On The Ground: Tokyo Auto Salon 2023

BY Sean Loo

If you’re like me and love all things JDM, brace yourself for three days of awesomeness.

Since I was a wee little boy, I was always enthralled by Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) cars. Probably because I am Asian, and probably due to games such as Need For Speed. I can still remember the day I first laid eyes on a Mitsubishi Evolution 8. The curves, the angles, god I was in love.

It was this passion that fueled my interest for the Tokyo Auto Salon. For years, no decades, I logged into Facebook and YouTube religiously over the years, itching to view photos of this yearly prestigious event.

The stuff you see there is the stuff of dreams, an automotive messiah of tuning and performance.

So imagine my sheer excitement when I got accepted to attend it in person. Boy, I couldn't contain my excitement.

Tokyo Auto Salon was originally inaugurated in 1983. With an original title of “Tokyo Exciting Car Show”, it was a show that attempted to establish the custom car culture of Japan.

Now, in its 41st rendition, the show is now the pinnacle of tuning culture, and arguably the biggest annual automotive show in the Asia Pacific region.

One quick (and expensive) booking of flights and accommodation, and it's off to the races. To be frank, I flew in on the 13th of January, which was the opening day of the Tokyo Auto Salon.

I was dead tired (red-eye flights are not recommended if you’re working) until I stepped into the first of many halls. The sights, the sounds. Immediately, I perked up.

Nothing can prepare you for what you're about to see. Even if you're someone who attends this yearly, the roster that comes and goes with each passing year is so diverse. There is definitely something that'll tickle your fancy, regardless of what kind of automobile culture you're invested in. The festival was so vast, that I couldn't even cover everything within the 3 days.

My suggestion if you wish to attend this show in the future, is to pace yourself. There are usually 9 halls in total, and it's good practice to set aside each day for a specific number of halls. That way, you can maximise the number of halls and booths you can cover for the entire event.

Be prepared for crowds. Lots of them. In its 3-day run, this year's Tokyo Auto Salon saw a staggering 179,434 participants. In total, there were 341 exhibitors displaying a total of 789 unique vehicles.

Jam-packed into its 9 halls were 3,904 booths, and you can snag up cool trinkets like stickers, brochures or even limited edition memorabilia like car models and keychains.

This show is not just for the tuning folks too, as even major automotive brands made an appearance, with most debuting new models that we can look forward to in 2023 and beyond. Notable mentions include Nissan with the launch of their updated 2024 R35 GT-R and Toyota with their gorgeous new Prius.

You can expect to find key industry players and famous celebrities while you walk the grounds. I was passing by the Toyota booth when a large crowd of journalists congregated.

I peered over the sea of faces, and lo and behold I came face to face with Akio Toyoda, the man helming the ropes behind Toyota and Gazoo Racing. Saying I was awestruck was an understatement.

The celebrity meet and greet didn't stop there either, as I came face to face with Mike Whidett, better known as Mad Mike. We had a lovely chat, and he's an amazing person to be around with. Safe to say, that autographed Hotwheels I now own is worth a fortune.

Sadly, I was 3 weeks too late to meet one of my absolute heroes. Ken Block, someone whom I admire and respect immensely, has unfortunately met with an accident and has tragically passed on. He was due to present at a press conference with Toyo Tyres, but sadly only his car was present at the booth.

Rest in peace legend, and thank you for all those years of burning rubber and guzzling engines.

If you are passionate about cars, or have a thing for tuning and aftermarket monsters, attending Tokyo Auto Salon in person is definitely something you should have on your bucket list. You cannot beat being there in person, and it's honestly a dream come true.

I'll definitely be back, so see you guys in 2024!