Category: Japan

By on April 17, 2014

Toyota factory near hard-hit Sendai. Picture courtesy cbsnews.com

Twenty years ago, as a young Merchant Mariner, I was sent to Japan where the ship I was assigned to, the Sea-Land Spirit, was undergoing a major refit. The ship had begun life as a LASH ship, a vessel that carried cargo-filled barges which it offloaded from its stern via huge, rail mounted cranes that ran on tracks down the length of its deck, and now, after the demise of that business model, it was being converted it into a container ship.

Prior to the refit, the ship had been virtually abandoned, left to rot in some bayside backwater for many years, and it had taken a pounding from the elements. To get it back into service, the ship was towed to Korea where it underwent most of the major modifications, after which it was then taken to the giant Mitsubishi works in Kobe, Japan for the final touches. It was there, so I was told, that Japanese laborers called into question the quality of the Korean’s work. Some of the massive steel braces that had been welded to the deck, they found, were as much as a centimeter off. Shocked by the poor quality of their counterparts’ work, the Japanese shipyard workers cut the braces off the deck, moved them a fraction of an inch and welded them down again. Read More >

By on March 10, 2014

IDx Freeflow / IDx NISMO

The Nissan IDx concept, which debuted at the Tokyo motor show back in November of last year, is in the news again, this time appearing on YouTube as a part of the popular Jay Leno’s Garage series. We learned in January that the IDx is expected to go into full production and Nissan has been relentlessly seeking publicity for it by taking it to events all around the country. It is a good looking little car with just enough retro touches to remind people of the times when Nissan was sold in this country under the Datsun brand name and this video is the lengthiest review of the car I have yet seen. Leno spends a lot of time speaking with the car’s designer about all the little details that make the car so special and then takes it on a real world test drive. If you haven’t seen it yet, take time to look at it now as it will soon be the topic of discussion around water coolers and wherever else it is that car guys gather these days. Read More >

By on February 26, 2014
YouTube Preview Image

The Japan Times is reporting that a car driven by Japanese tourists had to be stopped with a spike strip after its driver failed to stop despite the fact she was being pursued by at least three patrol cars. Read More >

By on December 31, 2013

Supra

At the stroke of midnight, a new millennium would begin and the whole world was supposed to come unhinged. Religious leaders were telling us that we needed to be afraid because Jesus Christ, aka the “Prince of Peace,” was coming back to wreak holy vengeance upon us all, cosmologists hinted that that an ominous planetary alignment was going to totally screw up our Feng Shui and computer experts were saying that the silicon chips that they had been relentlessly incorporating into everything since the late 1980s were going to suddenly freak out. It was this last thing that got most people’s panties in a twist. When the computers stopped, we were told, power grids would fail and modern society would grind to a halt. Anything that had an internal clock, they said, would simply stop working. Read More >

By on November 26, 2013

book

With the original post that explains how you can win a hardcover sales brochure for the 1999 Nissan Skyline GTR now buried a couple of pages deep, I thought I would give you this reminder that the contest is still open and runs until Thanksgiving Day. Originally, I asked The Best & Brightest to look through the last year’s worth of articles and share their favorites but have, upon reflection, decided that may be a barrier to entry to some of the people who have only recently joined our nonexclusive club. If you have been waiting to do less and win more, here’s your chance – respond to either this or that previous article and sometime on Thanksgiving Day I will throw your name in a hat with all the others and choose a winner. One entry per person, please.

As I mentioned in that earlier article, I received this book from one of my students who worked for Nissan when I was teaching English in Kyoto back in the day. It has remained safely on my book shelf ever since and is in perfect condition – no stuck together pages or dried out boogars. Based on a little research it seems that these books are rare on this side of the Pacific and the only one I found was being sold on Ebay for around $40.

By on November 25, 2013

Three of the world’s most important auto shows began last week. Since my invitations to the various press events must have been lost in the mail I, like virtually everyone else in the world, followed them over the internet. I’m OK with that, really. I hate fighting the crowds and by the time a show closes high resolution photos of the most important cars are always all over the world-wide-web, anyhow. With the photos are the journalists’ impressions. Some are good and some are bad, but they all make me think. For example, there’s this article from the Top Gear website on the Tokyo motor show that asserts, on the strength of the cars at this year’s show, “Japan is back.” Hold on – Really? Read More >

By on November 23, 2013

book

111 articles. I’m a little surprised by that number. Some months ago, when I submitted my snippet to TTAC’s Future Writers’ Contest, I had no real idea that it would lead to a regular place on these hallowed pages. Like a lot of you, I had read TTAC for years and even commented from time to time, but until that contest began I had never thought about becoming a contributor. I am not an industry insider nor do I have any real insight into car design, manufacturing, sales or even repairs. I am just a regular guy who loves cars. Still, I knew I could write and so when the contest came up I thought I would go ahead and send in a piece to see how I stacked up. I’ve always had a way with words and I figured I would win hands down – boy was I wrong about that, I didn’t even win my own day. Still, I received enough votes to get a full try-out and once I got the editors’ email addresses I just kept on sending them stories until they gave me access to the back side of the site. For some reason no one has told me to stop and now, whether you like me or not, you are stuck with me. Read More >

By on September 10, 2013

Toyota Supra

The hot August sun beat down with real intensity, its heat baking the dun colored earth into a hard packed surface that flecked away in a fine powder that puffed skyward with every footstep I took. The area before me seemed large, but like so many things in Japan its sense of scale was distorted by the fact that, over time, I had grown accustomed to tiny plots of land and buildings crowding in upon one another so closely that they blotted out the sky. In reality the space was little more than a fraction of an acre but even so it seemed like an oasis of space in an otherwise crowded urban desert. The fact that it was packed with junk cars was just icing on the cake. Read More >

By on August 29, 2013

carol 2

If I say the name “Carol” to the average American and mention a total width of 51 inches and a curb weight of a little over 1200 pounds, they will naturally think I am speaking about a woman who looks like Honey Boo-Boo’s mom. If I say the same thing to the average Japanese person, their mind will flash immediately to the cute little car produced by Mazda. It’s well they should, because when Mazda decided to team up with Suzuki in 1989 to produce a new Kei class car for their just launched youth-oriented “Autozam” brand they cornered the market on “kawaii.” Read More >

By on August 21, 2013

keiji-bypass_japan

As I slipped the clutch and rolled on the throttle, the big GSXR1100 bucked and growled like a wild beast between my knees. I took the little wiggle and the bucking in stride and cracked the throttle even wider to shift the bike’s weight onto the rear tire. The bike responded instantly, the sound of its anger pouring out the back as a prolonged shriek of pure rage. The toll plaza fell quickly away as I hit third gear and leaned into the gentle, sweeping left hander that would bring me up onto the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway and there, in the final few meters before the merge, I drove the tachometer towards redline and shot past a pair of slow moving cars before shifting into the higher gears and settling onto the highway ahead of them. Read More >

By on August 14, 2013

2011_Honda_Freed_Spike_Hybrid_002_6105

Yesterday, I took a look at the Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear and the Toyota Hi-Ace, the “size queens” of the Japanese market. Today, I decided to look at the odd men out, so to speak, those mini-vans that hit the sweet spot in the market and offer seven seats in a small or mid-sized package. Sticking with that earlier theme, both of these are only available outside of the United States so, sorry, you can’t get them here. But it’s fun to see how other people live so let’s take a look. Read More >

By on August 13, 2013

Mitsubishi_Delica_Spacegear_L400_top

There are several vans that will not be among the finalists to replace the Kreutzer family’s ailing Ford Freestar and among them are the size and utility queens of the Japanese Domestic Market, the Toyota HI-Ace and the Mitsubishi Delica. Of course you already know that neither of these vans are sold here in the Land of the Free, so my attempt at including them in an article about my current search may seem a bit facetious but, the truth is, I know these vans well and they come up enough in the comments that I thought they might be worth discussing in more detail. Since I have become the resident “van guy” for the time being, let’s avail ourselves of the opportunity, shall we? Read More >

By on August 6, 2013

D

Kodansha has released the final installment of the popular action comic Initial D in its August 6th edition of “Young Magazine” which hit store shelves at the end of July. For those of us in the United States who have followed Takumi Fujiwara’s story through the anime series via Netflix or Hulu, it matters little as we have not seen any new material in some time, but for readers of the comic, this marks the end of an epic 18 year run. Whether or not you are a fan, this is a series that has had a huge impact on car culture all over the world and so its passing is worthy of note. Read More >

By on July 23, 2013

Z

A lifetime of World War 2 movies and an 11 year marriage has taught me one thing about the Japanese; they never do anything half way. Whether it is diving a Zero into an American ship or cutting yours truly down to size, if it is a job worth doing it is worth being fanatical about. The attention to detail the Japanese put into every tiny thing they do is awe-inspiring and so it makes sense that when a Japanese car company spends billions of yen to design and produce a vehicle, they back that up with a mechanics’ training program so thorough that an average graduate can completely tear down and rebuild one of their cars. And isn’t it convenient that one of Nissan’s main training centers was located just a kilometer from where I used to live? Read More >

By on July 15, 2013

Suzuki_Cappuccino_91-97_30

The little red car sat squat and low on the street looking for all the world like the product of an unlikely tryst between a Dodge Viper and a child’s pedal car. It was a classic two seat sports car, with short rear deck, small passenger compartment and “long” hood that stretched away from the driver just far enough to cover the engine beneath it. The proportions were right, but the actual numbers were ludicrous: 81 inch wheel base, 54 inches wide, a curb weight just a touch under 1600 pounds and 660 CC engine with a maximum horsepower rating of just 63 horsepower. This was going to be an experience, I knew, but first I had to figure out how I was going to fit behind the wheel. Read More >

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