A JOURNEY WITH A DIFFERENCE
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.
IT IS POSSIBLE, MAYBE EVEN PROBABLE,
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.