Words and Photography: Jonny Smith
Everything went black.
During one of my tourist days around Tokyo, I spent an entire afternoon and evening up the Skytree Tower. From here you get 360 view overlooking all of Tokyo and if the weather is clear enough, Mount Fuji will be on the horizon. As the sun starts to make its descent behind the Akaishi Mountains, the darkness of night draws in. Just like other huge cities, Tokyo doesn't sleep. As the sunlight disappears the city is brightened with street lights switching on. Bright neon signs light up places like Shinjuku and Akihabara, opening up an entirely different spectacle on the place you've wandered all day.
For Spring Matsuri, Ebisu is no different. As the moon makes itself the dominant light in the sky, the track lights turn on, headlights are flicked on and the sound of engines and screeching tires continues!
The few of us as a group had come up with some kind of plan. To begin, up we went to North Course. Driving around Ebisu at night was quite unnerving most of the time, one because I was in a rental and I really didn't want to rub the side of the Prius up any walls or tunnels, but secondly, half the time I had no idea where I was. In the pitch-black at times, with no reference points at, it was an experience. I did manage to wing it and survive dent free.
Once again squeezing the Prius through the North Course tunnel we were again delighted to a very busy pit area and a lot of action on track. It seems even at night this place is very popular!
After a while just soaking up the atmosphere I proceeded to get the camera out and start shooting. Nighttime has never been a strong point for me. So like the car, winging it was a good bet.
As usual at car events, I soon get distracted by the cars and my camera and lose the group I'm with. Around the 8pm point, I made my way down Minami to see if anyone was having a go there against the jump and the wall.
And indeed they were! Brave people, taking it easy, but still, being brave.
Very slightly lit up, you do have a few good reference points,
I quickly went back over to Higashi, with the track closing it a 10 pm I wanted to grab some time there in the darkness. Was cool to see the Doriminati jzx100 still out lapping in the dark, reflecting back the light with its awesome livery. One day I'll see these guys drift all together in their home country of Poland. Slightly gutted I'll be missing Next Level Drift this year due to it clashing with our own show at Bicester Heritage.
Like I mentioned in part one, I did return to School Course, only at night. Not the most lit up track, the main turn with the wall seemed to be the only good place to shoot at. Trying out a few different angles I managed to grab a few nice shots. From the main car park for Ebisu and the Zoo you get a good view looking down.
What a horrible night to have a curse.
Unfortunately, at Matsuri, there are a few crashes. Throughout day one I was quite relieved not to have witnessed any, it's never a nice feeling seeing it happen. There was the occasional big spin or near miss, but nothing to end a persons weekend. I didn't see what happened here, but it was obvious the wall at School Course had claimed another victim.
With the track red-flagged, everyone was there to help. It was such a plesant sight to see. Eventually, with the help of many people of different nationalities, the pretty twisted S13 was on a truck and taken away. I felt a slight sadness at first, but upon seeing the driver was okay, what I can only guess was his friends ripping into him in Japanese and everyone including him laughing, it was a mistake that took the life of the car but didn't dampen spirits and ruin the event completely.
For the rest of the night I hopped back and forwards between North, Minami and School taking in as much of the action as I could, ending up in a dilemma of staying up as long a possible enjoying the moment, against the realization that the following day was going to be a very very long one, especially if I didn't get a decent amount of sleep.
Even in Japan at Ebisu, I still managed to find the all too familiar Volkswagen Polo!
Just gone 1 am I decided to call it and find a decent place to park the "tent". Knowing quite a few people sleep at Higashi, I decided it was a good place to go. No track time until the morning meant it would be at least a bit quieter.
Unpacking my sleeping bag and travel pillow, trapping a few tees in the windows to block the early sunrise, I was set and comfy for a cheap nights sleep.
Day two arrived with the sky shining yellow accompanied with clear blue skys. The sun had already risen pretty high and burning brightly by the time I was woken by it slowly cooking me in the car. I gave in that the natural alarm clock had woken me and accepted how little sleep I'd had in the end.
At least a morning coffee wasn't an issue. Vending machines are everywhere in Japan, every corner I turned in Tokyo there was one, and it's wonderful. After a nice cold afternoon coffee to cool you down? Or a hot pick me up at 3am? Well there you have it!
It wasn't too long till Higashi was green again and immediately people and their cars were out on track. I took to my telephoto lens and shot a few fun pictures from the comfort of the Prius. I've come to love shooting fun and interesting panning shots. It's nice to get a little but more creative at times.
Mr Kuma was back out again at early doors!
West Course - Nishi
The group from the day before all started to reappear after a good nights sleep and again as a group we all went on together to view the West Course, also known as Nishi. It's the closest track to the main gate so easy to access if you've just arrived. You have to pass the few open area skid pans known as Kurokuro Land. The perfect place to learn those all-important basics, donuts around a cone changing your distance from said cone and back again into learning figure eights and transitions.
Nishi is mostly a time attack course, with that comes a decent length straight. Like Higashi it's only open to drifting during Matsuri, so it's at this time you see some insane entry speeds! FD Japan also use the beginning few corners of the lap here for their Ebisu round, not using Minami used by D1
The track wasn't really that busy, maybe as it was still early but it was a nice time to walk around the pits and take a relaxed look at cars stationed still.
Back to Minami
A quick pop back to Minami displayed some excellent and entertaining driving.
Always fun to see people attack this course. Especially in groups.
The Final Chapter.
We fully regrouped back at Higashi for the final few hours. Alexi filmed some bits for Youtube, link here and streamed on Twitch for a few hours, taking the chat on virtual ride alongs and giving people who didn't have the chance to be there first hand a glimpse into what goes on. We really do live in an amazing time where everything is available on-demand and in our pocket!
Even in Japan signal can be a tempramental.
With day two drawing to a close, 4 pm came around quickly and that was the end of two crazy and unforgettable days. It's been great fun over the last few weeks since I returned to edit through the thousands of photos and write these blog posts, almost makes me feel like I'm there again.
So as people started to pack up, we reflected over the past two days and said our goodbyes all going on our separate ways. Once again for me, cars have let me have the chance to meet so great people from all corners of the world and let us together enjoy this crazy culture.
One thing is for sure, Ebisu lived up to its hype, not at one point was I ever disappointed, not just the event, but all the people there creating such a fun and positive atmosphere. I'm so glad I finally made the trip over after years of dreaming away. If you have even the smallest inkling that you would like to visit Ebisu or even Japan for that matter, just go ahead and book it. Everything about the Country was amazing. From how kind the locals are if you're looking lost in the queue for what turns out to be the wrong museum or stood looking at your phone in the Subway, someone will just voluntary try to help you in any way. The amazing food that surrounds you everywhere and beautiful sceneries. With all that it just makes you feel a little more comfortable in your surroundings and lets you free to enjoy your trip to its full potential. 2020 is a must for a return!
Picture courtesy of Simon @lotharbird
The Ebisu Wizard.