Isuzu Plaza, the official Isuzu museum was opened in 2017 in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, next to one of the company’s oldest factories. It’s currently closed through April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but thanks to Isuzu you can still visit virtually through a newly posted video tour. Unless you’re a box truck aficionado you might not think the Isuzu museum is worth the hour-plus trip southwest of Tokyo, but this tour might change your mind.
A shiny new Isuzu Giga dump truck greets you as you arrive. The fact that the lobby area is called the Isuzu Piazza, after the Japanese name for the Impulse, which in turn got its name from the Italian word for “town square”, puts a grin on our faces. There you can sit on swanky furniture designed to look like the Isuzu Plaza logo, which is meant to represent a bunch of trucks and buses.
Around the corner is the oldest Isuzu truck, a 1916 Wolseley CP built under license. You may note that at the start of the video it says the museum was built to commemorate Isuzu’s 80th anniversary. 1937 is technically when the predecessors to Tokyo Automobile Industries — what would be renamed Isuzu as we know it today in 1949 — were organized and received ¥1 million capital to begin building trucks. However, Tokyo Automobile Industries can trace its roots back to the Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Company and Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial’s joint venture into truck manufacturing in 1916, making the company 104 years old. You can really get into the weeds on this one.
A hallway that doubles as a timeline of notable Isuzu vehicles opens to a stunning 1:87 scale model of a fictional town called Isuzu City, complete with moving trucks and buses. One of the scenes depicts a parking lot car show that has obvious choices like a Bellett 1600 GTR and Piazza but also a Toyota 2000GT and Porsche 959. The town goes through a timelapsed 24-hour cycle with working illumination that lights up at night. The detail is absolutely mind-blowing.
The rest of the ground floor is comprised of modern vehicles, mostly buses and trucks that kids can climb into. There’s also a display of giant diesel engines, flanked by a wall of highly detailed scale models showing the kinds of vehicles those engines might be used in — cranes, excavators, even ships.
Much of the second floor resembles an interactive science museum. The first gallery depicts how a vehicle is conceived, from product planning to clay modeling to engineering to prototyping. Next comes the manufacturing process, showing how steel is pressed into body panels, tools of the trade, and another astounding scale model. This time, it’s a 1:20 scale replica of a section of the Fujisawa plant line. Following that is a room that teaches visitors the workings of a truck’s various systems, like brakes and air suspension. There’s also a life-size cutaway. These seem like they’d be pretty fun for kids, so it’s a good excuse to make the excursion if you’re on a family trip.
Last but not least is the section that JNCers are most likely interested in: heritage vehicles. Classics from Isuzu’s collection populate this hall, including a Sumida bus, 1959 Elf, Bellel, and even a Chevrolet LUV-branded version of the Isuzu Faster. Several historic engines are also on display, along with concept vehicles as well.
Of course with a hundred-plus-year-old company, especially one that specializes in large trucks and buses, it’d be impossible to house all its significant vehicles under one roof. That’s why there’s another massive display of — you guessed it — scale models. This time, the milestone models are arranged in chronological order in highly detailed 1:43 scale. The museum is truly a model car enthusiast’s wildest dreams come true.
The final story is reserved as a meeting space and classroom. There is, of course, a gift shop that offers keychains, mugs, hats, and a wooden sake cup with the original Isuzu hiragana logo on it.
Though this video tour is pretty thorough, the exhibits do change from time to time so it’s still worth an in-person trek. For example, last year there was a special exhibit celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Isuzu Elf. It’s honestly much more than we expected, and it looks like a fun time for the whole family. Besides, there’s probably enough in Isuzu’s 100-plus year history that repeat visits will uncover new sights each time.