David Evans: Why I’ve missed the trip to Japan

Sitting at a cool 200mph on the bullet train, our senior staff writer can't wait for the week ahead


Barely out of the Tokyo suburbs and I’m already pulling 200mph, while eating a mince pie bought from Pret in London yesterday. Or was it the day before?

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because I’ve finally landed a cup of coffee. And the lady who sold it to me has just left car 11. With a bow. To my left is a nice view of the sea. That’s the Pacific, head south (and east a bit) and you’ll eventually find yourself back at round 11 in New Zealand.

And to my right is Mount Fuji. Sadly it’s cloudy and the full extent of one of the world’s most iconic peaks can’t be spotted. And, much as I crane my neck, there’s no sight of Fuji International Speedway either.

Never mind. At this pace, Nagoya’s just around the corner and Toyota Stadium – and the service park for the final round of this year’s World Rally Championship – is just around one more corner.

And then we’re there. We’re back.

Hello again Japan. It’s been far too long.

Twelve champions – 11 of them French – have been crowned since we were in the Far East last time. Much has changed in terms of the rally itself. It’s gone south. Or at least south of where it was. We’re on the mainland now, rather than the island of Hokkaido.

And it’s Tarmac. Not gravel.


Stepping off the plane, it doesn’t take long to realize that much hasn’t changed about Japan.

The ruthless efficiency, delivered with perfect manners, still prevails. COVID has brought an army of quarantine workers who combine with their immigration colleagues to provide something of a guard of honor as I make my way sleepily past them.

One enormously jovial, if slightly rotund-looking, officer steps forward towards me. Readying myself for all manner of form-filled-related questions, I smile (pointlessly beneath the back-in-place mask).

“Sorry,” he semi-shouts in clipped English, “for making you walk so far.”

Toyota city has its work cut out. I always loved Obihiro

Arriving to collect bags – I have two to cater for a longer Japan-to-Seattle trip – an airport official spots me juggling them and delivers a trolley to me.

We are very much back in Japan.

I’ll be honest, Toyota city has its work cut out. I always loved Obihiro, this rally’s home for Japan’s first four years in the WRC. After that it moved to Sapporo, with the service park (and shakedown) at the Sapporo Dome.

I never understood that move, but it was obviously financially driven. The rally ruled Obihiro and brought an atmosphere like no other event. Moving to Sapporo made it just another event lost in a big city.


Being further north on Hokkaido meant the years between 2004 and 2007 could include the famous Rikubetsu stage. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much about the stage, but I remember plenty about the town and its legendary weather.

Rikubetsu sits in a valley in the center of Tokachi and that geography and topography brings the biggest temperature swing in Japan from close to -30 degrees in the winter to the mid-30s in the summer.

It was a super-cool place. Especially in the winter.

In terms of the sport, there was Petter Solberg’s astonishing and emotional home win for Subaru in 2004 and then his near-miss when he was robbed by an errant rock 12 months on. That 2005 event will, however, always remind me of Michael ‘Beef’ Park.

Japan was the first event since we lost ‘Beef’ to that tragic Rally GB accident in Margam Park. The tributes on the cars stopped you in your tracks, as did the humility and sensitivity with which Sébastien Loeb celebrated the successful defense of his maiden world championship.

Out of the car, that was. In the car, he pulled some of the best donuts of his career. It’s quite possible the rubber is still in place at the ceremonial finish in Kita Aikoku.


For some reason, the last two events meant an overnight in Tokyo before the early flight to Sapporo the next morning. And if you were staying overnight, you might as well do it in downtown. And if you’re in downtown, you simply have to do the Lost in Translation thing at the bar in the Park Hyatt.


And if you’re there, you might as well dive into a plate of olive-fed Wagyu beef with a side of duck fat-fried chips.


A burger watching the Shibuya neon come to life as half a million people cross Tokyo’s most famous intersection was much more sensible.

Taxis, it seems, are still to be avoided on grounds of expense. But when needs must, it’s nice to have a cat talking to you and selling you memory foam matresses and pillows.


And, by the way, rocking 200mph in and around Tokyo’s nothing special. A million people use the Shinkansen. Every day.

No more bullets for us for the next few days. Team DirtFish will be out and about searching a new adventure in the Aichi and Gifu prefectures. And if Hokkaido’s anything to go by, we’re in for a colorful and very cool few days.

Japan. It’s good to be back.

Words:Luke Barry