Who'd-a-thunk we'd ever go to Japan for a wheeling story? OK, did any of you even know there is wheeling in Japan? And then do you really care? Well, the answer to some of these questions was posed to us by the folks at Nitto Tire, strangely enough headquartered in Japan. Since they wanted us to see their new testing facility and get the lowdown on how they test tires, we said sure-as long as we test them out in the dirt, not just on a dyno. Next thing we know, we're crammed in the back of a 747 sleeping our way to the island hierarchy for a few days of mud, rocks, dirt, and driving on the wrong side of the road.
We flew in and stayed in Osaka, which is way south of Tokyo, but close to the tire testing facility. Since trains are the main source of easy transportation, we rode the rails to the Nitto Tire Itami Tech Center where we couldn't take photos, being full of hush-hush top secret stuff. But hey, at least we know of some of the stuff coming down the pike in a few months, and might even be able to give you an exclusive. But being more interested in real-world testing, we again hit the rails and traveled to the Nara Trial Mountain 4x4 testing facility in the tall pines. Wait, tall pines in Japan? Yup, and better yet, this is a private park formed out of the owner's own forest, where they do logging year-round!
Naozumi Tsuda and Masa Tsuda started wheeling as young 'uns here, and finally took over the family tree farm, where they included rockcrawling on imported boulders and a concrete course, as well as steep hills, mud, and a variety of dirt and forest trails. They compete and host the JRCA rockcrawling competition (www.rockcrawling.jp) and do many cool mods right at their shop (www.tsudaracing.com), including a Lexus tube buggy, as well as real 4x4 trail vehicles. After showing the locals how it's done (and vice versa), we retreated to the city, saw the temples, shopped for junk, and wished we were still wheeling. Maybe next time we'll take our own 4x4?