As a long term Nagite (read lifer) I have essentially given up finding truly memorable sightseeing spots to take visitors to. Lets face it, Nagoya just doesn’t have anything with the “WOW” factor unless you veer off into Toshin-cho late at night.
I’ve done most but not all of the “tourist spots” on offer and made my peace with them:
Nagoya Castle: Concrete bunker – OK for hanami or a walk in the park but not much more.
Nagoya Zoo: Confined animals don’t really make me happy – but the kiddie amusement park is actually a lot of fun if you sneak a few beers in.
The Aquarium: Well I’ve got a beef with the dolphin exhibit.
I could go on and on but you get the picture. I’ve finally relegated myself to entertaining friends at the supermarket where the freak out factor is high, or at the local conbini “One veggie chu-hai and some spicy green tea potato chips please”! However, there is one place on the list of attractions that I’ve never gotten round to until recently… The Toyota Automobile Museum.
Like most people this one never really pinged my radar, seeing that it is located way out in Nagakute. Before the Linimo (Linear Motor Car) train came along it was difficult to access unless you had motorized transport – it is a museum dedicated to cars, after all. Even though cars are something I spend a lot of time thinking about I pretty much assumed that like the rest of Nag’s “tourist” spots this too would be a bit of a dud. I am here to report to you that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact if you like cars, or even if you are only mildly interested in them this place is full of all kinds of awesome.
One reason I was not in a hurry to visit TAM is that I assumed that it was a museum solely about Japanese cars, in fact I thought it only housed Toyota cars. Untrue. The Museum is separated into three parts. The first exhibition is dedicated to the history of the automobile and features an astounding array of memorable automobiles, including a replica of Benz Patent Motorwagon, which sits near an authentic Benz Velo built in 1894. Further along you will find a Panhard et Levassor which is thought to be the first car imported to Japan in 1898.
The first exhibition space is literally jammed packed with memorable autos. They have a Stanley Steamer (powered by wood fire), a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost that looks like it stepped right out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as a Model T and other landmark classic cars.
Wait! Did I mention the Stutz Bearcat? No car museum would be complete without racing cars.You name it, they have it on view. Bughatti, Bentley, Alfa Romeo, even a vintage MG Midget from 1937. Turn the corner and prepare your eyes for a shock as the golden age of luxury sports cars hits your retinas. The leader of the pack is doubtless the emerald blue Delage Type D8-120 which looks like it could fly. It is truly difficult not to touch this car. I wanted to kiss it.
Nothing however, prepared me for the crown jewel of the collection – President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1939 Packard 12 Limousine. This car was retrofitted with armor and bullet-proof glass after it was built, making it the first armored car used by a U.S. president. The irony of seeing this historic automobile in the heart of the Japanese industrial landscape that was basically burnt to the ground during WWII was nothing short of jaw dropping. It has been carefully restored and rests upon a uniquely presidential pedestal.
You might have noticed that the Japanese later on decided to make their own cars, and the second exhibition space explores the development of Japanese automobiles. Here you will find some truly extraordinary vehicles – most of which are as small as the go kart I drove around my neighborhood in the 70s. Pride of place however goes to a surprisingly large automobile, Toyota’s first passenger car – the Toyoda Model AA. Built in 1936 it looks like something you would have seen on the streets of the USA at the time. In fact this car was in many ways advanced in terms of styling and comfort, paving the way to future success after the war.
With the war came an end, or at least a cessation, of most passenger car production. In 1943 however a revised version of the Toyoda AA was built – the Toyota Model AC, becoming the first production car to be built after the war. And as they say the rest is history. All of it documented in a dizzying array of models that echoed what was going on in Europe and America. The first Toyopet looked a lot like the VW Beetle for example. And there are some curious models for 50s fin fans to gawk over as well.
For me the dawn of the MG style convertibles gets my heart racing. I wanted to put one of them in my pocket. A long line of quirky and funky rides lead you to what is clearly the daddy car in the hall. The Toyota 2000GT Model MF10. This car echos what was happening over at Datsun at the same time. I still remember seeing my first 380 Z which clearly shares the same genetic code as this incredible rocket with wheels.
After leaving this area of the exhibit you come to the annex, which has a lot of goodies for tourists. It is more modern and the exhibitions are snappier, giving a better feel for historical context in which all these cars existed. For those who want a “Japan” hit you will get a bit more of that here.
Toyota has done a nice job of incorporating memorable cars from other brands like Datsun and Honda as well. Children aren’t left out, either; the museum has loads of kid friendly exhibits. Fire engines, police cars, rescue vehicles and fire trucks are all part of an engaging hands on display.
Part of the fun for newbies is that to get to TAM by train you must take the Linimo. This magnetically levitated train was built as part of the Aichi Expo. And though it could probably hit some major Gs if I were driving, the ride is predictably smooth and stops rather often…
Toyota Auto Museum
41-100 Nagakuteyokomichi, Nagakute-cho,
Aichi-gun, Aichi Pref.
Access is via the Higashiyama line to Fujigaoka. Transfer to the Linimo to Geidai-dori Station.
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed on Monday (when a national holiday falls on a Monday, the museum will be closed the following day)