Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A holiday in Japan...

Things have been quiet here on 'Honda Fan', and for a good reason. I was away for a trip to Japan and only returned late last week. My last trip to Japan was almost exactly 10 years ago, when I went for a part business, part leisure trip partially paid for by VTEC.NET and partially out of my own pocket. That was to cover the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show but I also took the opportunity to visit a friend in Tokyo.

This trip however is purely for pleasure and I elected to attend an organized tour by Apple Vacations, the premier tour agency for holidays in Japan and Korea. The trip was very well organized and extremely enjoyable, a trademark of Apple Vacation holiday tours. My wife and I were taken on an unforgettable tour which included cities like Fukuoka, Kobe, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Osaka, Kyoto and of course Tokyo. Many of the must-visit places were also located on the outskirts and countryside, e.g. the hot springs of Hakone and also the legendary Fujisan (Mount Fuji, the icon of Japan).

Only two trips to Japan, spaced 10 years apart. It may be surprising to some but I have never had the good fortune of being invited to join any of the formal Honda Malaysia trips for journalists to visit the Honda HQ in Japan or the biannual sponsored trips to the Tokyo Motor Show. 

In the context of "Honda Fan", visiting any country gives me a chance to sample the car scene in that country. As a tourist on a bus, I got to see a 'random sample' of cars on the roads, highways and even parked at residences. Thus comparing this trip to my last 10 years ago, I got to see how the car scene has changed.
One good thing I immediately noticed is that there are more, a lot more Honda's in Japan now, compared to 10 years ago. Most of them are the Fit and the Freed, not surprising as these two models are Honda's best sellers in Japan. Back 10 years ago, it seemed as if Japan was literally buried in a sea of Toyota's. 

Unfortunately it wasn't only Honda's that have increased their presence on the roads. I also saw lots of Nissan's, Mazda's, even Mitsubishi's and Suzuki's as well. In fact, I can say that the number of Nissan might well have out-numbered the number of Honda's on the roads. Mazda's and Mitsubishi's too were quite conspicious, not to mention quite a lot of European cars especially BMW's. In the overall context, what I really saw was that the market share of Toyota is no longer what it used to be. Back in 2003, perhaps 9 out of 10 cars sighted were Toyota's. Now it is more like 6 out of 10. So Toyota's loss is other manufacturer's gain, in this case, looks like Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and the European makes shared the spoils of victory. But the sadder truth is that Honda did not gain the lion's share. If what I saw was indeed a 'random sample' indicative of the actual composition of car by makes on the roads now, then it seemed to me that the biggest gainer was Nissan though followed closely by Honda and then Mazda, the European makes especially BMW and finally Suzuki.

Hybrids and small sized cars especially the Kei-cars are indeed the most popular now in Japan. Back in 2003, I could clearly see the popularity of large SUVs and MPVs but now they are the minority. The roads in Japan, especially in the rural villages are really more suited to small kei-cars than anything else.

In terms of models, Honda sightings are dominated by the Fit and Freed, though I also saw a few Insights, Life and also the N-One. Isolated sightings of Odyssey's and Stream's and the previous 8G Civic were also made and there also seems to be quite a bit of Honda dealers, both used and old around the many places I visited. Of the sporty models that we are so fond of, I am afraid I did not see any Type-Rs, no Integras or Preludes, very little Civics and no Civic Type-Rs. No NSX. The only sporty Honda's I saw were one isolated S2000 and a few CR-Z's. 

However, the lack of sporty Honda sightings is certainly not indicative of the sporty car scene in Japan today. I saw lots of R35 (Skyline GT-Rs), Fairlady's and definitely the Toyota 86 (BR-Z). Indeed I believe I saw more Toyota 86 than all the sporty Honda's combined. So from the perspective of my 'random sample', the sporty car scene in Japan is far from dead. It is quite alive indeed. Every night I could hear cars with loud exhaust tearing down the roads. Perhaps many of them were Honda's but if so, very unfortunately I just did not get to see any of them. From this perspective, Honda very sadly seems to be quite out of the sporty scene in Japan today. Hopefully this might change in the future as cars like the turbocharged 10G Civic, the EV-STER and the NSX-2 gets launched.

The photo's in this post are taken randomly and are quite indicative of the Honda's I saw in Japan. With apologies, I just had to snap that photo of the Toyota 86, parked in a small village near Fukuoka in Kyushu, due to starvation of sporty cars to snap. There was actually one very nice Honda Beat I saw in a carpark near Fujisan which I regretted not being quick enough to take a photo of before it left the car-park. These photos are probably not very exciting to look at but I still hope you enjoy them.


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CRV9 said...

I hope you enjoyed it.
For the next time though, there is a temple in Kyoto where 'tofu' is famous. There are tofu restaurants there where they serve everything tofu from appetizers to main dishes to side dishes to desserts of tofu. You'd have to be tofu fanatics like me to appreciate it but it's still unique.(mind you though I hate tofu burgers or tofu milk. I hate fusion foods)

TOVA said...

Hi CRV9,

Was waiting for you to comment. Always interesting to read your comments.

Yes, we did visit that Kyoto temple. In fact, we visited two Tokyo temples, the Yasaka shrine, entering through the famous Maruyama park where the legendary 'old' sakura trees are (to do some 'hanami') as well as the Kiyomizudera temple. One of these (I think Kiyomizudera) is where that famous tofu shop is but we didn't try because we had a very heavy breakfast and we are not that big on tofu.

Japan is very nice place indeed and thanks to my wife, I have also grown a liking for japanese food. My last visit in 2003 was more car related and limited to Tokyo mainly, though my friend sponsored a trip to Hakone for me and my wife (which due to my, I would say stubborn stupidity, we missed the 'Romance car' and had to take the back-up normal train to Hakone.) My family's experience with japanese people are almost all very nice, as I told you in private email before, and the 2003 trip was so much sweetened by the great hospitality of my friend Marumo-san.

But this trip is totally on the tour agenda. My friend had a business trip to China that just coincided with our Tokyo stint. In terms of tourism, we were lucky to catch the tail end of the sakura bloom in Kyoto and a few cities, and in Tokyo, eventhough the bloom was officially over, we saw many late bloomers in Gyoen Park in Shinjuku.

My next trip to Japan will be Hokkaido but in the future, I plan to make another trip, just a few days of 'free and easy' to Tokyo to wonder around and also to meet up with my friend Marumo-san again.

danielgr said...

Ha ha, nice trip of yours Wong, glad you enjoyed yourself here.

Btw, you should refrain from jumping into conclusions based on a few sightings. Clearly your stats on Fits are accurate, but don't think so much on sports cars. It may depend a great deal on where you are, but at least over here there are still plenty of sporty Honda's, and considerably more CR-Z's than FT86's !!!

Next time you come let me know, I now moved near Tokyo so it's easier to meet people visiting.

TOVA said...

Daniel, great to hear from you.

Yes I have highlighted whether what I saw was indeed representative of the actual market situation in Japan but I did visit quite a number of places, small towns, large cities, outskirts, suburbs, etc and it was rather sad to see the sporty scene being dominated by Nissans and the 86. I was hoping to see more CR-Z's but I recall seeing only about half a dozen. If the true market situation is better for Honda it would be great.

The tour didn't go by Nagoya so I didn't contact you prior to it. My next trip to Japan will be Hokkaido though so we will miss each other again. Maybe in a couple of years time when I make a trip to Tokyo only, to visit my friend. Then hopefully we can meet up.

Keep in touch and hope our 'project' works out.

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