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.
Great Article Ben! It’s a shame all these places are going, but as you said, Tokyo constantly changes. The place I always wanted to have seen was the Nissan Ginza showroom (for obvious reason…) and your previous article was just awesome!
Thanks, D. I would love to buy the old Subaru Bilu letters that sit above the entrance. Wonder if they’d sell it to me…
I’ll miss that place. The simplicity and small size of the showroom and what really was a 1960s cubicle farm inside seemed to fit the brand, and the amazing products such a small and relatively independent automaker can create. It seemed to reinforce that it’s the size of your ideas and your passion that matter most.
I doubt new owner Odakyu will preserve the building, so RIP スバルビル.
Well, said! I’ve never been beyond the showroom, behind the blue curtain so to speak. I’d love to see a photo of said cubicle farm.
All the times I’ve been to Shinjuku, and I’ve never stopped in. I’m trying to remember if I’ve even been to that block. Well, at least I got to visit the Amlux building just before it closed.
“The above is an exterior shot taken in 2005, just as the hawkeye GD Impreza was being introduced, by Bruce Willis.”
It’s nice of you guys to give proper photo credit where it’s due.
Haha, It’s kind of hard to see Bruce’s face in the banner, but you know what we meant.
Great article Ben.
( I am looking at a place I will never be able to see, and I want to see it).
It is getting difficult to find places with an old school vibe these days (80’s and back).
Here in Toronto, and I suppose in other cities also.
The new showroom in Ebisu, Shibuya Ward will open of course on August 25……two days after the launch of the all-new Subaru WRX S4(Subaru WRX JDM)
I feel ashamed I never went into the Subaru building except for getting street level from the underground passage. Maybe I can swing by tonight to see if there are any goodies tossed out back. Once can only hope..
You’re not a true Subaru aficionado until you come to Ota City, the birthplace of Nakajima Aircraft and the forerunner or Fuji Heavy Industries.