Over 130 classic cars gathered at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine last Friday for the start of the 2016 La Festa Mille Miglia, a 1600km rally across Japan and not a single one broke down. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this event than that.
This is the second year I’ve covered the La Festa Mille Miglia; an event that’s like the original Mille Miglia but in Japan. This year also coincides with celebrations between Japan-Italian relations so it was no surprise that most of the 130 cars were Italians.
Unlike last year’s event which had a strong Bugatti presence, even a couple of Kiwi Bugs participated. This year were mostly local drivers, however there weren’t many local cars. In fact only two Japanese cars took part this year and they were the same car (Toyota 2000GT). Okay sure, the Lexus LFA lead car was here again this year but that was really it.
The rest of the cars were made up of British and Italian manufacturers. There was the odd Corvette but that was the only Yank Tank present.
Last year I saw the cars go through the first checkpoint at the Daikanyama T-Site. This year I thought I’d try and see them as they left the start line at the Meiji Shrine. This shrine was built to honor Emperor Meiji, who played a vital role in modernising Japan in the late 19th Century.
So it’s rather fitting than a road rally event that originated from Italy takes place at the shrine built to commemorate the Emperor who opened up Japan’s boarders to the rest of the world. Meiji Shrine’s location within Tokyo is also a nice representation of tradition meeting modernity as it’s located near the trendy and fashionable Harajuku district.
I had hoped to get to the starting point early but as soon as I got there the cars had gotten ready to line up at the start line outside the main gate of Meiji Shrine. So I was able to catch them leave the car park.
Like before it was an incredible sight to see cars stretching back to the 1920s actually drive around on the road. All the cars are registered and road legal in Japan, as seen by their Japanese number plates though some did still have their original UK/European plates too.
Once they had gotten ready I positioned myself along the main road in Harajuku to catch some of the cars on the streets of Tokyo. I didn’t realise just how many people this event attracted. Harajuku on a normal day is busy enough but with the La Festa Mille Miglia it was literally a thousand times busier with cars, supporters, and photographers added into the mix.
It was great to see the enthusiasm of everyone around me as we all waited for the cars to come down the road. Once we saw and heard the red LFA lead car we were ready for the rest of them to follow.
From the Meiji Shrine the cars would go towards Daikanyama T-Site for their first checkpoint. It’s about a half hour drive to Daikanyama but they would have to deal with Tokyo’s traffic. 130 classic cars mixing with the usual modern Tokyo traffic was a sight to behold. It also made me realise just how large and bland cars most modern cars have become. But to be honest most cars look bland if they’re next to a Toyota 2000GT or Jaguar XK120.
The cars came out in the order of the entry list, which was helpful in finding out what was what for someone who isn’t as knowledgable on classic cars as me. But their order soon got mixed up due to things such as other cars and traffic lights.
Regardless, the highlight was seeing cars from the 1920s to the 1960s, and a couple of cool modern cars acting as support vehicles, driving through usual Tokyo traffic. It was also great seeing fans of the rally and sharing our enthusiasm for the event together. Even tourists and passersby joined in taking photos and videos of the cars going past.
It’s an event unlike any other and I hope it will continue for many more years. Japan has many opportunities to showcase its local car scene such as tuning events, drift events, and supercar meets. But classic cars are severely lacking in representation in Japanese car culture. Events like the Mille Miglia and various other classic car meets held throughout the year in Japan don’t get as much attention and coverage they deserve.
But from seeing the reactions this event and these cars receive in one of Tokyo’s most modern and trendy districts, there’s still clear appreciation and hope for these vintage and classics in Japan.
If you can, be sure to experience the La Festa Mille Miglia in Japan one day. I’d love to drive a Mercedes-Benz 300SL on this rally one day. Just in case anyone from the ‘Make A Wish Foundation’ is reading this.