For any auto enthusiast the vehicular equivalent of Mecca is easily the Tokyo Motor Show. Sure, some will quickly argue that driving in the Nurburgring Nordschleife would be number one. At the very least, the Tokyo Motor Show would be the more immediate and more easily attainable goal.
No other motorshow brings together the wild, wacky, visionary and visceral automotive dreams the way the Tokyo Motor Show can. It's also the perfect excuse to enjoy the multi-sensory treat that is kitschy and quirky Tokyo. And let's be honest, you probably want to steal a peek at the porn shops, don't you?
Before anything else, the first step is to secure a formal invite to Japan. Whether for work or as an eager otaku (extreme addict of any kind of curious hobby), the land of the rising sun requires this prior to securing a Visa. Ask a friend or colleague, as long as it's from any citizen or company based in Japan. Make sure to procure this at least 2 months before your intended date of departure. The formal invite should contain the guarantor's (host) name and address, the inclusive dates and length of stay of your visit. You should also provide the address of your hotel or host and port of entry and ship or airline details if available.
Once you have that, you can apply for a Japanese Visa. Your host or any reputable travel agency should willingly handle the processing. A valid passport at least 9 months from expiring goes without saying. US, Shengen and similar Visas in the passport will hasten the process. This application has its own list of requirements like the accomplished form (no erasures), 3 photos up to Japan Visa spec (unique from other visas), a copy of your latest ITR, SSS, and Company ID. Throw it in the brown envelope with a certificate of employment, 3 months of bank certificates and, of course, the formal invite. First time applicants will also need to submit an NSO copy of your birth certificate. If all is submitted in orderly fashion, you should expect your Visa within 2-3 weeks and a possible call for an interview.
Pack light for this trip but bring a big bag. You want to leave room for food, souvenirs and any other curios you'll find. Keep close tabs on the weather and pack appropriately. Be sure you include comfortable clothes and walking shoes. Bring a camera with lots of batteries and memory cards as you'll be shooting a lot. It's best to convert your money to Yen beforehand. Bring dollars as a back up and last resort. Everything in Japan is expensive, but you might want to bring a little extra for the neat new camera or handheld console that Japan always gets, ahead of other countries.
With that sorted out, it's time to arrange the itinerary. The Motor Show happens every two years on October and may well be the city's busiest month. If you're lucky, you'll also catch the Tokyo International Film Fest and might want to check it out. With that in mind, you'll want to spend at least 5 days in Tokyo. Devote 1-2 days for the motor show (remember that the first 2 days are for press only), 1 whole day for Akihabara (the shopping district) and the rest for exploring the city. If it covers a weekend, choose to go to Akihabara on a weekend to see the otakus out in force and in costume.
Though flight time from Manila to Tokyo is a brief 4-5, getting from Narita to Tokyo takes a whole hour. Add the hassles of air travel these days and it can easily leave you worn out. Try to schedule flights that arrive at night so you can be up bright and early the next day.
Then there's the question of location. Makuhari Messe, the home of the Motor Show, is an hour away from central Tokyo. You'll sooner get to Tokyo Disneyland than this place. Don't bother finding a hotel near the venue. Instead, choose one closer to the heart of the city that makes commutes to tourist spots and key sights far cheaper. If you're getting a travel package, try to find one that includes the Motor Show in its itinerary.
This should include a bus service to the Messe. You can also log on to the Motorshow website to find the busses that lead directly there. If not, travel with a local, who should know the cheapest and most efficient way to get there.
Tokyo itself has a fair share of sights that shouldn't be missed. Disneyland is a no-brainer if you're traveling with kids. Otherwise, skip it and take the time see sights that are more unique to Tokyo.
If Paris has the River Seine, Tokyo has the Sumida River. This 40 minute trip is light on the budget and provides a showcase of Tokyo's very modern architecture. Come nightfall, the city never sleeps and the best place to take it all in is the Tokyo View Observation deck atop the Roppongi Hills building. To get a street-level view, head down to Shibuya. You'll recognize the intersection from movies like Lost in Translation and Tokyo Drift. Pay a visit to the Hachiko monument before exploring the side streets lined with all-night arcades, clubs, love hotels and 24 hour salons.
Shopping areas are abundant, and in Tokyo, are also organized. The Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Arcade has Japanese handicraft, souvenir items and charms. Akihabara is all about electronics and nearly every peculiar hobby an otaku can devote himself to. Ueno has clothes and accessories all in tune with current and timeless Japanese trends.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, for in Tokyo, Japanese cuisine is at its finest. Forget McDonald's and use each meal time to enjoy Yakitori, Shabu-shabu, sushi, ramen and tempura lovingly prepared by their respective devoted restaurants. If there's one thing you shouldn't hesitate spending on, it's the food.
Finally, there's the motor show itself. The event can occupy anywhere from 3-8 exhibition halls, each as large as the biggest our country has. If you think the parking area is a visual feast (and believe me, you will), wait till you get inside.
Each of the Japanese brands will have a booth for their whole line-up. In some cases, separate booths for motorcycles, cars and commercial vehicles. Some European brands and a couple of tuning houses won't likely miss the occasion either. Each of them have interactive kiosks, cars you can hop into, exhibitions with more info and girls more than willing to pose for a photo.
It's not just cars on display. Original equipment and aftermarket manufacturers will also have their own booths. Tire brands, tuning houses and accessibility providers will vie for your attention with their grid girls. Even toy and video game manufacturers will have something for you to play with or try out.
The motor show experience wouldn't be complete without a drive. If you have the time and patience, consult the map for the test drive areas. Line up for the car of your choice and remember to keep left. It's a strict route but the spine-tingling exhaust notes is all you need to experience. After all, where else can you drive a Skyline without having to whip out your checkbook?
After taking it all in, it's very likely you'll still yearn for more. There's so much more bubbling under Tokyo and its motor show than a paltry few days will let you take in. All the more reason to return, at least. Perhaps the next time, you might opt not to return.