Driving through the capital of the world’s most technologically advanced nation is unlike anything else on earth. Motoring journalist Nik Berg guides us through Tokyo on its most famous road.
Japan’s capital is a city unlike any other. A city of HD, 3D, augmented reality and robots. In short, it is the world’s capital of technology.
Tokyo from above
Even at night Tokyo’s streets are congested. It’s a 24-hour city bursting with energy. However, there is a way to escape the traffic and still see the sights: the Shuto expressway. It’s a network of elevated highways rather than one road, rarely more than two lanes wide. It is on these roads that I use controlled acceleration, braking and steering to tackle the tight curves, ascents and drops of Tokyo’s main artery.
It’s a toll road and, when night falls and commuter traffic has gone, it is largely deserted. Taxi drivers and locals would rather not pay the 900 Yen fee for the sheer pleasure of driving it. But I most certainly will.
No driving distractions
I take the on-ramp in Shibuya – at least I think it’s Shibuya, as the car’s satellite navigation leaves me completely lost in translation. To my left is the fashion district of Harajuku, whose streets are populated by young women who outfit themselves in outlandish, scarcely believable fashion styles.
Tonight I pass them all by, focused only on this incredible road.
While Paris has its Périphérique and Los Angeles its great freeways, the Shuto is part of Tokyo in a way that no other city road is. Originally built for the Olympic games in 1964, it follows a series of covered rivers that interlace the metropolis. There’s a central ring, alternatively elevated above or buried beneath the streets and a number of arteries feeding it.
Where these join, great noodles of road twist together to form complex, intricate interchanges in the sky. These spots provide not only a serious navigational test, but also a strenuous workout for the brakes, suspension and steering.
The curves of the Shuto are uncompromising in their nature and continue to surprise me. Sharp corners appear suddenly, demanding sharp driving instincts.
Tokyo’s tech playground
With Roppongi close by, I carry on towards the bright lights of Ginza. Below me sits an array of shops and showrooms, stocked with everything from the newest supercars to pioneering electronic devices. The streets of Ginza are wired with more than 1,000 RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, making them an augmented reality playground. If Tokyo is the tech capital of the world, then Ginza is the tech capital of Tokyo.
I pass the darkness of the Imperial Palace Gardens before diving underground past Tokyo central station. This subterranean setting is the perfect auditorium to showcase the soundtrack of any motor. Obliging, I lower the windows to appreciate the echoing growl of my car’s engine.
At this point, I need to make a U-turn and head south to sample the infamous Bayshore route of the Shuto. It’s still fairly quiet as I cross the Rainbow Bridge - named for its multicoloured, solar-powered lights - that spans Tokyo Bay. I stop halfway along at the Shibaura service station.
Despite the lateness of the hour, the car park is buzzing to the sound of internal combustion. Skylines and NSXs stream in and out, occupants clambering from the cabins to admire their machines. A squad car then turns up, the two traffic cops inside wearing crash helmets – something I’ve never seen before, but probably wise given the unforgiving nature of the Shuto.
By now, I’ve handled everything the Shuto has thrown at me, and bed beckons. If only I can get the sat-nav to show me the way back to my hotel. Technology, eh?