I must admit that I found this place by pure accident. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were taking an "Initial D" fact-finding tour. The first stop we made was Mt. Akagi, the touge where the RX-7 driving Takahashi brothers were supposed to reside. It's pretty cool; it looks just like the cartoon. The next stop was Mt. Haruna. This is the mountain where the hachi-driving, tofu delivery boy, Takumi, makes his home base. The name of this mountain was cleverly changed from Harunasan (Spring Mountain) to Akina (Fall Mountain) in the cartoon. I could see why; there was a grip of drift cars driving around, taking in the "Initial D"-inspired sights. It must drive the locals crazy. The one thing I could not help noticing throughout the drive were these peculiar billboards all over the place, which had the same drawing of a Toyota 2000GT, a teddy bear and a piece of candy. Since I don't read Japanese, I finally had to ask, "What the hell are these billboards for?" The answer I got: "Those signs are for a museum named the M. Yokota Collection."
Being that I'm a sucker for candy, classic cars and tourist traps, we made an immediate detour and started to follow the signs to the M. Yokota Collection. Keep in mind we were in the middle of the boonies (130 km north of Tokyo) and I was expecting to see a Japanese-style barn next to a rice field that housed a couple of dolls, a little store front that sold candy, a dusty Toyota 2000GT and a little obachan (grandma) sitting in the corner, collecting entrance fees. My past experiences from following signs like the ones for the U.S. tourist traps like "The Thing" in New Mexico or the "Snake Farm" in Central Texas resulted in me being not so impressed. This time I was pleasantly surprised to pull up to this huge castle-like museum. It was obvious that there were some deep pockets backing this spot.
The decor of the museum is very interesting, to say the least. It is a combination of high-end European flavor with some 1950s Japanese street scene thrown in the mix. Honestly, this place gives museums like the Toyota-backed Mega Web's History Garage and the Honda-owned Twin Ring Honda Museum a run for their money.
The museum starts you out in a toy section and, being that the signs had teddy bears on them, I was expecting to breeze right through. But I was wrong; there were a lot of the old school JDM action figures and posters that brought back memories of watching "Go Rangers," "Kikaida" and "Ultraman" on TV, not to mention other notable movie stars, like Godzilla, Mothra and Giant Robot. Also included in this section are hundreds and hundreds of cool car models from all over the world and some U.S.-influenced musical hipsters from Japan's post-WWII era. The collection also housed some pretty scary-ass dolls and masks that still give me nightmares to this day, and there's even a shooting gallery. The coolest part of the toy section is the gift shop, where you can purchase some of the coolest old school toys around. They also sell a weird assortment of stickers for your cell phone. I guess these stickers were made to show the rebellious side of the Japanese people, and what better way to do that than with a penis sticker in the shape of the Pepsi logo or a cocaine sticker in the shape of the Coke logo stuck to the back of your phone?
Once you've loaded yourself up on all the toys from the gift shop, you enter the first of three floors of classic automobiles, which is allocated for the kei cars and trucks. That's right, trucks. It's funny; in America it's all about how powerful trucks are to carry 20 million pounds of cargo. Well, Japan's thinking is a little bit different; I think they are more worried about how small the streets are as well as the price of gas. Not to mention the Japanese must have been carrying "smaller packages." And despite what you've heard, don't believe those urban myths about Jonny's size (from what the ladies tell me, he'll be the first to prove that myth wrong). Enough talk about "packages"-let's look at some cars. A tiny pickup that caught my eye was a tiny-ass Daihatsu Midget three-wheeler. Back in '63 you could buy this truck for 228,000 yen or just over $2,000. Just to give you some frame of reference, back in '63 a college graduate in Japan was making around 20,000 or just over $175 a month. You could have purchased a big bottle of beer for 115 yen or around a buck and could take a bath in a hot spring for 23 yen or around 20 cents. Another unique vehicle in this section is the 1972 Honda Vamos. This car looks like it was custom made for Disneyland's jungle ride, but it was made to drive on the streets. Honda's slogan for the Vamos was, "Jump in and go!" If this was offered in LA, where I grew up without doors or windows, a lot of people would have jumped in and left. Space must have been an issue with this vehicle; check out where they put the spare tire. That's right, baby, in between the headlights!
The second floor is reserved for mid-sized and larger vehicles. The very first vehicle on display is a super-clean 1938 Datsun 17. Check out the manual turn indicators and the elegant side windows. Believe it or not, in 1938 you could purchase this fine machine for 2250 yen or just under 20 bucks. Another one for the Datsun fans is the 1972 Skyline 1500 Hardtop. Unlike the later mega power GT-Rs we all know and love, this Skyline came with a whopping 88 hp. The coolest vehicle on this floor is a 1967 Toyota Pablica. Sure, the vehicle is very rare, but the thing that makes this particular build interesting is the team behind it. It was a group of elementary school and junior high students; they did a ground-up build on this classic from a complete engine overhaul to bodywork and paint restoration.
On the third floor is where all of the horsepower and high-dollar cars come into play and, as such, is dedicated to sports cars and racecars. As soon as you walk through the doors on this floor, blam, there it is: a super-clean 1967 Toyota 2000GT. This car is so cool that James Bond was only able to sit shotgun in one in the 1967 movie "You Only Live Twice." Right behind the 2000GT is another super-rare Japanese super car, a 1971 Datsun Z432. There were only 419 of these produced and in 1971 they sold for 1850000 yen or just over $16,300. For the rotary fans, a super pristine 1968 Mazda Cosmo Sport complete with a 128 hp 10 B motor. The Skyline GT-R has become a tuner guy's dream in the U.S. Some of you might think a R32 is old school but check out the 1971 and 1972 Skyline GT-Rs, all in mint condition, just like they were rolled from the Datsun factory. Also on hand is a 1972 Datsun Skyline GT-R race version. This car was built for road racing and produces 250 hp, which is really good considering the factory motor produced 160 hp. For the Datsun 510 nuts, there is a 1972 Bluebird Coupe 1800 SSS complete with its L18 with SU carburetors, perfectly chromed rear taillights, all of it original emblems, bullet style side markers and fender mounted rearview mirrors. After leaving, I couldn't believe that I was in the middle of nowhere and in the presence of greatness.
On the way to the exit you venture through yet another gift shop. The theme to this gift shop is candy. Once again, I thought there would be nothing to see here except maybe a few Snickers with Japanese writing on them, but no. There is some pretty funny stuff here! Check out the oppai (breasts) pudding. Now you can purchase for your pre-teen son a pair of boob-shaped pudding snacks, complete with nipples. Right next to the boob pudding is bottle of "F-Cup candy;" the label simulates a boob enhancement drug. I guess in Japan they start them off young! Nice.
The last stop in the museum is a squirrel park, and the honor system is put in place here. Out on a table are cups of food for the squirrels. There is no one watching and you can put a cup out and feed the squirrels. You're supposed to leave 100 yen in a little basket. Back home in LA, all that food would have been gone (not to mention the basket with the money in it).