Mount Fuji holds a unique position in the minds of both Japanese and visitors alike. There is nothing else quite like it anywhere else in this world, and even many of those who have never visited the country are aware of its role in its lore and history. Quite simply, it is a symbol of Japan. And if it had a counterpart in the automotive world that could represent its stature and grace, that counterpart would unquestionably be the Toyota 2000GT.
What is not immediately obvious from photographs though, is Fujisan’s soaring prominence and impressive nature. It literally towers above everything else in Japan. Its peak is the tallest point in the country, and if the weather is sympathetic it can be seen from Tokyo, some 100 km away, across Tokyo Bay, and well into the neighboring prefectures.
With changes in weather, Fujisan can magically appear and vanish throughout your otherwise normal day. When rounding a corner on the way to outlet malls in Gotemba, it suddenly looms into view. While grabbing a snack in the staff cafe in Kamiyacho, it glows near-red under the falling winter sun. During a blast down the Chuo Expressway, it fills your windshield as you pass through the toll-gates at Chofu.
However, even those with just a passing knowledge of Japan are probably familiar with the postcard in which a Shinkansen passes in front of Fujisan, the entire scene framed by cherry blossoms. In that one shot both ancient traditions and the limitless future are represented, and the Toyota 2000GT is also the embodiment of both.
When the 2000GT debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965, it was the expression of Japan’s ambition and ability to create a world class sports car. With all the GT-Rs and Supras and Mazda rotaries that have come and gone, that notion is taken as a given today, but in those pre-SLR camera, pre-Nintendo, pre-Walkman days “Made in Japan” was a detraction to the rest of the world.
Despite the stigma, Toyota knew Japan could build a car to rival the world’s best, and set out to do so without reservation. Filled with technology considered cutting edge for its time and wrapped in a gorgeously sculpted body, the 2000GT was deemed a triumph of carbuilding by journalists at the time, who were amazed to find that performance matched those of contemporary European sportsters and grand tourers. It even set a series of international speed records despite far-below-optimal conditions.
Today, it is the only Japanese classic to have broken the million dollar barrier and nothing else has come close. It is such the go-to car that when the words “Japanese classic” are uttered, it’s the first example that comes to mind. Photographing it with Fujisan would almost be a cliche, like Shibuya’s scramble crossing, or the keitai-talking kimono wearer.
We, however, were unable to resist the temptation.
Of the many vantage points to glimpse Fujisan, a rest area atop Hakone is one of the best. To get there you must climb one of the best touge in Japan, one so good that it is known as one of the birthplaces of drifting, and that inspired Mazda to buy the naming rights to the road in 2014.
The last time we drove the Mazda Hakone Turnpike we were rewarded with a brilliant six hour drive, but a peek at Fujisan proved elusive. This time, we began in the early dawn, meeting again at Ebina SA to hopefully catch Fujisan in the best light, and perhaps before the fog set in.
From Ebina, we again took the Odawara Atsugi Toll Road, putting us at the toll gates to the Turnpike with just enough time to see Fujisan greet the sun. From there, it’s only a 14km ascent to the Mazda Sky Lounge, as the vista point is called, but it’s a curvy one.
With the rising sun, we turned the final corners on one of Japan’s greatest touge and entered the Sky Lounge car park. It was already packed with a mix of some of Japan’s most fervent touge enthusiasts, as well as those who had simply made the pilgrimage, like Utagawa Hiroshige did centuries before them, to see the mountain itself.
For barely a 10-minute window, we were rewarded with the magnificently breathtaking sight of the hinode (sunrise) cresting the horizon and bathing Fujisan in a glorious orange glow, giving us the lead photograph above. It was like a ukiyo-e woodblock print come to life, but as if the artist Hokusai himself had driven a Toyota 2000GT. We think he would have.
Audible gasps could be heard from those who, like us, must have dragged themselves out of bed at 03:00 to time their arrivals with a similar objective in mind. But which symbol of Japan had drawn their breath so sharply? After all, there were only thirteen Atlantis Green 2000GTs ever built, all of them late MF10 models like this one.
As the day warmed and the clock approached a more reasonable hour, we were joined by countless bikes, more Mazda Roadsters and Toyota 86s than we thought possible, a few fire-breathing Nissans, and the Mitsubishi Galant GTO owners club — who brought rare models like a Galant Hardtop Coupe and a pair of FTOs. Even with everyone there to enjoy the touge, the 2000GT created quite a commotion, and we had to fight for position whenever we parked to photograph it’s lovely lines.
By mid-morning we had finished three rolls of film and were making our way down the touge to Odawara for lunch. Fujisan had once again disappeared in the fall mists, its presence as ghostly as ever.
It’s not just the mountain’s size, transience, or renown as that gives Fujisan its mythic reputation, though. It is also beautiful. Much kanji has been calligraphed in praise of its near-perfect symmetry, a profile that’s unmistakable whether in shadow or in sun. Its white snowcap, too, with occasional lenticular cloud floating above, has inspired centuries of great works of both art and poetry.
As stunning as it is, there’s also another side to Fujisan. It’s an active volcano, full of power and potential that’s waiting to be released. Both car and mountain have lived in a state of prolonged dormancy, too — or at least the 2000GT did, before it rocked the automotive world with that fateful auction in 2013 nearly 50 years after it debuted.
Most Japanese know of it, but it’s still rare to see one out in the wild. Like Fujisan – and even for non car otaku – a 2000GT sighting is always a treat no matter how many times it’s happened before. Perhaps the average citizen doesn’t give it much thought day in and day out, but just the simple knowledge that it exists, and is recognized the world over, fills them with a sense of tremendous pride.
Words by Ben Hsu. Bonus images below, and click all to enlarge.