While in Japan last month, I was browsing through the May issue of Nostalgic Hero, a Japanese magazine dedicated to vintage Japanese cars, and noticed a very nice red Subaru 360 featured in one of the articles.
Kato Motors. I figured, heck, I'm in Japan, how can I pass up a visit (and shoot some Polaroids)? The dealership is in Kiyose in Tokyo prefecture, which is about an hour by train from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo via the Seibu Ikebukuro Line. I planned a day to head out there, and wander about Kiyose and some of the other small towns in the area if time permitted. This was March 31, 20 days after the earthquake and tsunami, so I had to make sure the train I needed was running. Though some of the alternate trains were down, the semi-express and local trains were still on the go.
I get to Kiyose about 9:30am, Kato Motors doesn't open up until 11am. So I wander around Kiyose for a couple hours. The dealership is a couple blocks from the station, and the town is fairly small (though the Tokyo metro area is mostly connected for miles, so you could keep walking for a long, long time and still be in "the city"), so I made a nice circuit. Kiyose is basically a farm town, with lots of cool, big Danchi (public housing or apartments, kind of like projects in the U.S.). A few shots in the area before we get to Kato Motors...
A danchi, shot with Type 672:
Kato Motors is owned by Noboru Kato, and has been in business since 1977. Though he had a few other car makes, he specializes in Subaru 360s. What is a Subaru 360? Basically a VW Beetle clone. They were produced in Japan from 1958 to 1971, and were sold in the U.S. in 1969 and 1970. The basic shape changed very little during its entire run. I'm sure you've already clicked on the Kato Motors link above, but if not...here is a row of beautiful 360s! Shot on Type 690...
Mazda Carol, which he said was "very quiet, but very slow"!
As mentioned previously, the Subaru 360 was available in the U.S. in 1969 and 1970.
You can read more about it here, but, short story, it sold very poorly and received terrible reviews in the auto magazines (with some flat-out lies about the car's lack of power). But the past is the past and now they are collectible! They aren't super expensive, ranging from $1000 to $6000 depending on condition. This is pretty close to the Japanese Yen value, though they float around 400000円 to 800000円, or $4500 and up, depending on exchange rates. But they have many more years to choose from, and I'm sure the earlier models are worth more. This isn't too far off from VW Beetle prices, as you can get a basic 1970s Beetle for around $2000, though some models can go as high as $20,000. I am casually keeping an eye out for a nice 360 for a nice price, myself. You can read more about 360s and collecting at the Subaru 360 Driver's Club and the Vintage Microcar Club. A couple of interesting books available on Amazon.co.jp are the Subaru 360 Complete Book, which has a lot of technical info and not as many pictures as I had hoped, and Memories of Japanese K-cars, which is one of my favorite car books ever, beautiful stuff.
If you are making a trip to Tokyo, or you live in Tokyo, spend an afternoon in Kiyose and visit Kato Motors! Yeah, Tokyo Tower is okay (nice view, but 20,000 either very young or very old short people), but think outside of the tourist box!
Until next time, some more Subaru 360s!