The All Blacks will play Italy in Toy­ota City at next year’s World Cup. GRE­GOR PAUL be­lieves both the city and the sta­dium will make for an en­gag­ing visit for those Ki­wis who make it to Ja­pan.

NZ Rugby World - - Contents - Gre­gor Paul was a guest of Toy­ota City/Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment of Ja­pan.


that most New Zealan­ders haven’t heard of Toy­ota City. Just as likely is that on dis­cov­er­ing its ex­is­tence, New Zealan­ders will im­me­di­ately guess that the city takes its name from the mo­tor cor­po­ra­tion. They would be right.

The Toy­ota Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion dom­i­nates the city which has a pop­u­la­tion of around 420,000. It is the ma­jor em­ployer, hav­ing four plants in the area as well as its cor­po­rate head­quar­ters. But it is not the only ma­jor au­to­mo­tive pres­ence in the city. Sev­eral of Ja­pan’s lead­ing car man­u­fac­tur­ers

“...Toy­ota City will be one of the World Cup’s great game day venues – and with plans to cre­ate the Fan Zone at a sports cen­tre just five min­utes walk from the sta­dium...”

have plants in the city ei­ther as­sem­bling fin­ished cars or cre­at­ing spe­cial­ist parts for global ex­por­ta­tion.

It is then, a city dom­i­nated by the car in­dus­try and its history re­flects that. The city was orig­i­nally called Koromo and built largely on the silk trade – with the wider re­gion be­ing a ma­jor pro­ducer. But as the silk in­dus­try fell into de­cline in the 1930s, Koromo fell upon harder times.

It was through eco­nomic hard­ship that lo­cal man Ki­ichiro Toy­oda be­gan to look at ways to trans­form or mod­ernise his fam­ily’s loom busi­ness. To cut a long story short, what ef­fec­tively tran­spired was the cre­ation of the Toy­ota Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion. They pro­duced their first ve­hi­cle – the AA Sedan in 1936 – but it was in the years fol­low­ing the sec­ond world war that Toy­ota be­gan the trans­for­ma­tion into the pro­duc­tion gi­ant it has be­come.

Com­pany ex­ec­u­tives vis­ited the United States in the 1950s, among other coun­tries, and af­ter study­ing de­sign and pro­duc­tion around the globe, Toy­ota was able to strike the magic for­mula of build­ing af­ford­able, yet com­fort­able and ef­fi­cient cars that en­abled it to be­come the world’s largest man­u­fac­turer.

Such was its in­flu­ence that Koromo was re­named Toy­ota City in 1959 and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween com­pany and civic en­tity has been close and in­ter­twined ever since. And it is a re­la­tion­ship with a num­ber of in­trigu­ing highlights, most no­tably that work­ers at the var­i­ous Toy­ota plants re­ceive not only a 20 per cent price re­duc­tion if they buy one of their em­ploy­ers’ cars, they also re­ceive free petrol to cover the cost of their com­mute.

Toy­ota, al­most in­evitably, were a ma­jor in­vestor/spon­sor in the con­struc­tion of the city’s sta­dium in 2001. It was built in the hope that it win the right top host some FIFA World Cup games but strangely they missed out.

Strange be­cause it is a truly mag­nif­i­cent sport­ing the­atre. City of Toy­ota Sta­dium will be the star of the show when the All Blacks play Italy there on Oc­to­ber 12.

With a ca­pac­ity of around 45,000, it won’t be the scale of the sta­dium that im­presses: it will be the shape and height. City of Toy­ota Sta­dium is built at a 38 de­gree an­gle – which ef­fec­tively means that the seat­ing is stacked at the same pitch as an Olympic ski-jump.

For those who take to the high­est seats, it re­ally will be an ex­pe­ri­ence like not other: with the sense of be­ing on top of the game al­most ex­hil­a­rat­ing. It will be an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence go­ing to the game – made all the eas­ier by the fact the sta­dium is a 15-minute walk from the main train sta­tion – a jour­ney that will end by cross­ing the ar­chi­tec­turally im­pres­sive Toy­ota Ohashi bridge and sweep­ing into the sta­dium.

All of which means Toy­ota City will be one of the World Cup’s great game day venues – and with plans to cre­ate the Fan Zone at a sports cen­tre just five min­utes walk from the sta­dium, maybe the best game day venue. But it will be more than that. To see it as sim­ply a one-day stopover to take in the game would be a mis­take.

The big­gest re­gret would be miss­ing out on the Toy­ota Au­to­mo­bile Mu­seum. And this is not some­thing to miss. Any­one into cars will want to spend a day here. Any­one not into cars will want to spend a day here.

Why? Be­cause the mu­seum ba­si­cally tells the story of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try – from the at­tempts in the late 19th cen­tury by the ear­li­est in­ven­tors to cre­ate some kind of en­gine-pow­ered ve­hi­cle, right through to the mass pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cles we know today.

And it tells the story vis­ually

– as there are 140 pris­tine ve­hi­cles from around the world spread across two floors. No one needs to be a car buff to be in­trigued to clap eyes on an orig­i­nal Model T Ford and as for the op­por­tu­nity to see an im­mac­u­lately pre­served 1910 Rolls Royce Sil­ver Ghost...the most ex­pen­sive car in the world ap­par­ently, val­ued at around $35 mil­lion.

The jour­ney is un­for­get­table – travers­ing the US, Europe and then Ja­pan which be­gins to dom­i­nate the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try from the 1960s. There are orig­i­nal mod­els from Chevro­let, Buick, Nis­san, Re­nault and Porsche to name a few and by the end there is a deeper ap­pre­ci­a­tion of how in­no­va­tive and clever Toy­ota to be­come the world’s largest man­u­fac­turer of cars and how well Ja­pan has done to be­come the world’s most pro­lific na­tion in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try.

It would be easy to spend near enough a full day at the Toy­ota Au­to­mo­bile Mu­seum, but for vari­a­tion, a trip to the tra­di­tional town of Asuke is well worth mak­ing.

It will be es­pe­cially worth mak­ing at the World Cup as it will be host­ing a tra­di­tional fes­ti­val the day af­ter the All Blacks have played Italy. The Asuke Fes­ti­val has been run­ning for more than 300 years and will pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to see hun­dreds of Matchlock guns be­ing fired and the most spec­tac­u­larly colour­ful and vi­brant floats.

The town’s ori­gins trace back to the silk and salt in­dus­tries as it was a use­ful stag­ing post for traders mak­ing their across the is­land. It was in Asuke where they would take much needed rest and the town’s name trans­lated into English roughly means to pray for the health of the lower legs.

Th­ese days, tourists can test the strength of their lower legs by at­tempt­ing to walk to the his­toric cas­tle at the top of Mount Mayumi. It is a fair climb – al­most 350 me­tres from sea level – but worth it.

The cas­tle was built by the Suzuki clan in the 15th cen­tury and pro­vides com­pelling views of the re­gion.

Once you make it back down, the plan should be to wan­der across to Asuke-yashiki. This is ef­fec­tively a tra­di­tional ‘theme park’ of sorts where a host of ac­tiv­i­ties can be wit­nessed and ex­pe­ri­enced.

There is a hand­craft cen­tre – which of­fers straw and bam­boo crafts, weav­ing, um­brella mak­ing, pa­per­mak­ing, dye­ing and wood turn­ing and wooden tub-mak­ing.

It is a chance to go back in time to a more tra­di­tional Ja­pan and also a chance to see the nat­u­ral beauty of the re­gion. Ja­pan is re­lent­lessly beau­ti­ful and the Aichi Pre­fec­ture is no ex­cep­tion.

In Oc­to­ber, the re­gion will be green, lush and colour­ful. Toy­ota City may have an in­dus­trial feel, be close to its roots as a worker’s city, but it doesn’t take long to get out­side the ur­ban zone and be in the wilder­ness.

Toy­ota City, there­fore of­fers a com­pelling mix of old and new: of ur­ban and ru­ral, and of mod­ern and tra­di­tional.

It also of­fers an en­gag­ing culi­nary and lifestyle ex­pe­ri­ence with the lo­cal in­sti­tu­tion of Kevin’s Bar the per­fect way to fin­ish a long day. Si­t­u­ated next to the main sta­tion, Kevin’s Bar is hugely pop­u­lar with tourists who have their pic­ture taken by their host and then placed with the thou­sands of oth­ers who have been there be­fore them.

The walls are a rich history of sport­ing mem­o­ra­bilia and ge­o­graphic trin­kets that give an in­di­ca­tion that peo­ple from about ev­ery cor­ner of the globe have stum­bled upon Kevin’s Bar at some stage.

It is a tight, com­pact area with snug booths – a bit like an Amer­i­can diner with a snack menu that gives a taste of the lo­cal re­gion. It’s fun, lively and authen­tic.

Across the road is the sim­i­larly worth­while Booby’s Bar – a Ja­panese take on the tra­di­tional English pub. This is more pop­u­lar with locals and a big­ger, brighter space but with not quite the same in­ti­macy but a unique charm nev­er­the­less.

And that sums up Toy­ota City – it has a unique charm based on its al­most unique history.

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