Having looked around the Toy part of the museum, it was time to explore the classic cars of the Yokota Collection. Masahiro Yokota has collected and meticulously restored some of Japan’s most iconic cars. Spread over three floors, they range from the modest to the marvelous. We start on the lowest of the three floors and are immediately introduced to some of the weird and wonderful cars that kickstarted the Japanese automotive industry.
The first display consists of Kei cars, one of the largest car markets in Japan. Although the engine restrictions and dimensions of the Kei class may have changed over the years, you will recognise the badges and the styling traits of Japan’s major manufacturers. I’m sure very few of us have ever lusted after the 360cc (0.36-litre) Mazda Carol; yet without these vehicles, we wouldn’t have the awesome machinery we enjoy today.
Every car is accompanied by original promotional material, accessories and scale models, giving you an insight into just how the Japanese fell in love with the automobile. Working vehicles, like a 1965 Mazda B360 pickup (pictured above), are loaded with period cargo – television sets in the B360’s case – which gives great authenticity to the nostalgic feel of the display.
On the second floor, we are introduced to more popular sedans and family cars of the ’50s and ’60s. Datsun Bluebirds in standard and race trim show just how passionate the Japanese were about racing too. As you walk down the hall, you become aware of the evolution from small, boxy, basic machinery into sleeker, more powerful monsters.
The top floor hosts more familiar models. Staring you down as you walk through the door is Toyota’s 2000GT (as seen in James Bond’s, You Only Live Twice – filmed in Tokyo). Although the Datsun 240Zs and Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-Rs grab the headlines, you will not fail to be taken aback by the sheer beauty of the Datsun Fairlady and Honda S800 roadsters.
Towards the rear of the hall, a factory racing spec Datsun 240Z goes head-to-head with the iconic Skyline GT-R KPGC10 in competitive trim. Both cars are beautifully restored and conjure up evocative images of racing in the ’60s and ’70s.
“If you aren’t already trawling the classifieds for a restoration project by now, you have no soul”
My personal favourite is the B110 Datsun Sunny 1200 in #3 Tomei racing colours. I’d never seen one in the flesh and can’t believe how compact this racer is. It was Datsun’s answer to Toyota’s Corolla and Ford’s Escort in the early ’70s; and extremely successful looking at the all trophies arranged in the display.
One of the main attractions is dedicated to a local hero (not the girl pictured above). The street racing themed manga, Initial D, was based in the area and based on real life locations. The tofu shop central to the storyline, was indeed a shop in the local town of Shibukawa. Unfortunately, it was marked for demolition a few years ago. Thankfully, Yokota-san purchased all he could (including the shop front) and recreated it, including panda-coloured AE86 (built at Carland, Kyoto), as a centrepiece to his already impressive collection of motoring history. Originally the ‘Fujinoya Tofu Shop’, the signage was changed due to the popularity of the cartoon and used as a set for the live-action Initial D movie released in 2005.
The AE86 Trueno has also been accurately recreated (in First Stage spec), including a cup sitting in the cup holder. Alongside the car and shop front is a host of Initial D memorabilia and collectables that make any fan green with envy.
If you’re ever in Gunma and specifically the Ikaho/Shibukawa area, this museum is a must see – not only because there’s little else to do in this part of the world. You can access the museum from Tokyo via Shinkansen Bullet Train and then get the bus from Shibukawa – or hire a car and explore the area properly.
Check out the gallery below for more photos…