you just knew there were going to be a bunch of 2000GTs.
Things started out a little slow, with a VW Bus and a BMW Iseta, but the interior was
done up in sort of a faux antique.
But we round the corner and step into heaven. A Mazda Cosmo, Toyota 800, Nissan Fairlady
Z, Toyota 2000GT, Ferrari 248GTS, Porsche 356, Lotus original Elan, and a Corvette
All posed across a glass wall, with a glass wall at each end, it looked like an
acre of classic cars with all those reflections.
And I look behind me, and there is a Toyota Levin drift car.
We got about this far and Mr. Nakaoka had to leave us to return to Yokohama and another
Ms. Okabe and I rounded the next corner and I found myself in the biggest Japanese car
memorabilia store that I had ever seen, the Grease Shop. I spent about a half hour combing
through models and books and even had the store clerk helping me to find and buy everything
they had with any reference to Isuzu in it. My model collection and library got a big boost
care of the Mega Web.
We went down stairs and found the Team Toyota Pit. This is the motorsports themed section,
with historically significant Toyota race cars.
The Pit overlooks the south end of the One Drive course, the carousel turn around the
fountain. Very pretty, but I'll bet those tall curbs eat fenders and wheels.
That Toyota Allex looks like it might be a sporty little compact, maybe that would be
a good choice for a test drive next time...
How about a Toyota Celica All Trac Rally Car?
The Pit gets its name because the maintenance garage for the entire collection is viewable
through a glass window next to the gift shop (another car gift shop, I was going into
overload). The idea of having a glass viewing area in a working garage is a little scary
to me, I can just imagine busting some knuckles, or shooting some spring loaded part across
the garage and having an audience to all the cursing and rude references to the parentage of
the person who designed the car or part I was having trouble fixing.
Back to the Main Hall
We browsed through a little of the Palette Town mall on the way back to the MegaWeb Main
passed a strange box. Ms. Okabe pointed and asked if I had ever seen a Fortune Box,
and I had not. Make a small donation and take a random fortune. Mine was strangely
number 13 (which I have always thought of as my lucky number anyway, because if it
weren't for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all). The fortune went on to say I would
be having the best luck possible, which seemed to be pretty accurate.
We made our way back to the main hall, and Ms. Okabe posed behind the wheel of a cute little
...but she commented that she much preferred the Hilander. Japanese women all seem to like
the big SUVs, it must be the power trip from driving the bigger cars.
We made our way downstairs to the Motor Sports Square, with all the F1 and JGTC/Super GT
There was no shortage of Supras.
We went into the Super GT race simulator. It had four different platforms with chairs
mounted on top of each platform. The rider is belted into a chair, and the motorized
platforms raise up about five feet into the air. The video portion starts on the screen,
showing computer generated race footage, and the platform shudders, shakes, raises, and
falls, to simulate the feeling of riding in a race car. It was pretty realistic.
After that, we found a game that simulated a peripheral vision drill developed by the
Toyota motorsports program. The player stands in front of a board covered with buttons
that light up. The object is to press the button while it is still lit. The machine
was beating everyone badly, and they had it set on easy. I decided to set it to its
most difficult setting for my turn. I'm not sure if I felt brave, or if I knew the
machine was going to beat me anyway, so why not get beaten really badly.
I couldn't pass up the Supra GT race around Fuji Speeday simulator. It was taking most
people six or eight minutes to complete two laps around the track. I finished my two laps
in half the time because I managed to run into the wall only four times. I really wonder
how many times the other people had run into the wall, but we would probably all save
a lot of fenders if we all stayed far away from motor vehicles.
The little Copen attracted quite a little crowd.
And the new Toyota DB, this one rebadged as a Daihatsu (sister company of Toyota).
We left the Megaweb and Ms. Okabe asked if I felt like I could walk all the way over to
Museum. I pointed at her shoes and said I was fine, I was more concerned about her.
And we were off. I guess she expected me to be a lazy suburbanite, driving everywhere, but
I do a lot of walking.
We came across this rather strange looking bird, which Ms. Okabe seemed quite afraid of.
It is a Japanese crow. The odd shape of the beak and head and strange sound of its caw
probably explains some of the odd animals in Japanese animated cartoons. These things
apparently attack children and most people give them a wide birth. And it definitely was
not scared of people.
Everything was under construction, and it all looked very cutting edge in design.
Miraikan; National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation
We arrived at the Mirikan Museum.
It is a science museum that focuses on modern science,
recent advancements, and the expected breakthroughs in various fields. It has five floors,
three of which are exhibits and displays, and they all overlook a large atrium, so it sort
of steps back with each successive floor. We arrived near closing time, so we were a little
We headed for robotics and artificial intelligence area. Ms. Okabe seemed to really
like the robotic seal. Pet it correctly and it responds to indicate it is happy, but if
you rub it the wrong way, it protests. I could not figure out the sounds for happy and
unhappy, and it appeared to have been tuned for the Japanese ear, and not the American ear,
because it always sounded pretty angry too me.
A display showing how the internet works, I think.
No robot display would be complete without battling robots.
We made our way to the superconductivity area, and watched the lecture about magnetic
Ms. Okabe seemed to enjoy the little levitating train.
Asimo did a little dance.
The obligatory rocket engine.
And the required submarine.
And then it was closing time, we had to leave.
The Sony Experience
We walked to another shopping mall and this mall had a Sony amusement park. The bad
part was they had a very strict rule about not taking any pictures, lest any secret Sony
stuff be revealed.
There were a lot of neat optical illusion displays, and we went to the planetarium show,
though we both fell asleep watching. Oddly enough, the amusement area exited into a
Sony Style electronics store, which we browsed through on our way out. I looked at all
the new cameras and goodies that would make everything I own obsolete once they decide to
introduce them in the US.
We passed a really neat sports wear store on the way out of the mall, called Monte Bell.
It looked like they had some very nice travel and adventure clothing, a niche market I
had become very familiar with, because Japan in June is either wet and chilly or wet and
sauna like. Moisture wicking clothing is a necessity, and I had packed accordingly.
From there, we headed toward the area where we were to have dinner.
The sequence went something like "Take the tram from Odaiba to Kohai Hinkoen Station, to
Shimbashi, then to Shiro hane Takagawa by Subway". OK, I was pretty lost too.
Yaki Niku for Dinner and Shochu Night Caps
Dinner was to be special. Ms. Okabe knew I am a devout carnivore and that I love
steak, so I was going to experience Yaki Niku.
The restaurant was to be a "scenic ten minute walk", during which Ms. Okabe explained that
she wasn't exactly sure where the restaurant was, the last time she had been there was after
a festive evening, and she wasn't sure if she remembered the way. I'm not sure if I was
more frightened of the idea of being lost, or the idea of not having steak.
We arrived at the Jambo Restaurant, and
it seems to be well known.
The first step is to order your cut of beef. Actually, they also serve pork, vegetables,
The raw meat is delivered to the table.
Each table at the restaurant has a grille recessed into its center.
Each person picks up the slice of meat (or vegetable for grilling) and places it on the
grille and cooks it to their liking.
Once the piece is cooked to suit, it is first dipped in the little bowl of soy sauce and
marinade, then eaten.
Ms. Okabe hadn't said, but Yaki Niku is her favorite too.
We had five or more plates of meat and at least two rounds of salads, and I was finally
sufficiently stuffed and happily filled.
We stopped by the hotel I would be staying at, the Ark Tower Hotel Koenji, made sure my
suitcases had arrived from Yokohama. The Ark Tower is directly across the street from the
Koenji Station exit. It is clean and efficient, typical small size room, and
the normal plastic unitized bathroom.
We dropped off the heavy bags of souvenirs and car books and toys, and headed out for a
night cap. We ended up at a little Shochu bar, I think they are all called Dai Shochu.
This one was not very busy. The bar tender was a short, sort of plump fellow wearing a
bandanna over his head, that was probably bald, and he looked like a pretty tough little
guy who spent a lot of time polishing glasses. The hostess stayed on the other side of
the room and didn't do much. We sat at a table and had several rounds of Chuhai, straight
Shochu, and Sake. We talked a lot about old times and caught up on four years.
Click here to go
back to the Visiting Japan for the 2006 Gemini Owners Meeting Index Page.