Daikoku PA: Is This The Beginning Of The End?

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As we spiral down the colossal off ramp from the expressway into Daikoku Parking Area (PA), the glittering sea of cars below tells us that today will be a good day.

Like dropped Skittles under a toddler’s chair, fluorescent oranges and yellows dot the vast parking arena. It’s easy to spot the Lamborghinis shouting for attention. Pulling into a parking row at the lower end of these sacred grounds, more gems sparkle in the sun. Yep, Daikoku is still the greatest candy shop for car spotting, anywhere on the planet.


Daikoku PA resembles a Roman arena, its circular towering access ramps creating walls 50 meters high around a central parking area, complete with a giant obelisk serving as a beacon to all. It truly is a remarkable structure, and even after all these years living in Japan, I still marvel at the impressive feat of engineering.


Japan is both blessed and cursed with a rugged mountainous landscape, tiny land mass and huge population. On the plus side, this has necessitated the construction of some of the most monumental expressways snaking through mountains, crossing valleys and rivers, linking islands both man-made and natural. The negative side of this is many people living in shoebox-size apartments.


Which brings us to Daikoku, one of the many parking areas which offer respite to the millions of people who use Japan’s expressways every day. ‘Parking area’ is actually a bit misleading, because in Japan these can be more like small towns, with clean toilet facilities, foodcourts and souvenir shops. Some even have accommodation.


So while parking areas are all about the amenities – a place to rest, refresh, and refuel – Daikoku’s proximity to Tokyo has made this PA a mecca for car enthusiasts from the wider metropolitan area and even further afield. It’s not at all uncommon to see cars with number plates from all across the Japan on any given night. It really is one of the best places in the world to experience car culture, hence why it has also long been a must-see tourist destination for car-loving visitors from overseas.


Daikoku is a melting pot of styles, tastes, makes and models, but quintessentially Japanese. It is authentic to its core; all the buzz words you hear are true. You’ll often see bonnets popped with two or three people peering in to the engine bays below. On any given day you’ll find Porsches, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and McLarens rubbing bumpers with Minis, Caterhams and Peugeots. No matter when you visit, you’re bound to see something interesting.


Within the confines of Daikoku Parking Area, people are free to wander around and admire cars, talk to their owners about specs and take photos. It’s car-spotting heaven.

But here’s the clincher: Japanese people are generally free to live the life they want and visit places like Daikoku PA whenever they like, as long as they follow the rules. And boy are there rules in this country. Lots of rules.


One of those silly rules is that the expressways and their facilities are for motorists only. There is no access for foot traffic. Crazy, right? I jest…


But unfortunately, this isn’t really very funny. In the past few months, Daikoku PA has been on Japanese national television news for all the wrong reasons. Once upon a time it was noise and cars parking in truck-reserved spots when larger gatherings were happening, but now there are bigger problems, and sadly it is not the Japanese enthusiasts pushing boundaries. It’s overseas visitors at the centre of it all.


The first, and perhaps the most concerning, is that some tourists have been entering the parking area on foot by scaling high security fences from adjoining public roads. I get it, Daikoku PA’s remote location in Tokyo Bay makes it extremely challenging to get to and from (you can taxi there, but there aren’t taxis waiting for a return trip), but breaking the law is not the way to do it. The other issue is an exponential increase in foreigner-run ‘tours’, many of which don’t appear to be operating with the relevant licences.


As a resident of Japan but also a foreigner, this really rubs me the wrong way. It reflects very badly on overseas visitors, of whom many locals are already wary of. Japan’s rules enable its society to run efficiently and without inconvenience to others. And if there’s one thing you can say about Japanese society, it’s efficient. It’s sad that some people can’t respect this.

Japan is also one of the safest countries in the world. So when foreigners start climbing over fences to gain access to the expressway parking area and running illegal tours – i.e. breaking rules – you can imagine how the authorities and locals might feel about. The worry is – and it’s a very real worry – Daikoku PA will be closed more often than it already is now. Perhaps closed entirely. That would be a huge loss for everyone.


It’s a tough one, because Daikoku PA really is an aspirational place to visit and I’m the sort of person that wants everyone to experience it just as I have. But if something doesn’t change in the way some tourists are travelling to and treating this sacred spot, it might just be the end of it.


My advice? Do your research. Find a licensed, reputable tour operator, or even better, make friends with a local and enjoy Daikoku Parking Area together, responsibly.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this one.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_

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