by clicking the arrows at the side of the page, or by using the toolbar.
by clicking anywhere on the page.
by dragging the page around when zoomed in.
by clicking anywhere on the page when zoomed in.
web sites or send emails by clicking on hyperlinks.
Email this page to a friend
Search this issue
Index - jump to page or section
Archive - view past issues
GP Week : Issue 192
20 GPWEEK.com // 20 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: The first time I visited Japan, it was to travel the country with a friend who had been living in Tokyo for 18 months. He was acclimatised, but rather lonely, and I bought my ticket more from the desire to give him something to look forward to than for any particular urge to see Japan. The four weeks we spent touring the country turned me into a hardcore Japanophile. I still don’t get manga, will never be into cosplay or EGL, and find hentai rather disturbing. My love for Japan is a deep passion for a culture very different to my own, and not the result of an obsession with those bits of pop culture that the internet has introduced to the wider world. As someone lucky to travel often, I hate getting off a plane and wondering where in the world I am. Identikit capital cities dominated by branches of the same global chains make it hard to realise you’re somewhere different – for globalisation, read homogeneity. But in Japan there is no room for confusion – you are in a very different world, and there’s no doubting it for a second. Whether it’s the neon glare of Shibuya, the crazy club kids of Harajuku, or the tranquillity of the mountains around Nikko (complete with WiFi in the hills and the ubiquitous vending machines dotted along the hiking trails) nowhere in Japan can ever be confused with somewhere else. While the South Korean landscape is reminiscent of parts of Japan, the KTX will never be confused for a Shinkansen, even if they do travel at similar speeds. In recent years, my Japanese journeys have been about motorsport, not tourism. And within the confines of the Suzuka Circuit the sense of otherness pervades. Japanese fans are the best fans in the world – completely mad, but in a joyous way not seen anywhere else. One of my favourite things about the Japanese Grand Prix is the walk from the paddock to the Suzuka Circuit Hotel, which ser ves up a fine buffet breakfast. Arriving early in the morning, both circuit and theme park are eerily quiet. (Is there anything spookier than an empty theme park, or have I seen too many episodes of Scooby Doo?) At eight o’clock sharp, the loudspeakers kick in, playing snatches of music last heard in Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. And within seconds, the park is suddenly heaving with people, as the fans flood through the now-open gates, taking part in their own race to be first to the grandstands. Some Japanese fans could be mistaken for ordinary people, but they’re no fun at all. Best of the lot are those who have spent the season designing costumes demonstrating their allegiance to their team. Grown men strut proudly past, wearing skin-tight red lycra bodysuits and horse’s heads. Mothers hold the hands of small children wearing homemade RB9s, with even the front- wing picture perfect and in full Suzuka spec. Then there are the Jenson Button fans, teenaged girls wearing dresses sewn with hundreds of thousands of buttons, screaming kawaii every time they see a poster of the British sex symbol with the half-Japanese girlfriend. This dedication to joyous insanity stretches beyond the fans and into the trackside merchandise, which has to be seen to be believed. In 2010, my first time in Suzuka, I was delighted to find a stall selling tyre donuts, miniature sweet treats dyed black. They sold them in packs of four only (of course!), and the vendor was incredibly put out when I asked him why he was only selling one compound. In 2011, Bernie Ecclestone authorised the design and sale of a series of puppets, the proceeds of which went to the Tsunami relief fund. In addition to puppets of selected drivers – Kamui Kobayashi, Takuma Sato, Jenson Button, and Michael Schumacher – there was a puppet of Ecclestone himself. It was worth every penny of the £30 I spent on it, and still sits proudly by the side of my bed. Each year, the vendors surpass themselves with new feats of imagination and innovation. When it comes to feats, however, one of the most impressive aspects of the Japanese Grand Prix is the endurance of the fans. We like to talk about Melbourne, Montreal, and Monza when we’re praising passionate and knowledgeable fans, but the Japanese have got them all beat hands down. Nowhere else on the calendar are the grandstands full on a Thursday, with fans watching the teams working away in the pits, and the only track action Bernd Maylander’s exploratory laps in the Safety Car. Pit crews get cheered as they practice their stops, and the main grandstand still heaves with people long after darkness has fallen. I remember being here in 2010, when qualifying was postponed till Sunday morning thanks to a typhoon that battered Mie Prefecture for much of Saturday. As the session was put back and back and back not one solitary soul left their seat in the main grandstand – there were pit lane boat races to watch, after all. And as I was packing up to leave the circuit around 10pm that night, with black skies and pounding rain, there were more people sitting in the grandstand, watching the pit lane, than we counted all weekend in Korea. The Japanese fans are wonderfully, gloriously, fabulously nuts. We like to talk about passion in this sport, but the Japanese redefine the concept every single year. WE'RE NOT IN kANsAI ANY MORE OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER Editor