Tokyo - The Toyotaland
October 2005
Just back from a trip to Tokyo. Although the weather is so-so and could not see the peak of Mt. Fuji because of cloudy sky, I still enjoyed the journey. Contrary to my believe, the new generation of Japanese is not all that obedient. Smoking while walking on the street (which is illegal there) and crossing roads at red traffic light are not uncommon scene in Tokyo today. However, drivers are mostly patient and careful, rarely found speeding or overtaking dangerously.

The roads in Tokyo are mostly narrow but glass smooth. Traffic jam is horrible in the metro area. No wonder Japanese cars do not need to handle or ride well. All they need is a compact size and ease of use. Now I can understand why K-cars are so popular there.

In the streets of Tokyo, I roughly estimate more than half the cars are Toyota. Such a dominating status in its home market approaches that of Fiat in Italy a couple of decades ago. Many of them are the new Toyota Crown, which serves as executive cars, company cars, police cars as well as taxis. It is quite impressive to me, thanks to a handsome exterior and interior design - certainly better than Honda Legend, which, on the contrary to Crown, you can hardly find one in the streets of Tokyo.

I also had a sit in the new Crown in Toyota's Mega Web museum. This place displays about 30-40 Toyota and Daihatsu new cars and you can sit any of them without a close guard of any salespersons. I tried the new Vitz (Yaris), whose hard plastics and small rear passenger space disappointed me (the lower segment Passo has actually more rear head and leg room). I suppose it won't present too much threat to the new Fiat Punto and Renault Clio in Europe.

The Mark X is stylish outside and inside, very well executed. It is probably the most impressive car in the showroom. Not too luxurious, but it is one of the few Japanese cars that has original taste. In contrast, Toyota's luxurious flagship, the V12 Century, is simply a crap. I didn't feel comfortable in its rear cabin, whose legroom is amazingly tight and the seat cushion is too hard and flat, not to mention its super-conservative design.

Apart from Toyota, the most popular car you can see in Tokyo streets is Nissan Cube. Surprisingly, it outnumbers sister car March (Micra) by quite a large margin, proving that Tokyo people prefer fun-looking and flexible small cars. In the sports car side, Mazda RX-8 is the winner. Every time seeing it is a refresh - reflecting the fact that most Japanese cars on the streets look boring.

Mark Wan

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