Japan, June 2014: Day Twenty Two

We planned to visit the Onsen resort town of Ikaho, at the foot of Mt. Haruna; however, with the rain beginning to fall, we made a last minute decision to head towards something based indoors.

As we drove through Shibukawa, I spotted a VIP style Nissan Cima parked in a gravel car park and had to pull in to take some photos. Whilst I was doing this, the most bizarre thing happened. There was a voice sounding out around the town over some kind of public address system. Whether it was coincidence or not, we noticed people just standing outside their houses and a distinct lack of cars on the road. All this was rather War of the Worlds kind of eerie. We don’t know whether this was just a test of the earthquake/volcano warning system – or the local government warning of ‘out of towners’ taking random photos… we may never know. I jumped back in the car and headed off, half expecting to run into some kind of natural disaster en route.

I’ve now got my head around the Japanese sat nav built into the 86. With our destination punched in, we were off. The display showed that we’d arrived at the location by displaying a picture of the Mona Lisa; that was quite an optimistic illustration as we strolled into the entrance of the Toy & Doll, Sweet & Chocolate, Car Museum – all of our favourite things under one roof!

Bear in mind that this place is located in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by the remains of failed and failing businesses – the brick building is superb and the interior is unbelievable. I have taken many photos of the place, but none do justice to the genius of the layout and design. For a couple of kids like us, this was a real life Willy Wonka’s experience. We paid our entrance fee (about £8 each), were given a couple of small figurines and a map, then pointed in the direction of the first display.

The toilets will get their own post later, so we moved on through the bear exhibit and into the retro Japan part of the building. Replicating old Tokyo alleys, there were fairground games to play and walls covered in old posters and toys. We were walking around followed by a group of 8-10 (older) gentlemen and it was great to see them reminiscing about when they played with these toys and games as kids.

We soon stumbled across a Kewpie doll display and that’s when Emma popped. She’s been on about these forever and this was heaven for her. Once she’s snapped photos of every doll, we moved on to the cars.

The first display was of old Daihatsus and a few Hondas; all in pristine condition and with little or no barrier around them. Past some Ford Model As and Ts, we were lead up to the second floor. At the top of the stairs we were greeted with what I (and a few other visitors) had come to see.

Going back to the Initial D manga/anime cartoon, as I’ve said, it was based in the area with real locations (renamed occasionally). The story centres around a boy who works for his father, delivering Tofu to hotels at the top of Mt. Akina (Haruna). In real life, there was a Tofu shop in Shibukawa and the one in the cartoon was based on the real life shop. However, a couple of years ago, the area was redeveloped and the original tofu shop was destined to be bulldozed. The owner of this museum was a fan, bought the shop front and recreated it in this museum – complete with an AE86 in Initial D livery.

We weren’t the only Initial D fans visiting today and there was a few people queuing for photos of the exhibit. It’s cool to see that this manga still has a cult following in Japan. Moving on from the display, we entered the hall of Datsuns and Toyotas. There were some really iconic old racers on display and I’ll post more of these photos at a later date.

After the cars we visited the half way gift shop – obviously wanting to capitalise on the adrenalin from the previous exhibits, there was Kewpie and car related souvenirs aplenty. In all honesty, we cleared the place out. Not knowing when we’d see this stuff again, we filled our boots. Although I didn’t buy any Initial D stuff, I did buy a load of retro car decals for no reason whatsoever – some are already on my new suitcase.

Further along from the gift shop, we found our way into a garden. A koi pond welcomed visitors to feed the fish before wandering around an old movie set that had been recreated. We were the only people to make this part of the tour and it was one of the best bits!

After more displays, we arrived at the cafe and grabbed a couple of coffees. Whilst having a drink, we realised that figurines we were given at the entrance were to be painted and we were sitting opposite the art studio. We were struggling for ideas on how to decorate them – Emma opted for Super Pochaco, her new favourite character. I opted for Adolf Hitler on Spring Break vacation.

We discovered an area outside where you could feed squirrels in their enclosure. This was directly opposite a Ferrari F40 exhibit. I’m not sure why it wasn’t with the other cars or why you would put a £1,000,000 supercar outside with squirrels, but it meant that I had something to do whilst Emma was busy feeding the wildlife.

We left the Museum overwhelmed, confused, but ultimately satisfied we’d had one of the best days so far. As we weren’t far from Ikaho, we decided to continue our original plan and visit the Onsen town.

Set at the foot of Mt. Haruna and built into the mountain side; Ikaho is famous for it’s 365 steps that run through the centre and lead up to the shrine at the top of the town. Despite our exhausted little legs, we made it to the top and discovered there was more to see beyond the shrine. Further up the mountain was the hot spring source and a beautiful traditional style bridge over the water as it fell towards the town. We’d found no indication that was here on the Internet and can only assume we were the first westerners to visit the site – I know we’re not, but go with it.

It was a great trip and worth it if you’re in the area. We headed back to Shibukawa to grab a late lunch and some cheap make-up. When we pulled into the parking lot of the drugstore, we noticed a police car behind with it’s lights going and a voice blaring from the speakers. Turning the engine off and fearing the worse, I waited for my telling off.

Disclaimer: I haven’t exactly stuck to the speed limit on some occasions – but in my defence, I’m only keeping up with traffic. The roads say 40kph, but nobody drops below 50.

Today, in traffic, I have been well behaved (the 86 isn’t exactly fast anyway, more on that when we give it back), so I wasn’t sure why the local police were stopping me. As the portly old chap wandered over, he stopped by my window, saluted, bowed and I proceeded to open the door. As it turns out, they just wanted to check my paperwork (fortunately I had everything with me) and they let us go… kinda.

We’d pulled over exactly where we wanted to stop, but the kind police fellows expected us to drive off – so they bowed, nodded and waited, and waited as I fumbled around with my paperwork hoping they would disappear. They didn’t, they just chuckled, laughed at a photo I had of Emma in my wallet and stood there, expecting these crazy gaijin to leave anytime now. We eventually won the stand off and they got in their car and left. Awkward, but funny.

We stopped by Family’s again for dinner and are now back at the hotel, ready for a well earned rest.