Kawaguchiko museum, open only in August, highlights classic cars, warbirds

Mr. Nobuo Harada explaining his MYRT restoration plans to media representative on Press Day at his Kawaguchiko Aviation Museum on Saturday, July 31, 2021 (photo by Michael Ryan)
Mr. Nobuo Harada explaining his MYRT restoration plans to media representative on Press Day at his Kawaguchiko Aviation Museum on Saturday, July 31, 2021 (photo by Michael Ryan)

Kawaguchiko museum, open only in August, highlights classic cars, warbirds

by Gary Meyers
Stripes Japan

Stars and Stripes readers who drool over classic automobiles and WWII Imperial Japanese warbirds are in for a special treat this month at Kawaguchiko Motor Museum and Kawaguchiko Aviation Museum.

Both venues open to the public only in August are extraordinary by any standard and are co-located in the quiet, wooded outskirts of Kawaguchiko in Yamanashi-ken.

The family-owned and operated museums were established by Tokyo businessman and internationally known warbird collector and restorer, Nobuo Harada. The museums are home to what is widely known as the “Harada Collection.” Mr. Harada opened his automobile museum in 1981 and followed with his aviation museum in 2001. If I could define in a few words what best describes these two museums, it would be “eclectic, well-selected, well-preserved, all displayed in immaculate settings.”

The motor museum is organized in two halls. Hall A features vehicles which reflect automobile development from its beginning through the 1950s. Visitors can view a rare replica of the world’s first automobile, the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Car, Model 1, developed by Carl Benz in 1886. Also on display in Hall A are a Ford Model T, a Bugatti, a series of pre-WWII Japanese Datsun and Ohta, a WWII Willys military jeep, a 1945 Volkswagen, MGs, Lancia, Citroen, and— the envy of every classic sports car enthusiast—a silver Mercedes “gullwing” 300SL.

To add additional luxury and class to his collection, Mr. Harada acquired a pristine 1950s Rolls Royce limousine with extended wheelbase and special body. In its former life, this kingly conveyance was used by Sir Esler Dening, the British ambassador to Japan in the 1950s.

Hall B offers a variety of international and domestic makes and models from the 1950s through the 2000s. On display here are a Daihatsu, an Austin-Healey, Triumph TR3, Mini Cooper, Alfa Romeo, Cadillac Eldorado, and a tantalizing array of super cars including a Lamborghini Countach, Cizeta V16T, and more Ferraris than I have ever seen together outside an Italian concours d’elegance.

Mrs Toshiko Harada and Mr. Nobuo Harada at their Kawaguchiko Aviaiton Museum on July 31, 2021 (photo by Ryoji Koike)

What is most remarkable about the Harada Collection is the condition of each vehicle. Mr. Harada has invested years of passion, patience, and resources into his collection, and he treats each of his “babies” with tender, loving care.

For the aircraft aficionados who come to Kawaguchiko solely to see his warbirds and other aviation-related, historically significant artifacts, their anticipation is heightened before they even park their cars. Near the entrance, Mr. Harada has positioned an F-86F Sabre jet painted in the livery of the “Blue Impulse,” the aerobatic demonstration team of the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF), a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, a Lockheed T33A jet trainer, and a Curtiss C-46 Commando. But these are all common, generally post-WWII aircraft. The real treasures are found inside the hangar on the grounds.

Every visitor seems to have a favorite. For some, the centerpieces are the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters (allied name ZEKE). Mr. Harada has three in his collection. A fourth is on display at the Yushukan museum at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Other visitors might be drawn to the Nakajima Ki43 “Hayabusa” fighter (allied name OSCAR). Two are on display, a Model 1 and 2.  Bomber enthusiasts will head for the exquisitely restored fuselage of a Mitsubishi G4M2 “Betty” land-based attack bomber (Mr. Harada is still looking for wings to complete the Betty restoration). The Betty was the workhorse of the Imperial Japanese aviation units, being employed both as a bomber and a transport. Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had his rendezvous with destiny in a Betty when he was shot down over Bougainville in 1943. Late in the war, the Betty was also used as the launch platform for the rocket-propelled Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka kamikaze aircraft. (A replica Ohka is suspended from the hangar ceiling.)  Mr. Harada’s most recent acquisition currently undergoing restoration is a Nakajima C6N1-S Saiun carrier-based reconnaissance aircraft (allied name MYRT).

In an interesting juxtaposition, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ first aircraft, the “Wright Flyer,” is suspended over the other aircraft positioned on the hangar floor. For visitors interested in WWII-era aircraft engines, several are on display including a Nakajima 2-row, 14-cylinder, air-cooled, radial Sakae 12 engine that Harada has restored to working order—an amazing feat. The Sakae engines powered several WWII-era Imperial Japanese Army and Navy aircraft.  

Signage in both the automobile and aviation museums have English subtitles. At times, visitors might find Harada family members on site to answer questions and provide insights into specific displays.

A few souvenir items are available for purchase near the entrance. However, the snack bar is closed so visitors must bring their own refreshments.

For visitors to Mt. Fuji and the Kawaguchiko area, I highly recommend the Harada museums as a memorable addition to any August outing.  


Visit the museums

Narusawa-mura, Fujisakura Kogen Nai

Minami  Tsuru-gun, 19

401-0320 Japan

Tel: 81-555-86-3511

Website: www.car-airmuseum/com/en/access/index.html

Museum hours: 1000-1600, daily only during August

Admission fees:

Motor Museum: Adults: 1000 yen (16 and over), Children (15 and under) 500 yen

Air Museum: Adults: 1500 yen, Children (18 and under) 500 yen


Restrictions: Photos shot with Smartphones/iPhones are authorized. Persons wishing to shoot photos for commercial purposes are requested to speak with a Harada family member or representative for approval.


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