Event Review: How the Tokyo Motor Show Reinvented Itself for 2019

The Tokyo Motor Show 2019 was a desperately needed shot in the arm for Japan’s premier automotive industry event, and this particular iteration is the best I’ve experienced so far. Over the years the show had lost much of its luster due to a lack of exciting sports cars coupled with the general consumer shift away from vehicle ownership in Japan and throughout the world.

In this article I’ll explain why the show is at its best this year with the hope that the organizers will continue in this direction for the next show in two years’ time.

2019-11-22   Festivals & Events, Tokyo,

All new for 2019

What I’m assuming is a replica of the special edition GT-R that Nissan gave to Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt to celebrate his role as the brand’s ambassador back in 2013.

Normally confined to a single venue, Tokyo Big Sight, this year’s show spilled out into the bayside promenades of Tokyo’s Ariake district. A car-lined equivalent of the Yellow Brick Road connected Tokyo Big Sight with the brand-new Aomi Exhibition Hall and the Future Expo at Toyota Mega Web, 1.5 kilometers away.

Tokyo drifters, American muscle, and Italian exotics were all well represented thanks to the participation of partner organizations such as the Japan Supercar Association.

Perhaps best of all, visitors could enjoy all of the cars on display outside of the exhibit halls for free. I spent hours outside ogling cars, watching test drives, and taking pictures before remembering that I hadn’t even used my entry ticket to check out the Tokyo Motor Show proper.

Like a kid in a candy store

Few cars wear red better than a Mazda Roadster.

Although this year’s theme was “Open Future,” I noticed heavier emphasis on performance and specialty vehicles than in years past. Previous year’s events honed in on electric vehicles and autonomous driving features. Although these technologies remain prominently featured this year as well, it seems like show organizers have finally realised that nothing attracts attention to brands like powerful, beautiful sports cars.

The Nismo version of the venerable Nissan GT-R.

Personal mobility was also looming large with Toyota serving up an assortment of electric micro vehicles that attendees could drive around the premises. As a “motor show” this event was a celebration of anything that moves you from point A from point B, be it for business or pleasure. This means you could find anything from electric scooters to watercraft stashed among countless cars from most of your favorite auto manufacturers.

Thinning our the crowds and going global

The Suzuki Jimny. Americans of my generation may remember this as the Suzuki Samurai. Sadly, this vehicle has been absent from the American market since 1995 with no signs of ever returning.

The 2019 Tokyo Motor Show marks the first time since 2011 that I didn’t feel smothered by throngs of eager car enthusiasts. However, the show is still an extremely popular event, even if you go on a weekday. Good luck getting that magazine-cover worthy shot of your favorite ride. Still, whether intentional or not, significantly expanding the venue also seemed to spread out the crowds. More to see and do and more room to breathe: that’s a definite win-win for attendees.

Honda had an excellent exhibit celebrating over 60 years of motorsports.

In another first, this year’s event felt truly international. There were more English-language wayfinding and information signs than ever before, and more bilingual staff were present throughout the venue. One particular staff member at the Mazda booth almost seemed disappointed that I spoke Japanese. It was as if I had denied her a chance to offer that extra level of global “omotenashi.” Overall, this is great news for foreign members of the automotive industry or press who, in the past, might have hesitated to make the trip to Tokyo for this event.

Routine Maintenance

An automotive journalist takes a lucky passenger on the ride of a lifetime in the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Fairlady/370Z.

As I look ahead to the 2021 Tokyo Motor Show, there’s only one thing that I’d like to see improved: the capacity for the ride-along (Drive Park) events. These are events where show attendees can ride shotgun as members of the automotive press put the latest and greatest cars through their paces. To participate in this, you have to make a reservation online, no earlier than two hours before your desired timeslot.

A Honda (Acura) NSX GT3 on display at the Drive Park venue.

Despite my best efforts, it was impossible for me to snag a reservation, even on a Monday afternoon. This event was just too popular. Spots either filled up instantly or I was simply presented with glaring red error messages. For 2021, event organizers, budget allowing, should consider doubling or tripling the venues for this event—there’s certainly plenty of space available to do so in Ariake.

Putting the all-new Toyota Supra through its paces.

Go for a spin in 2021

Despite the aforementioned hiccup, the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show was a blast. Considering how much there was to see and do, the experience offered great value—not unlike many of the Japanese cars being showcased there. After enduring years of rather mundane motor shows, I’m once again genuinely looking forward to what the 2021 show will bring. If you’re a car enthusiast planning on visiting Japan in the future, it would be well worth the effort to sync your trip to coincide with the next Tokyo Motor Show.

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Writer / Translator

Originally from Riverside, California, I've been living, working, and writing in Japan since 2009. Japan has become my second home, and I'm especially fond of Shinjuku, Tokyo. That being said, I also love getting out into the countryside and exploring the entire country. Through Tadaima Japan, I hope to share the wonders of Japan with a wider, international audience. Check out my articles if you enjoy exploring on foot, convenient cafes, and affordable dining.


Address 3 Chome-11-1 Ariake, Koto City, Tokyo 135-0063
Hours 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.)
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Sundays and holidays)
Price 2,000 yen (advanced ticket: 1,800)
Close NA
Access Seven-minute walk from Kokusai-Tenjijo Station on the Rinkai Line
or three-minute walk from Tokyo Big Sight Station on the Yurikamome Line.
Phone 03-5530-1111
Language Japanese
Website https://www.tokyo-motorshow.com/en/