More Than History: The Toyota Museum Japan

During my five years of working as a Speedhunter I’ve had the opportunity to visit lots of auto museums, both in the United States and in Japan. From large factory-owned facilities to smaller privately-owned collections, I’ve been able to see it all. I have to say that so far nothing has been quite like what I experienced during my recent visit to the Toyota Automobile Museum in Japan.

I suppose it shouldn’t really be a surprise. Toyota is after all one of the biggest automakers in the world, so it makes sense that the company would have a sizable museum in its homeland. Even so, I still wasn’t quite prepared for both the size and the excellent experience that the facility delivered.

The Toyota Museum is not just something that should be seen by anyone who considers themselves a fan of the brand, but by anyone who has an interest in the history of the automobile. The facility is so much more than just a display of historic Toyota models.

In fact, it’s going to take me a few posts to get through all of the material I have to share from the museum. I thought I’d begin with a more broad look at the Toyota Automobile Museum experience, before exploring the individual exhibits in more detail during future posts.

The museum is located in Aichi Prefecture, not far from the Nagoya city center, and easily accessed by car or train. Aichi is of course home territory for Toyota, being the home to its namesake city, its corporate headquarters and many of its factories.

The museum itself originally opened in 1989 and spans two large buildings full of exhibits as well as a museum store, restaurant, library and more. Just in case you were confused, this completely separate from the smaller Toyota MegaWeb and History Garage facilities in Tokyo.

One of the first vehicles you actually see as your make your way toward the museum’s main entrance is the Toyota Bonnet Bus from 1963. As with a lot of Japanese designs from the era, the resemblance to American lines is quite strong.

While it might sound strange from a corporate perspective, it’s important to note that the Toyota Museum’s exhibits covers much more than just the history and contributions of Toyota itself. As part of its focus on automotive history, the museum pays tribute to historic automobiles from brands all around the world.

The idea is to present a complete history of the the automobile, and this is accomplished through a large selection of vehicles that spanning from the earliest days of cars right on through to modern era. In addition to the assortment of cars from Europe and the United States…

… there is also a complete selection of historic Japanese machinery from the 1960s and 1970s. Hondas, Nissans, Mazdas, Mitsubishis – they are all here. But where are the Toyotas?

Well, during the time I visited the museum, they were in the midst of a special exhibit called ‘Toyota 75′, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the brand. The vast display included such things as a replica of Toyota’s very first passenger car – the 1936 Toyoda Model AA.

There was also a tribute to Mr. Kiichiro Toyoda, the man who lead the company into automobile production and the grandfather of current Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.

Another part of this special exhibit was a graphical chart displaying the entire lineage of Toyota vehicles produced during the last 75 years.

It might not sound like much, but to see a visual representation of every model Toyota has ever produced is staggering. It gives a true picture of just what the company has done over the last three quarters of a century.

Once you’ve had a look at the lineage chart it’s time to move on to the real cars. Again, there’s a lot to show here, so I’ll be investigating this exhibit in more detail during an upcoming post.

I will say that it was an incredible assortment of historic Toyotas, including the iconic models like the super sexy 2000GT…

… along with plenty of the more mainstream cars that played an equally big part of Toyota’s development as a global automotive powerhouse.

The more modern end of Toyota’s 75-year history is represented by recent models like the 86 and the even more exotic Lexus LFA. I think Toyota enthusiasts will love what’s in store from my coverage of this exhibit.

Once you have looked through all of those displays, you are only part way done with the Toyota Museum experience. Aside from the main building, there’s also an annex building that is equally fascinating.

The annex is a newer edition to the museum and it includes a large permanent exhibit that focuses on Japan and the history of the country’s motorization.

The exhibit tells the story not just through a collection of vehicles but also through an incredible display of cultural artifacts, ranging from Japan’s early industrialization through the wartime years and on to the rise of its auto industry. Again, I’ll be chronicling this area soon in greater detail.

Additionally, this building also houses an art gallery featuring historic Toyota photographs and promotional material plus a sizable library containing a massive selection of automotive books and magazines.

The library’s collection of over 11,000 books includes titles published both in Japan and internationally. From rare magazines from the ’60s and ’70s to Formula 1 books and technical manuals – it’s all here.

It’s the sort of thing that makes me want to pack up all my stuff and move somewhere close to the museum, just so I could come here to relax every afternoon.

Needless to say, the museum also includes a large gift shop. Not your cheesy tourist joint, but a store that includes all sorts of cool Toyota goods and other omiyage for car enthusiasts.

You’ll find everything from stickers and basic souvenirs…

… to a full line of diecast collectables from Tomica and other popular makers.

One again it’s not just Toyotas you find here, but diecast models representing all of the major car brands.

There’s also a special line of toy cars representing the actual vehicles found within the museum’s collection.

Plenty of automotive books and magazines are available here too.

Toyota Museum Curry? Sure, why not!

Elsewhere, you’ll find other cool things like a complete LEGO replica of the museum grounds…

… and a large Tomica city display for the kids.

Also for the youngsters, the ‘Kid’s Garage’ area, which is full of interactive displays and stuff to climb on.

Naturally, you work up quite an appetite looking through all the museum has to offer, but that’s taken care of too.

We aren’t talking about your typical museum snack bar, but nice restaurant with high quality food and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere.

The restaurant even had these special 75th anniversary Toyota place mats, which the staff gladly gave me when I asked for a few to take home with me.  Just another little marker of how great the experience is.

Hopefully that gives you guys a little idea of what the Toyota Automobile Museum is all about – and better yet has whet your appetite for some of the more in-depth coverage I have on the way.

Mike Garrett
Instagram : speedhunters_mike

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