One of the great things about Tokyo is that just about every Japanese automaker has a large office building there. Such buildings usually have a showroom on the ground floor, and you can spend an entire day gallery-hopping, picking up brochures, collecting whatever swag they have lying around, or dropping some serious yen on minicars, posters, and apparel.
Among the easiest to get to was the Subaru Building in Shinjuku, just across the street from the massive west exit of Shinjuku Station, Tokyo’s largest train depot. Sadly, it closed for good last week.
Japanese automaker headquarter showrooms are no joke. Most have a gift shop, cafe, and rotating display of the both the latest and historic models. The Subaru Building, however, made do with a tiny space that could barely fit two cars.
Perhaps this is because the Shinjuku Subaru Building began construction in 1964 and opened in 1966, back when the company’s sole automotive product was the Subaru 360.
In its 48-year lifespan the Subaru Building has seen it all, from the 360 to the Leone, and the birth of the Legacy and Impreza models. It’s survived the Bubble Era, housed WRC trophies, and been partially owned by GM.
Upon completion it was one of the taller buildings in the area, or was at least the same size as surrounding ones. Its location, a prominent corner beside the world’s busiest transport hub, made it a recognizable landmark.
By the first time we visited the building, in December 2003, the first floor facade had been remodeled with a futuristic-looking silver wall. Subaru was now written in English, and parent company Fuji Heavy Industries was acknowledged by the doorway as well.
However, remnants of old school design could still be found in the gold katakana hanging above the main entrance. It says “Subaru Bilu” (the Japanese concatenation for Building) in glorious 1960s typeface.
The above is an exterior shot taken in 2005, just as the hawkeye GD Impreza was being introduced, by Bruce Willis. The building itself looked fairly archaic by then, and it’s easy to imagine that behind its modernist rectilinear architecture lay a dreary cubicle farm and carpets bleached by decades of fluorescent lighting.
At night, Shinjuku is like Times Square on crack. Neon signage advertises everything from Epson printers to Fancl cosmetics. Subaru’s blue beacon atop the building had changed at some point, to a newer logo where the stars are contained within the oval and the word “Subaru” is written out in English rather than Japanese.
By our next visit three years later, the Asahi Mutual Life Insurance offices next door had been demolished and the massive Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower erected in its place, dwarfing the once proud Subaru Building.
The roof-mounted sign was changed once more, from a large gold logo to a smaller blue one, with the word “SUBARU” given more prominence. At the time, Subaru was displaying a third-gen Forester in the showroom.
Our last visit to the Subaru Building was in December 2013. The XV Hybrid and the BRZ STI tS were on display, along with a boxer engine. Available for purchase was a tin of Subaru cookies, some other Subaru-themed pastries and a a computer mouse shaped like a WRX STI.
One thing that remained consistent in the nearly 10-year span since we first visited was the escalator in the lobby and its memorable Subaru blue railing.
Last year also saw the closing of Toyota’s five-story Amlux showroom, and Nissan closed their Ginza headquarters when they moved to Yokohama. But that’s the nature of Tokyo; the landscape is always changing.
As for Subaru, the company just opened a new building in Ebisu, just a couple miles away in Shibuya Ward. The new building will house an even bigger showroom in the lobby, scheduled to open August 25. It’s said to have a 13-car capacity and a cafe. But there was always something charming about the datedness of the old Subaru Building and its cramped little space. It was the Subaru 360 of showrooms.