Event: 26 Hours In Japan – Tokyo Auto Salon 2020 V.1

Let me preface this post by saying that the amount of travel to spend a single day in Japan is surprisingly achievable. It’s not like I would recommend it, there are definitely more efficient ways to go about it, but to say it wasn’t a fun experience wouldn’t be wholly true; at the very least it’s a conversation starter.

My little adventure started last Friday morning at work. As I was sitting at my office desk, coffee in hand, I glanced down at my new 2020 Koyorad desk calendar, which is already full for the month of January, and realized I had nothing scheduled this weekend; a rare agenda to say the least. These days I am very fond of free time so it’s not like I was in a rush to fill those two empty boxes with anything, I still had things to do of course, just nothing that warranted being written on a calendar. I did however, have in the back of my mind that Tokyo Auto Salon was this weekend; how could I not with my Instagram feed slowly turning into a mobile application solely for viewing TAS photos? Not that I mind, it’s cool to see all the cars and not have to deal with the crowds that come with it. Last time I was in Japan for Auto Salon was back in 2016 and even with a media pass and early access it was still a chore. I’ve been going to this show on and off since 2009 and have had the opportunity to see it grow into an entirely different beast than it was at the start of the decade; it’s wild to see how much growth the industry has sustained. Since I made the decision to narrow down the focus of this website, I’ve been relishing in the freedom that came along with not really giving myself an obligation to attend every major automotive event in Japan. That got me thinking though.

Last time I attended the show I was already in Japan for an Evome event, and had done so as more of a spectator, taking only select photos of the cars that caught my eye; that wasn’t so bad, and if I remember correctly I actually had fun. Covering the entire show is not something I’d like to ever do again; not to sound negative, it’s just not in line with anything I do anymore. But going with friends and having dialogue about the displays is a lot of fun and if you should be in Japan around the time of TAS, I encourage you to check it out. It’s amazing to me to see the international draw that this show has. So…what if I did that? What if this time I went solely as a spectator, and not with the intention of even photographing anything? Quite a few of the 2020 Super GT cars were going to be on display, and it would be useful to check in with new products and sort of touch base with the industry. If I left this afternoon, I thought to myself, I could be in Japan by Saturday night, stay at a hotel near Makuhari, attend TAS on Sunday, depart Sunday evening, and be back in LA on Sunday morning with enough time to wrap up some pending work. Eh, why not.

So I booked my flight, went home, packed a backpack, and drove to LAX. This was going to be close.

Pro tip 1: Do your taxes on the flight to japan.

I made it. And, yes, I did bring a camera with me. As much as I’d like to trick myself into thinking such a scenario was possible, I’d never put myself in a position to think “wish I had a camera right now…”.

As I boarded my flight Friday afternoon, I had just about finished confirming a hotel that was within walking distance of Makuhari Messe, the massive exhibition hall where the show is held each year. I found that from both Narita and Haneda, the Kesei Bus has an express service to Kaihin Makuhari Station (the closest train station to the event) for only $10. I gotta say, the more I travel to Japan, the more I start relying on buses instead of trains if I don’t borrow a car. They’re cheaper, the queues are typically shorter, they take your luggage for you (if you have any), you’re guaranteed a reclining seat, and the travel time is somewhat comparable to a train. The only real downside is you can’t take cool cell phone videos of the passing landscape, which often times, admittedly, is well worth the hassle.

After a few hours of work on the flight, watching Ad Astra (great movie), and an obligatory bathroom selfie, I dozed off until we touched down on runway 16R at Narita Airport. Time: 17:38, Saturday evening.

I was able to use the crew lane for customs entering Japan, and so the entire process of getting into the country was dramatically expedited – not that it’s an arduous process anyway. Having no checked luggage, or really any luggage at all, also sped the process up. I always have a couple hundred JPY on me anyway, so I had no need to exchange money, and there was no line at the Keisei ticket counter. So, and this isn’t an exaggeration, it took me less than 20 minutes from the time I stepped foot off the airplane to be curbside at the bus pickup, awaiting my bus that was schedule to arrive in about 5 minutes. How’s that for efficiency?

The bus ride is a little under an hour typically. Because of my arrival time, I think we hit a bit of traffic on the way there as we arrived at Makuhari Station around 19:25. I wasn’t in a hurry or anything, so before checking in at my hotel, I decided to take a little walk around the station. At this point I’d been sitting down for the better part of 14 hours and wanted to stretch my legs.

Makuhari is a small community in Chiba City and is actually built atop reclaimed land from the Tokyo Bay. While I am in Chiba quite often, admittedly I’m not usually in this particular area unless it’s around the time of Tokyo Auto Salon. I don’t know what the district is like when there aren’t any big events taking place, but it does seem like there is a certain energy around town that comes with an influx of visitors.

Starbucks; an international staple.

I stopped by 711 and got a coffee and ice cream. I didn’t have a chance to get my usual Glico Mint Chip ice cream from the vending machines at Narita Airport, so I picked up my other favorite, a Morinaga Choco Monaka; which is like an ice cream sandwich but the outside is made of ice cream cone material. If you follow us on Instagram I’m sure you’ve seen it in the IG stories; highly recommended.

Some weekend karaoke action at Big Echo.

Cafe and bike parking.

Couple coin lockers outside the station that would come in handy tomorrow to store my laptop bag while I was at the show.

I had been fighting off a cold for the better part of the week prior to this trip, so I was looking forward to eating as much ramen as possible. I read somewhere a long time ago that not eating on long flights helps stave off the effects of jet lag, and upon my own research found it to actually be helpful, and so I’ve been abiding by that rule for years now. So it goes without saying I was still hungry after my ice cream. I found a Kukai Noodle ramen joint near the station (麺屋空海 海浜幕張店) and ordered my usual Miso ramen, a side of gyoza, and then eventually a smaller bowl of salty egg ramen – which is something I’ve never had. The broth has a good taste, but the noodles were a little under cooked for my liking. Feeling good and full, I began to make my way to the hotel.

That’s my hotel at the very top of the frame, behind the building. I saw this DC2 parked along the roadside and snapped a photo with my phone.

When I got to the hotel around 21:00 I took a much needed shower and finished up some work that required the internet I wasn’t able to do on the airplane. I also got to watch a few episodes of Rick and Morty Season 4 on Netflix. Since Japan is in a different region as the US, and I’m not savvy enough to use a VPN to trick Netflix, it’s really the only time I can watch that show on Netflix. I don’t know why I’m mentioning it, I just really think that show is funny. I ended up going to bed around 22:30.

I set my alarm for 07:30, but of course I woke up like two hours early. I did my best to go back to bed but eventually gave in and started planning my day at TAS and the logistics of getting to Haneda towards the evening.

I took this shot with my cellphone as I was cleaning my cameras. I don’t think I’ve given them proper maintenance for like 3 years.

I climbed onto the windowsill behind the desk and managed to open the window enough to stick my hand with one of the DSLR’s outside to take a photo of the skyline out the window.

Really glad I didn’t drop it.

That row of lights in the background are the tracks for the train station – you can see it’s only a couple blocks away and the event hall is just two blocks to the left of this photo behind the QVC building.

I departed my room and checked out around 07:30, I didn’t really have a plan. I knew the doors opened at 09:00, but for sure there would be a line. It was Sunday, and the last day of the show. As I walked out of the doors, I was hit with a sharp, brisk wind that brought with it the reality that I’d be fighting half of Japan today if I wanted to get a clear photo of a car. But hey, I’m just here to observe…kept having to remind myself.

The hotel I stayed at, Hotel Green Tower – no doubt named after it’s eco-friendly practices as the tower itself is, in fact, grey. No frills, lots of restaurant options close by, and clean – your typical Japanese businessman hotel. Would recommend, although it was a bit more expensive than usual it being the weekend of a large event, and very close proximity to a station.

Walking on the pedestrian bridges above the roads headed to the hall. I got to the entrance, saw the line forming and immediately turned around not wanting to wait another hour before I could get in.

I took refuge in a Veloce and indulged in a coffee and a chocolate chip scone while I waited out the clock. At about 08:40, I took off back to the main gate to get back in line.

The logo for the show this year was pretty cool. I came alone so pretend I have two friends that are standing on those black ovals indicating where your friends are supposed to stand if you had friends with you.

Tokyo Auto Salon; welcome to my nightmare.

I may as well kick this off with two of the greatest S-Chassis’ in the entire complex. The Car Modify Wonder cars are just really tailored to a style I enjoy very much. In fact, I don’t think Wonder has built a car I haven’t liked in my entire adult life. Every TAS I go to they always have some really solid builds – 2020 was no exception with the shop unveiling two new demo cars.

The latest version of their Glare lineup of aero parts for the S13, 14, and 15 have a much more aggressive look than before. The company has always had a very GT-Style of modifying the cars, which is why I tend to enjoy them, but this new iteration takes that one step further.

The S15 features new fenders, side skirt accessory, and front and rear embellishments give it an almost entirely new look. It looks like a few of the pieces remain the same, like their twin blade design rear wing.

Great fitment and wheel choice with the Gram Light 57Xtreme Spec-D in white.

The S13 featured similar improvements of the Glare kit with the exception of the front fenders.

Cool front canards.

I really like to see continuity in design over various chassis’. It shows true craftsmanship to maintain a distinct look throughout cars that have completely different OE body lines. It shows that a lot of thought and talent goes into these kits.

I stopped by the Kyoto Tool Company booth because I like KTC and all their products. I wish I was in a position to take home more stuff – maybe this year I’ll work on outfitting the shop with more KTC goods. I picked up a few little tools and accessories – things that I could fit in my backpack.

I liked this neat little living room, coffee table, tool chest adornment.

I also made sure to re-up on my Tein grocery bags. I can’t recall when Tein started doing this, it has to have been 6 or 7 years running now, but if you take a photo of Dampachi and his wifey, post it on social media with the #tein tag, they’ll give you a free canvas tote. This is my fourth one to date, and they make great grocery bags because California charges you for bags at the grocery store now. They’re really nice quality – hey, just like their coilovers!

RS Pantera had this cool twin-turbo 13B FD on display showcasing their line of exterior parts an of course their engine work. Really pretty blue color against the bronze ZE40’s.

They also had this $27,000 20B 3-Rotor engine on display and for sale. I was going to buy it but couldn’t fit it in my backpack so I opted to pass…

Pro Tip 2: A good time to get a clean shot of a car is from the backside, adjacent to a car that a model is posing at. The mob of sexually repressed men will crowd in front of the model, leaving the rear of the car available for a clean shot.

The D2 86 – last time I saw this car was at Fuji Speedway.

This car blew me away! The LC500 demo car of Thunder Bolt, one of the largest OE and aftermarket producers of titanium lug nuts and studs, was on display at their modest sized booth. I must have stared at this car for 15 minutes.

The very dark LC500 was equipped with the Artisan Spirits Black Label GT Widebody Kit. The five piece kit retails for around $14,000 (or $17,000 for carbon), so it’s not something you see too often, and actually this was the first time seeing it in person. The quality is amazing. If I had like, I don’t know, an extra $150,000 lying around, this wouldn’t make a bad daily.

A set of massively wide Velos Design Werks S3 wheels in a matte brushed aluminum finish suited the car perfectly.

Of course the car featured titanium Thunderbolt studs.

I wonder what’s beyond the ultimate? Is that even possible? I’d like to visit one day.

Amis had two S2000’s on display. This very clean white one, unfortunately on TE37 Sonics, and a very crazy green one which I took a photo of but it was so horrible I don’t feel like posting it. It had a lot of custom body work, you should look it up.

I really like the Amis GT wings – super unique shape.

4 Laws was on hand again, this time with two of their fully carbon clad 911’s. Gorgeous carbon work, I don’t even want to think about what these panels cost.

Aimgain had their new LS500 with the new VIP EXE kit. This would take runner up in the daily category, again if I had some extra money lying around. Although the Aimgain kit is significantly less expensive than anything Artisan Spirits makes. I’d have some money leftover to put gas in it.

Kuhl Racing debuted their new A90 widebody (like half the other companies at TAS) and speaking honestly, it was one of my favorite from the show. It looked a little more thought out than some of the other full kits, or lip kits, at the show. I wasn’t to keen on the Verz-Krone KR01 wheels but it’s very much in line with the Kuhl style. It stayed almost entirely true to their original rendering of the kit.

I think the part of the kit that sold me on it’s style was the rear end. It flows with the OE lines very well – better than the other kits at any rate (the exception being the HKS kit – however there are some very distinct differences).

The front of the kit maintained the same fluidity, and the added touch of the wire wheeled hood rounded out the look. I’m surprised this style is still very prominent in show cars. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, and have since I saw it like 700 years ago on the Gloss Factory S14 at TAS. The execution has improved over the years though.

C-West kitted EVO 9 – simplicity at it’s finest.

Alright, so I guess now is a good a time as any to lay down some of these bad boys. Gotta give a shout out to all the dudes that chase the models at this show; your devotion is commendable. Commendable, but annoying.

My view for 80% of the 5 hours I spent here.

This is a good example of my Pro Tip #2. The entire left side of this car was free and clear to photograph. Had it been a car I cared to take a photo of, I’m sure the photo would be free of distraction.

That last photo of the model mob was actually at the Bridgestone booth, and I was there to get a look at their new RE-71 RS; the predecessor to the very popular RE-71. I talked to Duane back home when I was at the show, he said that the US wasn’t slated to get these. I wonder if the main competitor to the RE-71 RS will still be the A052.

Work had on display all their wheels, but the one I was mainly concerned with was the new Emotion. With the new spoke design, I wonder how the faces will change with different sizing.

Speaking of faces, Enkei had several sizes of their new GTC02 I could finally compare. I really, really, really like this wheel – it’s amazing in almost every aspect. The caveat being even the ‘rear’ face is tremendously flat in a 17″, even 18″ x9 or x10 and highly depends on the offset. For comparison, the concavity of the 17×9 +22 pictured here with the rear face (oh hey they offer them in a 17″ now), is literally almost non-existent from the side. It’s a common problem with newer wheels. I’d still like to get a set, maybe for the FD, but I’d have to find the ideal width and offset to maximize the available concavity. I don’t know if any of that made sense, it does in my head.

Couple cool cars at the Rocket Bunny/TRA-Kyoto/Pandem/I am so out of touch with this stuff booth. I think this was the same Silvia that was at SEMA a few months ago – maybe? I didn’t go to SEMA. This looks like the Pandem version “aala a very refined version of the V1 kit”, or some sort of revised version of it at least (I’m really spitting the facts here today), but the front end still has that classic look of the original S13 TRA-Kyoto kit – back before it was an epidemic. It’s almost nostalgic to see. Kei Miura’s original white S13 Silvia was one of the coolest at the time, and I think that was partially because of it’s originality. Since he’s stretched that similar style, for better or for worse, across a multitude of platforms, it’s sort of diluted his original vision; for me at least. I’m sure he definitely doesn’t see it that way.

I’m all about it though. I wonder what it would look like all one color.

The FC demo car was also on display.

Interesting kit to say the least.

Advan usually has a very classy booth, and actually this one looks really similar to the others they’ve had in the past. They had some jazz music playing which I liked. This FD on the new Advan R6 was beautiful (apparently they make the R6 in an 18″ now).

Varis clad demo car on Advan GT.

I think Varis still holds the record for best 86 aero.

Max Orido’s GR Supra. I like this shot because it’s got a Gymkhana built DC2 rippin’ around on a giant screen behind the Supra.

One of the most anticipated Supras of the show had to have been at the HKS booth. I still have a huge photoset of their US car that I’m waiting to post, so you can get a much better look at the kit then. Much like anything HKS does, this car came out beautifully.

They also had on display their Aero Concept GR Supra in white, which allowed you to really see the lines of the kit. This car won the best concept car award at the show. This car was also on a 20″ set of Advan R6.

The marbling on the lip portion was sort of cool.

I spent 500 yen on this game to try and win a set of Blitz coilovers for my FD. I lost, but I got the consolation prize of a tin of gem candy so I guess it wasn’t all that bad. I wonder what the odds were, or if anyone ever won.

Just a really clean 911 that caught my eye.

Varis brought out the big guns as well with their debut of the Varis Supra GR kit. With wide enough rear fenders to fit up to a 13j wheel, it definitely suits the term wide body.

The door treatment is a pretty unique feature that runs into the rear fender. Most companies wouldn’t go that far but if you want rear fenders this wide, you sort of have to have them run into the door so they don’t start/stop so abruptly.

It’s a great look, although I’m not too hot on the accent color and wheel choice. The new GT Wing is great too, matches really well.

I was pretty excited to see they brought the Circuit Version Runduce (VAB) STi as well. This car currently holds the radial record at TC2000 for this particular chassis – it ran a 59.352 last year at Tsukuba Super Lap Battle.

This is the “Honda Civic Cyber Night Japan Cruiser 2020”; a modern reinterpretation of the EK9. Now, I understand the idea behind this car, especially with Honda Access unveiling the 20th anniversary S2000 prototype along side. It’s a pretty cool idea…it just doesn’t work though.

It’s a lot more difficult to take a car that was designed in the 90’s and re-imagine it as a car of this decade. It’s not impossible, but it would take a lot more than LED’s and sharper bumpers. There’s a reason the current Civic’s are such a departure from their predecessors. It looks like something someone in the 90’s would sketch on what they thought the EK would look like in 2020 – maybe that was the point.

I’m probably siding with the vast minority here, but to me, this does not look good at all. The original lines from the EK clash horribly with the new, modern bumpers, and the very dot matrix style holes everywhere in the grill, rear bumper and lights don’t make sense to me design wise other than them possibly look futuristic.

I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on it because I can literally only find people losing their minds over it on the internet. I just don’t see it.

C-West and Advios actually took home the award for most dimly lit booth this year; coveted award no doubt.

The Tec Arts N2 AE86 was on display at the KW Suspension booth this year, naturally, dubbed N2 Project 2020. Kamata-san and his brother have been campaigning the N2 Project since the early 2000’s – it’s crazy to see something evolve over such a long duration. The 7AG powered hachi has taken several back to back podiums over the years in the N2 battles, and although the car’s specs change vastly from season to season, the car still retains the underlying look of the original build.

It was really cool to see in person again after so many years.

One booth I always look forward to seeing is, of course, the RE Amemiya one. This year they showcased several cars, with the focus being pulled to their two classics on center stage; a SA22C IMSA and the 20B Lotus Europa SPL.

I freaking love this car. It’s really not like me, but there’s something about it. The Lotus Europa was one of those silly cars built somewhere around the late 60’s and early 70’s that sort of broke all the rules in terms of styling to achieve better aerodynamics. RE then went and made an entirely custom body for it with his signature style, and shoved a RE spec 20B in the back of it.

It’s a very strange mixture of European and Japanese that RE seems to be able to pull off very well.

The Glass Pit (Kikuna 7) FD3S was among my favorite car at the show in it’s entirety…and it’s actually for sale! Although I’m sure it’s well out of my price range. The car is owned by Ito Shokai, a well renowned figure in the rotary world, and is a collaborative build between Shokai himself, D’z Garage, and RE Amemiya. Although the build was displayed last year, it wasn’t the final vision Shokai had for the car. Now, in 2020, the car is exactly what he envisioned. Maybe that’s why he’s selling it.

Underneath the hood lies a 20B 3-rotor NA engine tuned by Amemiya pushed back more towards the middle of the car to help distribute weight. The rotary outputs about 320ps; ideal for street specification with more than enough torque to have some fun. Shokai also points out that it’s cool to have a 3 rotor for a car that displays the work of 3 different companies. “It’s good luck in that sense.”, he says. The 20B is paired with a 6-speed RX-8 transmission to further accentuate the feeling of the rotary power.

The RX-7 is equipped with an entire catalogs worth of RE parts on the exterior alone. The car is built around the RE AD-GT kit with the exception of the SPL Facer 9 front bumper. The original White/Blue color is a Shokai specialty for Tokyo Auto Salon and features blue glitter throughout the carbon parts. The car sits on Endless suspension over 18″ Enkei NT03RR’s. Exact specs here.

Yet another very cool FD, the Amemiya Benten-TA with SPL aero.

It’s like the FD’s were endless in this corner of the hall.

The D’z Garage FD looking rather punched up a bit from when I saw it at Fuji mid-2019. So many of the FD’s at this show were rocking the AD-GT kit with Facer bumper it was crazy. It’s such an odd front bumper. Beautiful red color.

The bridgeported 13B in this car sports a T-51 and makes almost 650ps.

I think this FD is a revision of one of the cars from RE’s 2007 TAS showing.

At about 15:30 I started to err on the side of caution with the time I had, and so I made my way back to the main gate. There were a few cars that I had missed that I really wanted to see; namely Nomukens new R34 demo car, and few of the Super GT cars, but if I missed my flight I was going to be screwed.

And, well, from here I sort of packed my cameras and made my way back to the coin locker at the station to grab my laptop bag, get on a bus, and ride to Haneda. I got on the bus around 16:20 and arrived at Haneda’s International Terminal about an hour and change later at 17:30; just in time to check in for my 19:00 flight. I boarded my flight and 10 hours later I landed back in Los Angeles. That was my 26 hours in Japan last weekend.

Part two will follow soon and will include all the race cars I managed to take photos of. Thanks for visiting!