Five go to Tokyo

by Fuggles
5 years ago
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So what is it like on a trip with the GTROC to Japan?  In 2007 five intrepid adventurours went to the Launch of the GT-R at the Toyo Motor Show.  If you want to read about the launch event then read the article “Love at First: the day the GTROC met the Nissan GT-R”  but, if you want to know more about the rest of the trip and what it means to be On Tour with the GTROC, then read on.

Of the five of us going to Japan, two had been before but the other three had yet to experience the culture, sights and sounds that make Tokyo a fantastic place to visit.  On top of that only one had been on a GTROC trip like this before; four were in for a first taste of Hardcore GTROC life!

Arriving at LHR T3 we met up, not all of us having met before, checked in and made our way to the lounge for coffee and chat about the upcoming trip, changing money and relaxing before what was going to be a very long and busy 12 hour flight to the land of the rising sun.  The tourists comprised them selves of Hacker (Graeme) – who could sleep for England, even when standing on a train; John Fuggles – who was to be tour guide; Mo – the man for whom subtlety is a complete anathema; Robbie – cameramen extraordinaire (we salute you sir!) and Steve – outrageous cars and cut down T-shirts – not to mention his funky socks!

Whilst waiting the tour party were all presented with our tour shirts.  Normally the GTROC produces Polo shirts for such occasions but, with this genuinely being a one off, something better was needed.  So, we had tour shirts made up to celebrate the occasion, complete with screen printed outline on the back – the same screen as on the new T-shirts.

With all the excitement we were in danger of getting left behind.  Yes we did make it to the plane but, from the looks we got, perhaps we shouldn’t have left it so late!  Never mind.  An Airbus A340 – packed to the gunnels and only 12 hours of watching movies.  Fuggles watched The Flying Scotsman, Hacker – Rise of the Silver Surfer, Steve – Die Hard 4, Robbie – Oceans Thirteen, and Mo – Shrek!  At last the tour was on!

The flight time went very slowly for some but the enthusiasm carried us through as we decided not to sleep (well, except for Graeme and Mo). Mo complaining of his back hurting as his arse was too big for the seat!  For once we actually felt completely organised, which would be a first.  Not only did we have maps of where to go, we even had them written in Japanese and English!

As we travel across the skies there was some discussion on the trip, the culture and, most of all, what the beer was like!  The Japanese culture is an interesting one for most westerners and one which many people enjoy and others struggle with.  An early adopter of the Japanese way of life was Fuggles, as the rest of the crew tucked into Chicken Curry or Lamb Stew (both tasted the same but were different colours) Fuggles gorged himself on a bento box and green tea which, apparently, he drinks at home anyway.

Five go to Tokyo

Arriving at NRT we disembarked and met the men dressed as ‘Jonny Cab’ at Customs and headed for the train. The train journey was another hour and some three train changes which proved challenging times for some of us as we were carrying “merchandise” and suitcases that were heavy. We encountered what was to become the bane of our time in Tokyo – STAIRS!!  To explain: on an average day in Tokyo we reckon on going up about 350 stairs as we move from station to station making our way around Tokyo’s metro, on this day we may have had less stairs to do, but carrying 20 kilos whilst doing it, well that takes some effort.

We checked in to our hotel in Sangenjaya, a quick was and freshen up, unpacked – if you can do such a thing in these very bijou hotel rooms they have in Tokyo, and then back down to receptions for a meet up and then….. more stairs!

Some of us needed lunch, some sleep.  So Robbie, Graeme, Fuggles and Steve headed out to a local Japanese café where we tucked into some local food.  It was more a case of point at the dishes and hope, than anything too pre-planned!  Returning to the hotel we awoke our sleeping beauty and headed out.

All still very awake and full of adrenalin, we headed of to Akihabara for some electronic shopping.  Several things hit us – the sheer level of organised chaos!  By this we mean the native people line up in an orderly fashion to get on the tube.  No one makes eye contact but never collides with each other. Everything is so clean, but there are hardly any bins, eating and drinking in public except in restaurants just isn’t done.  No one crosses the road until the light DOES turn green.  All a world away from the Euro-model of chaos just for the hell of it!

We started off in the ‘lanes’ around Akihabara looking at the component side of it before heading for the shop Akiba and all seven floors of everything electrical that you would ever need – and a certain amount of stuff you would never need!  With so much to do and so little time before dinner we split up to find our purchases (with some very indecisive shoppers amongst us), before assembling again outside.  Fuggles, who had seen it all before decided to wait outside, watch the world go by and see how many Skylines he could spy, or at least that was the reason he gave. Defiantly one white R32 spotted by Graeme..

Getting our second wind we left Akihabara to go to Roppongi to have a dinner at Gonpachi, where we meet Tamura-san, Nishiizumi-san (GM Design Autech), Uchida-san (Nissan Product Planning) and members of GTROC in Japan – Dino (who organised the dinner), his brother, Miguel and Aki, plus Simon Croft (Nissan Head of Marketing Europe for the GT-R)  and his wife, Lilly (she does likes her cars and owned a Lotus), and other Skyline enthusiast including Paul (Hyrev) and a couple of Canadian friends of Dino. A multicultural bunch but all with one interest at heart.

Simon had with him a copy of the day’s International Herald Tribune which had a full half page article on the new car, complete with a quote from Fuggles – blimey first day in the country and already he’s in the papers; that man gets everywhere!

The meal and the restaurant were fairly traditional including removing footwear and sitting on cushions at floor level.  There was beer, food, wine, food, beer, food, wine, food, get the picture?  Everything about that evening was spot on!  Including the 1am finish!  The food, the people, the restaurant, and of course the beer was a perfect way to end a day that had started some 31 hours before hand.

Over the meal the conversation was very much about the new car.  For us it was great that we were able to introduce Tamura-san and Simon to each other.  They knew of each other but had never met.

Occasionally, much against Japanese etiquette (oops) we changed places to allow different people to join the conversation.  Nishiizumi-san was pleased to hear so many Stageas were now in the UK and even more pleased when we explained there was even an Owners Club.  Fortunately Aki was on hand to translate as Nishiizumi-san spoke hardly any English and Fuggles grasp of the Japanese tongue soon ran out!

By now of course the Metro was closed and we still had a 20 minute walk to Simon Croft’s hotel to collect some stuff for the morning.  We were well and truly into our ‘second wind’ and were all really excited about the prospects for the morning as we strolled through Tokyo.

Arriving back at the hotel for 3am the 33 hours was very much beginning to take its toll (beat that Jack Bauer).  We then had trouble getting Taxis, we would walk up to the door of the car and the driver would just drive off 10 yards up the road, this happened twice until we realised that they has seen Mo and this had scared them somewhat, so once we had hidden Mo out of site we all clambered in and we were off back to the hotel. (The Taxis have automatic doors)  But, despite the fact we needed sleep we knew an early start was on the cards.  “7am in the foyer” Fuggles said, as we wound our way back to our rooms and, finally, bed!

Tokyo Motor Show 2007

Bleary eyed we stood in the foyer.  Cola and water seemed to be the preferred choice for breakfast, with a healthy splash of adrenalin and enthusiasm.  For anyone who has not visited Japan before the idea that you can buy a can of hot coffee from a vending machine is a new one.  The can is cold, until you buy I that is.  The fall from the shelf to the bottom of the machine agitates a device inside the can that immediately heats it up – how cool is that?

The one advantage we did have today was that the Tokyo Motor Show (TMS) was for VIPs only in the morning and, thanks to some good negotiations and some great support from Nissan we had VIP passes.

So the day begins, off to Sangenjaya station (stairs) for a metro one stop to Shibuya, where we changed onto the JR line for Tokyo station (stairs).  At Tokyo we changed again to get on a different JR line (stairs) to go to Makahari Messe and the TMS.  Oh, and to get from the final station (which had stairs) to the Messe we had to use high walkways (stairs) before finally descending in front of the conference hall so we could make our grand entrance and to take the show by storm we split up to covered all entrances.  Did we mention the stairs leading up to the entrance?

All resplendent in our GTROC/Nissan GT-R shirts we cut a dash amongst the crowd – or maybe that was just our natural good looks and charm?  Whatever the reason, we certainly got a few admiring glances from the girls on the stands and even got mobbed by a group of photographers on one occasion, who wanted pictures of the back and the fronts of the shirts.

With a bit of help from Dino we soon got our bearings and made a bee-line for the only place to be at the entire show.  The Nissan stand was awash with photographers and journalists as we went to see, for the first time, the car that has had more column inches written about it prior to launch than any other car in history.  So was it going to be more than we expected or was it to be just as we expected – nothing more or less?

What happened next is captured in “Love at First: the day the GTROC met the Nissan GT-R”  

It wasn’t all GT-R

At the TMS our Nissan GT-R work was not done.  We had promised Banzai and Total Nissan, Total Evo and Total Subaru some coverage of other cars, photos and a few words and thoughts on what we’d seen.  Armed as we were with cameras and bags of goodies we set off in search of our prey.  Okay so we got a bit sidetracked with some of the promotional assistants, but we did take a few car pictures as well – honest!

The Tokyo Motor Show is exactly as you’d expect.  All very professional and with every major manufacturer trying to present their product in an informative and quality way.  With the new Evo and new Impreza there you would have thought they would have been busy on those stands, sadly not.  The sheer presence of the new GT-R so overshadowed everything else that Subaru had not even bothered to do a big launch and the Evo X was tucked away at the back of the Mitsubishi stand.

The whole GT-R launch was brought into perspective when at midday the public gates opened.  This was like Harrods on sale day (only with less tat!).  The crowds ran into the arena and headed straight for the Nissan stand.  You could see other manufacturers and promoters just standing their in dismay, but perhaps not disbelief, as the people just rushed by them without any consideration.

So, with the upstairs empty we headed for Sony and all lined up in our brand new GT-Rs for the inaugural GTROC ‘R35 Race of Champions’.  With the five tourists, Aki and Miguel we cut a dash and was soon racing round Fuji.  Maybe we should tell Robbie Horne we got a sticker?  Miguel won by the way.

As we left Makahari Messe there was an air of disappointment.  Yes all our expectations had been met – and more, yes we had been blown away by the sheer presence of the car, yes it was great to be there when no-one else was looking at the car.  But there seemed to be a feeling that the rest of the trip was never going to match the high of being there at the start!

With Aki now in toe we headed for the station (stairs) via the walkways (stairs) and got back on the train Tokyo Station (stairs).  The plan was to head back to the hotel, get something to eat prior to meeting Dave (Bean), Gio (hipogtr) and Dino (DCD) at Shinagawa Station.  A quick bite to eat at the station and we were ready for the off.

Daikoku P.A.

Nissan Europe had arranged for a load of journalists and photographers to go to Daikoku P.A.  A sort of South Mimms if you will, but surrounded by the highest gyratory system you have ever seen!  Not only is this a strange place for a meet but it also has a police station there so it was only ever a matter of time before the local constabulary announces on the P.A. that it’s time for everyone to leave.

Daikoku P.A. is cruise central on a little island just of the bay of Yokohama, so takes about 45 minutes to get to.  On the way there in Dave’s Space-age people carrier, Aki’s R33, Dino’s R34 and Gio’s carbon-fibre resplendent R34 the conversation was still very much about the new car.

There were half a dozen or so GT-Rs there when two mini-buses full of journos and Nissan people, including Simon Croft arrived.  We spent the evening making new friends and chatting.  National Geographic TV were also there as well as Edmunds.  Once National Geographic heard that the GTROC had come all this way it was a chance not to be missed, so Fuggles was roped in to do an interview – which by now is probably on the cutting room floor – about the new car, the ‘old cars’ and, of course, the GTR Owners Club.  The rest of the crew did try and point out Fuggles has a face for radio but, one conversation with Mo and they realised they had their man!

International Herald Tribune and National Geographic.  Not bad for two days!

National Geographic – Inside Supercar – Nissan GT-R (Part 1 of 5)

National Geographic: Inside Supercar – Nissan GT-R (Part 2 of 5)

National Geographic: Inside Supercar – Nissan GT-R (Part 3 of 5)

National Geographic: Inside Supercar – Nissan GT-R (Part 4 of 5)

National Geographic: Inside Supercar – Nissan GT-R (Final Part)

Once the Police started their “it’s time to leave” announcements Edmunds decided they knew a place to go for more footage.  So, with National Geographic and a heard of Paparazzi in tow we headed out on the main road to the docks.

Parked up in some very dark and moody side road with only bland grey warehouses and trucks for company the four GT-Rs (now including Hyrev’s) started their fly bys as close as they dare.  We’re not sure how many takes were needed but half a tank later we suspect the cameraman had all he needed.  All this was done in the rain, just to add to the mood and, to be fair, to make sure that every spectator got a fair water soaking.

After that it was back to Shinagawa in Dave’s Space ship where he dropped us off for the final taxi home.  It was about this time we began to realise Graeme’s penchant for all things sci-fi or basically anything with a Dalek, Ewok or space ship; and he seemed such a nice chap too!  So, now with Hacker renamed to Rimmer we decided to have a last drink (or two) at the bar at the end of the road.  Doing better than yesterday, we had a 2am finish.

Top Secret Crystal mining

Saturday was the usual start – 7:30 am in the foyer.  First stop would be Top Secret, then Crystal followed by lunch and a trip to the Nismo Omori Factory.  Steve had previously been on the phone to his family explaining we were going to Crystal and later to Mines etc.  They weren’t aware there were crystal mines in Japan!

The day started just like every other day – coffee, coke, water; train (stairs), another train (more stairs), another train (more stairs), then cab before arriving at Top Secret.

Once at Top Secret we found Shibuki-san sent his apologies as he had to be at the Motor Show that day but we were entertained by the other guys in the office and soon set about taking pictures and buying stuff.  Just as negotiations were reaching a critical point and the scraps of paper, pictures and pointing were beginning to fail us, enter Aki!

After a bit more time in the showroom and a few photos outside in the pouring rain we went to meet Nagata-san (Smokey to you and me).  Oh – about the weather – a Monsoon as passing by Tokyo – Joy!

Smokey remembered the GTROC from the 2005 trip and also remembered Fuggles from a previous meeting when the D1 Corporation came to Silverstone.  Aki was on hand to translate as we took pictures of the cars and asked about Nagata-san’s thoughts on the new car and what he planned to do to it.  He was very happy to talk about the car and admitted he had some ideas but wouldn’t really know until he got his hands on one on 6 December.  However, he did say he would have a lot done to it before it was shown at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January.

After a chat with Nagata-san we headed off for Crystal.  Aki took it in turns to ferry the visitors, where we continued our policy of ‘shop till you drop’.  Or at least Mo did while the rest of us eyed up parts for order or just bought within our means.  When we say means, we actually mean carrying capability.  It occurred to everyone that Mo either considered himself an octopus or he was planning or balancing a lot of stuff on his head, or worse…. Get us to carry it for him!

Crystal is just like any other motor factor really.  It is quite large – on two floors and with a wide variety of stuff.  Whilst it would be no different to many stores around the world, the advantage of it here is that it has a lot of Nissan parts not seen outside Japan.  For example, where else can you pop in and pick up a strut brace for an R33, off the shelf?

Lunch was in the local eatery over the road.  Whilst Aki ferried some over, Steve, Graeme and Fuggles decided to play chicken on the four lane carriageway, rather than wait in the pouring rain.  So, we entered the Nihon-cuisine version of a KFC where the group would soon split.  Aki’s car, with all Mo’s stuff would ferry Robbie and Graeme to a Nissan dealer after shopping for medicine for Robbie who was looking quite rough.  Thanks to Aki’ s translation in the pharmacy Robbie was we and truly drugged up and climbing on the ceilings. after it was suggested that he take three different type of medicine all at the same time, boy what a cocktail one drugs where down Aki, Graeme and Robbie were back in the GT-R and heading for the Nissan dealer were Robbie ordered an assortment of car parts, and then we were on to Nismo whilst the remaining three used the Metro to get to Omori.

Nismo Omori Factory and BBQ

On previous trips Nismo Omori Factory has been one of the ‘must do’ visits of the tour.  Sadly, not any more.  The busy and quite well stocked showroom is gone, to be replaced by a marketing suite, full of rows of chairs, a large screen and plenty of posters.  What was the waiting room for customers collecting cars is now the showroom.  Barely bigger than the average sized living room and with only two staff in tow this wasn’t the place to speed the heart.  As the three of us waited for Aki, Robbie and Graeme – delayed by the torrential rain and flooded roads – we busied ourselves with photos and chats about the week so far.  Mo was still trying to buy anything he could lay his hands on whilst everyone else sat around in an altogether for more calm and dignified manner.

After fighting the typhoon Aki and the other two arrived but stayed barely 20 minutes.  Leaving Nismo Omori Factory, Mo was now weighed down like a camel.  Thankfully Graeme, Steve, Robbie and Fuggles were on hand to make sure his ticket went through the barriers at the stations, as he struggled through the turnstiles with collection of boxes.  Being true team players we made sure anything Mo dropped we told him about, rather than let him leave it behind.

By now we had given up counting trains, transfers and stairs and Mo had given up the will to live!  We eventually made it back to the hotel where, once again the team were on hand to hold the lift door open for Mo as he couldn’t see what he was doing with all the boxes he was carrying.

A quick turnaround and we were out for the evening.  Robbie wasn’t feeling too good so stayed back at base.  Wimp!

With our fair share of noodles and rice inside us we decided a change of diet was required and wanted something more European.  So we went to a Brazilian Barbecue!

Barbacoa is quite a trendy place and somewhere we had visited on previous trips.  With one man down we reserved a table for four and set about ordering Caiparinhia and Asahi – though not at the same time.  As well as having the chance to eat just about every part of a cow Barbacoa is a great place to explain the Japanese dating scene as it is one of the preferred choices of the trendy school set.

Barbacoa closes just before midnight so, after being fed to within an inch of our life and watered to the point where the roads seemed slightly wobbly we headed for the door, train and back to the hotel; not forgetting to stop at the bar at the end of the road for just one last drink!  Well, actually a few more than one…..

We started off simply enough, beer for some and sake for Fuggles.  All was going well until we got chatting to some of the locals and decided to start on cocktails.  Fuggles suggest a mix of two parts Drambui and one part Cointreau, in a small glass and set light.  The only trouble was they didn’t have any Drambui, so we settled for Rum instead.  With measures now coming in trebles, lit the evening was soon taking a dramatic turn, well the locals seemed impressed.  The bar bill was quickly racking up as we moved into our third, then fourth round of pyromania cocktail!  So much for ‘one quick drink’.

More GT-R

Maybe it was something to do with the session the night before, or maybe it was jet lag, but for sure the motley crew that assembled in the Foyer on Sunday morning definitely resembled the aftermath of excess.  So, in an effort to redress the balance we decided another fix was needed.  We headed off for the Nissan Gallery in Ginza to see the red GT-R and to meet up with some of our new friends at Nissan.

Getting to Ginza was straightforward enough – in a trains, stairs, stairs, trains, stairs, stairs kind of way!  Ginza is a very trendy part of Tokyo, with a wide road and equally wide pavement it has every major premium brand you can think of.  In the middle of all this is a showroom that could only belong in Tokyo.  It’s purpose is to showcase Nissan’s latest offspring and without the hint of a sales person – its all about showing the public what Nissan is doing.  Consider then the impact the new GT-R as having on the glitterati of Tokyo society.

As we walked up we could see though the gold fish bowl glass the heaving crowd and, hiding behind was a vibrant red R35.  Wow!  Robbie was already breaking into a sweat and fumbling with lenses.  Mo was talking even louder than usual and Hacker was alive to the opportunity well before his evening watershed!  Steve was keen to get in among the crowd first and Fuggles seemed to be caught like a rabbit in headlights – thank goodness it wasn’t a bath-tub white one!

Walking into the Gallery the Manager immediately recognised us.  Wearing our obligatory uniform for the purpose we cut a swathe through the crowd, like Moses and the crossing of the river, pah! who needs Scott!

In red the car looks amazing and was clearly designed to be at the Gallery for wow factor – and boy did it work.

We started taking pictures again in the frenzied gallery but this time with a mind to getting the details we missed the first time around.  Can you believe that after 500 pictures at the TMS of the new car we’d forgotten some things!  Fuggles set about borrowing the keys – sadly for him it was for a photo not for a quick blast around the block – oh how we all wanted that!

Having gotten over the shock n awe of the first day we started to get more organised in our thinking and picture taking.  Fuggles clambered into the back.  He said something about trying it out for size – but no-one dared ask any more!  It might be a bit of a squeeze if you’re over 5’11” but for a 2+2 it’s pretty roomy.  As for the boot, there were the golf clubs again – what is it with these things?

We started getting a bit sad with the shots now, actually photographing VINs, inside glove boxes and a lot more beside.  It might be at this time the assistants decided to call for the padded wagon, or maybe it was that Fuggles asked for 400 brochures – then again it could just be the maniacal look in Hackers eyes or Steve’s mile wide grin.  Regardless, they seemed positively amused by our antics!

After the Nissan Gallery at Ginza we then headed off to Nissan Headquarters to see the car again, only this time in all its colour and interior options.  Aki was already there having to amuse himself with a couple of visitors from the USA who were unsure whether to buy the new GT-R or an M3.  In true GTROC spirit Aki entertained their questions with the politeness required, whilst the rest of us sat around laughing at this poor deluded and misinformed individual.  Only when he started regaling tales of his current drive – an Impreza – did we decide to enter the fray and rescue Aki from a fate worse than death.

Nissan HQ is in two buildings.  The ground floor of the main building is a he showroom and 50% of it was set aside for the new GT-R in six colours, with all options on show.  Left to photograph these, open and close everything we soon got busy again.  Mo probably walked up and down the row of cars enough to wear  out a pair of trainers whilst the rest of us either took pictures or helped with ‘crowd control’ and other important matters.

The ladies at the Nissan HQ seemed more than happy for us to photographically dismantle their cars.  Perhaps someone from the Gallery had rung ahead and warned them; “don’t worry if you see a load of people turn up in red and black shirts.  They’re English”

Fully sated we headed back to GTROC HQ laden with boxes of magazines.

… and then there were three

The pace was beginning to take its toll.  Robbie was citing work as an excuse not to continue in the later afternoon whilst Graeme clearly wasn’t up to the task – maybe he just peaked to soon.

Refreshed the remaining three – Fuggles, Mo and Steve – headed off to Takeshite Street.   In practice it’s an opportunity to buy gifts for those back home that perhaps you might not see elsewhere.  In reality its an opportunity to see the madness that is the Japanese version of  “letting your hair down” – something Fuggles and Mo really have trouble with!

Strolling along the street and dropping into a few shops we soon got the measure of the place before it was time to meet up with the slackers of the party in Shibuya (of Shaboowee as Mo pronounced it).

Shibuya is one heck of a busy place!  Just watching the massed crowds waiting for the lights to change and then cross on the sight of the green light is something many of us have only ever seen at the movies.  Standing on one side of the street the crossing is about 30m wide which is filled with people up to ten deep shoulder to shoulder.  Facing us is a wall of faces peering out across the six lanes of traffic.  It looks like the hordes of Genghis Khan waiting for the sound of the horn.  To our left and right are identical crowds, all linked umbilically by black and white cross hatchings going side to side and across the diagonal.

As the lights change it’s like the gun going off at a city Marathon.  Only this time there’s no rush to get to the front and no shoulder barging.  Somehow everyone knits together and everyone crosses at an unhurried but determined pace.  Then, as quickly as it started, it stops, and the reservoir fills once again.

Crossing the road is not new to any of us.  But there is something quite unique about the scale and way this happens in Japan and something about the calm manner in which everyone pursues their daily chore that is an experience only to be found on these islands.  Something to experience.

We dine at a local Japanese café and then, fed return to the hotel.  Well, actually we return to the bar at the end of the road for ‘just one’ that in reality becomes many, before returning to the hotel.

A day of rest

All this car stuff needed a change of pace so we headed back to Harajuku and the Temple of………….  Robbie stayed back at base, citing work as the reason not to join us (Serious wimp! – that’s twice!!)

After our stroll around the parks and gardens and the opportunity to take in some culture we headed to Roppongi Hills to and the tower to see for the first time for most views of Tokyo from 52 floors up.  The tower itself is at one end of Roppongi and we soon get our bearings on leaving the Metro and stop off for a coffee first.  Robbies will join us later so for now it is only four for the tower.

Walking round the tower with its high ceilings and floor to ceiling glass is a great opportunity to see all of Tokyo and experience an altogether different pace of life in this quite marbled hall, away from the frenetic relentlessness that is Tokyo life.

Tokyo is a city of contracts and spreads out for miles.  The views are quite stunning and give you a real sense of the size of Tokyo.  On a clear day Fuji can be seen way off to the West but on this occasion it wasn’t to be.  Even so we still got a birds-eye view of the sprawling metropolis.

As we left the tower Robbie was already on his way as we had arranged to meeting him for a very late lunch.  Finding it difficult to get consensus on what to eat we decided to go to the Irish Pub, well why not?

Guinness, Caffreys and other ales were available as was fish and chips, steak and ale (without the pie) and many other British and Irish dishes.  Whatever you ordered (nobody asked for soup) it arrived in a metal basket with greaseproof newsprint.  On further inspection the newsprint was from an American paper but it hardly made much difference.

After several days of drinking the very best Japanese beer and sake there is something very comforting about a good old fashioned pint of bitter.  Little did we know at the time, however, that this was to be our downfall.  Thirsts reinvigorated by Irish and English Ales and we soon decided that tonight was going to be ‘a late one’.

Eventually we found ourselves back at the bar at the end of the road.  Even now, despite being on first name terms with the waiters, we can’t remember the name of the bar.  Actually come to think of it, now we can’t remember the names of the waiters!

Having established ourselves as good payers we were now being welcomed at the door by the manager and had our hands shaken by the head barman.  Not bad for a few days work!

On this occasion we decided not to set light to the bar or to down expensive and head-splitting cocktails, instead we opted for a diet of beer and sake.  The Asahi flowed all night long and the relentless refills kept us going until 3am at which point even the management were sad to see us leave, but leave we did.  Thankfully it was downhill to the hotel as we headed off in search of a decent night’s sleep.

MiNES a Bee-R

On Tuesday we awoke early (again!) with the plan to visit Mines and Bee*R.  So, by 7am and we were all on the train from Sangenjaya to Shibuya.  Being the rush hour we had to force our way onto the train.  Now, the Japanese way is very simple.  You will the train up with everyone packed together so tightly that you don’t need to hold on.  Once full, the next people to arrive, simply stand at the door, turn their back and step backwards onto the train.  Now we were ready to go, swaying in unison as the train pulled away.  Thankfully it was a fast train so one stop and we were able to change.

Several trains later and more of the “Match the Pictures to the Words Game” we eventually arrived at Minami Machida station and got two taxis to Mines.  As soon as we said “Mines” to the drivers they immediately knew what we meant, as did the 30 or so schoolboys waiting for a coach.

Arriving at Mines we met Nagahama-san who then introduced us to the President of Mines, Michizo Niikura-san, who’s Japanese was limited, hence Noriaka (Nagahama-san) was our  interpreter for the rest of the morning.  The showroom at Mines was as you’d expect and the welcome was very warm and friendly.  Initially we sat and discussed the new car and chatted about our expectations.  Imagine our surprise then when they produced engineering diagrams and detailed photos of the R35 and various components for the GTROC to use.  Wow what a scoop!

We spent some time explaining the interest in the UK for the current car and for the new car.  Mines seemed generally interested in finding new customers in the UK.  After that it was an intimate tour of the Mines workshop, where Aki’s car was in for a service.  Then we toured the engine build and suspension testing areas and met Nakayama-san who was only too happy to explain what he did.  In Japan Nakayama-san is a legend in engine building, having built over 1,000 RBs and it was a real pleasure to meet him.  The full interview will be on the movie when it comes out.  It was amazing to hear that Mines had no idea their reputation had moved beyond their local shores and reached the UK.

After further discussion over coffee, we were privately escorted to Niikura-san’s house where we saw the Mines Demo R34 GT-R.  All Mines cars are QM1 (which Fuggles liked!) – or bath-tub white as the rest referred to it.  The car was started, brought out of its garage and given a quick clean by Niikura-san’s wife for us to photo shoot.  The noise from this thing is immense! – no 98dB here that’s for sure!  After a while and after Mo had managed to squeeze into the front seat while Robbie took loads of pictures it was restored back to its garage.

We returned to Mines offices and chatted more with the staff before making our apologies to leave.  The staff at Mines are extremely knowledgeable and friendly and even gave us a lift to the station – or perhaps they just wanted to make sure Mo left the premises!

Now we had to get a train to Yokohama, a 10 minute walk to the Yokohama Metro, a 20 minute Metro ride, then another train to see Bee*Racing based in Ogawa.  Arriving at Ogawa station we still had a twenty minute walk to meet Iami-san and his team.  He was expecting us but I don’t think he was expecting Mo!  Fortunately it seemed Imai-san and Mo were kindred spirits.  Great for PR, but not so good for the ear drums!

As with all these trips, they are planned and we always make sure we contact our hosts before we go and that they are happy for us to visit.  This was just the case with Mines and Bee*R.  Both were expecting us and were genuinely pleased that we had travelled all that way and wanted to include them in our itinerary.

As we do more and more of these trips we try and mix up the old and new.  Seeing Top Secret again was great, but it was just as good to meet some new people and to share our mutual passion.  The GTROC is now firmly established in Japan and will continue to do these trips on an annual basis all the time there is a demand.  Fuggles is a great tour guide and happy to arrange but, as a club, we should be aware that he may not always want to go and perhaps we should find a few more tour guides to help?

Imai-san, or ‘Boss’ as he likes to be known is quite a character.  His enthusiasm and passion for what he does is only matched by his sheer enjoyment and desire to entertain.  Though he spoke little English we managed, with the help of one of his team, to communicate very well.  Seeing a supercharged, twin turbo RB26 for the first time you begin to understand this man cares nothing for the rule book and is always keen to experiment.  As well as a couple of R324s we even saw the first R334 (albeit with a broken front end!).

Not only was Imai-san keen to talk about his latest ideas he even took us around his development shop and showed us the chargers he used.  There was another kit all ready to go into a customer’s car, so he took the time to explain what was needed and answer all our questions.

Whenever we meet anyone it is traditional to take gifts.  Fuggles is tasked with presenting folders full of GTROC stuff, including magazines and stickers.  So imagine our surprise when Imai-san asked us to put a GTROC sticker on the R32 GT-R D1 car!  Let’s hope it brings the Bee*R car luck in the 2008 championship.

We managed to get lots of photos and some good video footage of the Bee*R set up before we had to leave.  Ideally we wanted to stay longer but we had a very important appointment at Nissan Headquarters for 7pm and could not afford to be late.

Imai-san had such a good time he posted on his blog that night about the ‘crazy people’ from the UK and the fact we were all ‘big children’.

Back on yet another train, eating a very late lunch and chatting like school kids about Mines and Bee*R we headed to Shibuya, on the way stopping off at Sangenjaya to drop off excess baggage (no we don’t mean Mo!).

We had to be at Nissan HQ for 7pm for a meeting with GTR-World.  They had said they wanted to interview each one of us, so we were expecting something along the lines of a few journos to ask questions.  The interviews had been set up by Shin (he of the same forum name and GTROC fame) now a Director for Coolarts.

When we arrived we found a camera crew and Shin standing by with microphone.  In turn each of us was interviewed on camera for the GTR-World website.  The questions were primarily about us, what we drove, why we flew two thirds of the way around the world and what we thought of the new car.  Thankfully the cameramen brought extra batteries so he was able to get Mo’s interview down.

We’re on telly!

Back on yet another train, eating a very late lunch and chatting like school kids about Mines and Bee*R we headed to Shibuya, on the way stopping off at Sangenjaya to drop off excess baggage (no we don’t mean Mo!).

We had to be at Nissan HQ for 7pm for a meeting with GTR-World.  They had said they wanted to interview each one of us, so we were expecting something along the lines of a few journos to ask questions.  The interviews had been set up by Shin (he of the same forum name and GTROC fame) now a Director for Coolarts.

When we arrived we found a camera crew and Shin standing by with microphone.  In turn each of us was interviewed on camera for the GTR-World website.  The questions were primarily about us, what we drove, why we flew two thirds of the way around the world and what we thought of the new car.  Thankfully the cameramen brought extra batteries so he was able to get Mo’s interview down.

After the shoot we met up with Miguel and a catch up on the past few days before heading off to Shibuya (Shaboowee) for dinner and a chance to video and photograph the now infamous crossing of people.  Then an early night – if you can call midnight early.

Super Autobacs

Robbie had to work again which left the remaining four to go to Super Autobacs.  This time however Robbie had an early start with his car picking him up at 9am, whilst Mo, Graeme, Steve and Fuggles had a lay in, not leaving until 9:30am.

Super Autobacs is to the Japanese buyer what Halfords is to the UK, only it’s got a lot more bling & bits and a lot less batteries & bikes.  Fuggles went off to the magazine area, got a drink and watched D1 DVDs for an hour or so, whilst the three amigos walked around the store like kids in giant sweet shop.  When Mo realised they were selling Clay Bars at about 10 pence each he picked up a couple.  When Steve explained what they were and how much they cost in the UK, he picked up the entire stock of fifty!

Super Autobacs is across the bay from downtown Tokyo and that was where we headed next for the most important meeting of the trip.  It may not have had the thrill of seeing the car or of meeting some of the great tuners but nevertheless a meeting with Nissan’s Global VP of Marketing was a pretty serious affair.

Robbie met us at Nissan HQ and we once again met up with some of the people we had met previously at the video shoot.

Simon Sproule is English but works for Nissan American and is co-opted to HQ for the new GT-R.  Not only is it a global car, it seems you have to have done a few laps of the globe just to qualify being on the team!

We met in Simon’s office and chatted about our trip.  We discussed at length the car and in some detail about the Club.  The meeting was really useful in giving us an insight into the ideas behind the car and the passion that has kept Nissan going for six years on this project.  Before we left we presented Simon with a GTROC Tour Shirt which he promised to wear that weekend at the Fuji test of the new car.

As we were in Ginza it was a time to catch up with some shopping.  This is where the very best shops are and where the best ‘cultural gifts’ can be found.  After a general meander around some shops we eventually stumbled on a place to buy fans and Hello Kittys.  Okay, so that’s those back home sorted, it’s time for a drink.

Robbie went off to meet some work colleagues as they had asked him to be there guest of honour at dinner and wanted to take him to a few bars afterwards.  So we bade farewell to our occasional colleagues and headed back to Roppongi where we met with Aki, to thank him for all his help.

The dinner was at a very nice restaurant recommended by one of Aki’s colleagues and it did not disappoint.  The food was excellent and watching Steve get to grips with serving chopsticks, taught by Graeme was entertaining for the rest of us at least!  After some traditional starters, including Sashimi and even Horse Sashimi we settled for Shabu shabu as our main course.  The dish is similar to sukiyaki using thinly sliced meat and vegetables, and usually served with dipping sauces, the idea being to dip the meat and vegetables into a steaming cauldron of hot water – oh how the Health and Safety people in any other country would have a field day!

As our last meal Aki presented us with all sorts of gifts and magazines and thanked us for spending the time with him.  All a bit odd really when we were the guests and had taken up so much of his time that it was us that were grateful.  However, his young lady friend now understands that Aki is not completely mad when it comes to cars.  Nope:  there are a bunch of Brits who really are mad!  Anyone who has been on a GTROC trip to Japan will know what we mean.

Fed and suitably watered we left the restaurant to run the gauntlet of pimps and get our train back to our regular watering hole at the end of our road.  By now the bar man in the place knew us so well he no longer asked what we wanted he just poured: Graeme – light beer, Robbie, who joined us later – light beer, Steve – dark beer, Fuggles – sake, Mo – whatever you put in front of him.

In turn we each gave the barmen a list of the drinks we liked and he made each one of us a special cocktail to remember our trip by.  Not sure how copious amounts of alcohol are meant to help ones memory but it all seemed a good idea at the time!  Five cocktails later and we agreed, almost unanimously on one, that was to become the Tokyo Five cocktail, trouble is no-one can remember what was in it!

3am and back to the hotel for a 7:30 am start the next day.

Sayonara

We awoke early and, for the first time ever, Mo was not late.  Leaving our hotel, and Robbie behind, we headed for three trains and Narita airport.  Robbie has managed to add a few days extra on to his trip to make it a business trip.  Travelling in the busiest part of the day is always a challenge in Tokyo.  Travelling whilst carrying large bags and hand luggage was always going to be more than a challenge!

With delays on the trains leaving Tokyo it was always going to be a close call for our airplane home, but we made it.  We were escorted straight to the front of the queue to check in and found that all four of us were over our allowance!  No matter they just waved us on and soon we were through hand baggage checks, customs and migration and heading for the gate.  No time to shop, we got straight on the now very busy plane.

Mo got challenged to explain why he had 1.5 litres of Cola with him.  Clearly he hadn’t seen one of the many thousand of signs saying “no more than 100ml”.  De-coked and finally let through the plane could now take off.

Thought the flight was quite busy we managed to spread out.  Fuggles found four seats, Steve found three, Graeme three and Mo………….. one.

12 hours of flight lay ahead of us, landing some three hours local after we took off, so getting some sleep was always a priority.  Between us we manage a couple of hours at best and spent the rest of the time watching movies and reviewing the very busy but ever so enjoyable week that had passed.

Touching down we soon collected our bags and waited for our cars to take us home.  Everyone agreed it was a trip of a lifetime and would love to go back……….. someday

words: Rob Jamieson, Steve Riches, Graeme Hedges, Mo Kassem and John Fuggles

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