Brian's Japan Trip - 1998 - Part III
If you missed [Part I Click Here] or [Part II Click Here]
Our next to last day, Wednesday, November 11, we headed off to Garage Iwasa by train. Mr. Iwasa and a friend, who acted as an interpreter, met us at the train station (in a Step Wgn) and brought us to his shop. Prior to our visit, I had arranged a meeting with Yukio Kobayashi, a representative of the Tokyo branch of the Twin Cam Club, and the brother of my friend, Kimio Kobayashi, who many of you have met at my S car Gatherings. Yukio's idea was to meet us at Garage Iwasa, which he did. We all sat down at Mr. Iwasa's table, and enjoyed refreshments, photographs, and the exchanging of gifts.
I think out of all of the restoration shop showrooms that we visited, this was my favorite. Although there were only three cars (a Lotus Formula racer with a modified S engine in it, a beautiful, red, chain drive S800 roadster, and a beautiful, silver S800 coupe), the building's layout and design, and Mr. Iwasa's collection of knickknacks and memorabilia gave it a very warm, comfortable feeling.
As we were invited upstairs, we came upon what was to be the largest inventory of S series spare parts that I have ever seen! It defied description, but if you needed a spare part, it was there, in quantity! After the tour of his parts room, and the usual (purchases, photographs, and videotape), I discussed and arranged a mail order arrangement with Mr. Iwasa. At the conclusion of our discussion, my friend George Harmon from American Honda, met me to take us to our next destination, Komy Reproduction.
Unfortunately, since George had arranged this visit for me, and he had two colleagues from Honda Motor Co., Ltd. with him, and they only had one, five-passenger car, there was room for only two of us. Everyone decided that Alan would be the one to go with me. I believe that Mr. Iwasa spent some more time with the rest of our gang, before treating them to lunch, and taking them back to the train station. Alan and I arrived at our destination after about an hour-long drive.
Mr. Toshikazu Kominami, proprietor of Komy Reproduction, worked for Honda from 1970 until 1991, when he retired. He is an absolute genius, having worked in many capacities for Honda, including their R&D division, where one of his duties was working on the NR motorcycles. (For those of you not familiar, this is the one with the oval pistons, 2 connecting rods per piston, and 8 valves per cylinder!)
One of his earliest jobs with Honda was going around to all of the Honda Service Factories in Japan, and fixing S-car carburetors that the regular technicians couldn't. While working for Honda, he took as much of his pay as he could, along with any bonus money that he was paid, and purchased S car parts! Having seen it for myself, I can honestly say that he has just about one of every part that Honda ever manufactured for these cars in his collection. This is no exaggeration!
If he has more than one of the same part, he uses them in his restorations. However, he always keeps the last one. And here, dear readers, is where the story really gets interesting! The name of his shop is Komy REPRODUCTION. This is because he uses that one last original part to reproduce new ones! He reproduces virtually every part he needs in one way or another! This means everything from hard parts to soft trim to body panels, and even some very ingenious body panel patch kits. The prices are astronomically high, but he does have the stuff! (If you thought S car parts prices were high when you could order them from Honda, you ain't seen nuthin' yet!) This is, of course, because just like all of the rest of us, he has to absorb all of the set up and production costs himself.
His shop is small, but crammed full of cars and parts. While we were there, he had 11 cars. They were a mixture of S600 coupes and convertibles, and S800 coupes and convertibles. His collection was topped off by a red, Canadian market S600 roadster, and a white, domestic market S600 coupe, that were absolutely perfect in every detail! He uses these cars as examples of the quality of his work for his prospective customers.
In addition to all of this, he had a multitude of chassis and engine set ups, all complete and finished in incredible detail! These were the units that he used for the photographs in his book. He had at least one example of every S power plant variation, along with some T variations, as well!
In 1993, he opened his S car restoration shop, and also started work on his book, the AS File. This is the first in a planned series of 4 volumes. The first, Engine & Carburetor, was released just prior to our visit. The next three, body, chassis, and electrical, he is planning on releasing in January, May, and August of 1999, respectively.
I am unaware of any other forms of distribution inside or outside of Japan, but when I visited him and his shop, he told me that he was selling them directly. I purchased my copy for 20,500 Yen (about $178 U.S. at the then-current exchange rate). While I was there with my friends, Mr. Kominami explained to me that because of the limited market for something so technical, no regular book publishers would take on his project, so he had to finance it himself. Hence, the very expensive price. (See above comment about start up and production costs.) Therefore, he said as impractical as it was for him to self-publish the Japanese version of the book, it would be virtually impossible for him to make an English edition. (At this point here, I need to correct myself. Anything that Mr. Kominami "said" was actually said through a translator, as he speaks absolutely no English.)
During my visit, I asked Mr. Kominami if he would be willing to set up a relationship with me and my shop on a mail order basis. He was originally a bit apprehensive about the language, time, and currency barriers, but after ironing out a few details, he agreed. Quite naturally, his concerns centered around getting a large number of requests from multiple sources that he was not familiar with, in a language that he doesn't speak, and having to worry about all different forms of payment and shipping. So the idea is to do one group price and availability request, and then one group order.
Mr. Kominami, already excited about my visit, then honored me by asking me if I could help him market his book and parts in North America. I explained to him that I was unsure of how large that market would be because of the prices, but I happily agreed. After I exchanged gifts with Mr. Kominami, Alan and I made some purchases, and took a few last-minute photographs. Then George and his colleagues drove us to the train station for our return trip to the hotel.
That evening, I stayed in the hotel room to start packing, and tried to make last minute arrangements to see two more friends the next morning, before we departed.
Unfortunately, I was only successful in contacting one friend, Chigako Yoshida, whom I had met from the Honda Mailing List. She was invaluable to me for translating many of the necessary documents for me before our departure for Japan. She has since become a good friend, and one of my e-mail pen-pals.
We met Thursday morning, the 12th, where she, Steve, and I spent a couple of hours getting acquainted in person, and doing some last-minute shopping in Tokyo for my wife and daughter. After that, it was back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and head to the airport for our flight home.
If you are still with me at this point, I won't torture you with the details of our return trip, other than to say that it was uneventful, and we were sorry that our trip was over.
So, if you are interested in further details of our journey, or want a book or parts, drop me an e-mail or give me a call at the shop at (845)344-5511. I'll do my best.
Thanks for reading!
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