Take a tour of the Toyota Automobile Museum

Near its corporate headquarters in Japan, Toyota has an excellent museum not just of its cars, but cars from around the world and throughout the history of the automobile.

Geoffrey Morrison

Nagoya is about two-thirds of the way to Osaka from Tokyo. It's a lively town, as all big Japanese cities are. Toyota is big here, its corporate headquarters and several of its plants are located just to the east, in Toyota City. So it's fitting that this is where you'd find the Toyota Automobile Museum.

It's a massive, gorgeous building, with expertly manicured grounds surrounding it. Perhaps most interesting, this isn't strictly a Toyota museum, though it owns it. It's a great collection of cars from all of automotive history, from early turn-of-the-last-century buggies, to streamlined '30s sedans, all the way through to the modern era. Roughly half the collection are Japanese cars.

It's also one of the more beautiful presentations of a car museum, with perhaps only the new Petersen in Los Angeles its rival on that front. All the cars are brightly lit, immaculately shiny and arranged so you can get right up close.

Here are photos from the tour.

First floor

What we'd call the ground floor is mostly the restaurant, entrance hall and gift shop. Up the escalators in the sunlit and wide open central space, and the cars begin. It's chronically presented, with replicas of the earliest cars, then moving to the stunning curves of the '20s and '30s.

As you progress through the decades, there are some other notable highlights, including a Porsche 356, a Mercedes Gullwing and more.

These were cool to see, of course, but I was most interested in the next floor up, which featured all Japanese cars.

toyota-automobile-museum-mid.jpg
Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Second floor

Japan in general, and Toyota in particular, have been making cars for a long time. Though many early models were exceptionally small by western standards, some were nearly as big as models from European or American automakers at the time (well, the smaller American models, anyway).

As you move through the horseshoe-shaped space, the cars get younger, as they did on the level below. Once you get to the '60s and '70s areas, it's easy to see why Japanese cars started to become popular outside of Japan. The designs go from boxy and subdued to charismatic and exciting. Well, the sports cars anyway. A family sedan is a family sedan. If you've never seen a Toyota 2000GT in the steel before, let me tell you, it does not disappoint. What a beautiful machine. Maybe I can afford a Honda S600. They're nice too. A Nissan Fairlady Z, a Mitsubishi Galant GTO and a 1970 Celica make for a great picture.

Then it's on to the '80s and the present. Miata, of course, along with an MR2 and even a Lexus LFA. All these and many more.

Across a skybridge to the Annex, and there's a great display of what it was like in Japan through the last century, and how cars and other technology affected it. Overall a great walkthrough with dioramas, cars and more.

MagLev!

I totally nerded out just getting to the museum. The easiest way to get there from central Nagoya is, after a regular subway, a MagLev! A train that hovers over the tracks using electromagnets. How futuristic is that?

toyota-automobile-museum-mid-2-maglev.jpg
Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

OK, technically not very, as it's not particularly fast, not the first MagLev, nor is it particularly new. The fact that it's fully automated isn't even that noteworthy these days. They are very rare, however, and this was my first time on one.

The Linimo line was built for Expo 2005, and has all of nine stations. Riding on it was, well, in fairness I had built it up a lot in my head. Most Japanese trains are quiet and smooth, and this was...quiet and smooth. If I hadn't known it was a MagLev, I'm not sure I would have realized it wasn't just a regular train. Not sure if that's good or bad.

Still: MagLev!

Bottom line

Nagoya, in fairness, isn't high on most people's bucket lists. Thankfully, it's so easy to get around Japan, it'd be easy to get there from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or wherever. It takes about an hour from central Nagoya to get to the museum, but I found it well worth it. An afternoon well spent.

Check out the gallery above for all the pictures.


In his alternate life as a travel writer, Geoff does tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, medieval castles, iconic music studios and more. You can follow his exploits on Twitter and Instagram, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. Got a tour-worthy spot you think he should check out? Let him know!

Close
Drag
Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF