If you know anything about drifting then there's no doubt you've heard of Ebisu Circuit before. But what is it exactly? Is it a race track? Is it a theme park? Is it a zoo? Try all of the above, and much more...
I've been to Ebisu twice before, once in summer for an event and then once in winter for two weeks of driving, and it's impossible to describe the insanity of the place in just one sentence. So, here are 10 things you really need to know about Ebisu Circuit, whether you're planning on going there one day or you're just interested, I hope you'll find them helpful!
1. IT'S NOT A CIRCUIT, IT'S SEVEN CIRCUITS.
The name is deceiving; Ebisu Circuit is actually home to a number of different courses scattered throughout a huge portion of land with numerous elevation changes - the whole place is basically on the side of a mountain. There's North or 'Kita' course, which is the highest and known for its super fast entry coming off the main straight. There's the infamous Touge course, which imitates a winding mountain road, and the deceivingly dangerous and somewhat inappropriately named 'School course', which is supposed to be for beginners but it's actually where most of the cars end up getting damaged. Then there's South or 'Minami' course - also know as the 'Drift Stadium' course - which is where most drift competitions are held, and it's the track with the famous 'jump'.
There are also two circuits more suited to higher speeds, Nishi (west) and Higashi (east), however these are only open to park-goers during Drift Matsuri (festival) events, otherwise they're generally only hired out for private track days and testing. Lastly, there's Drift Land which is a large paved area featuring a small course layout, and 'Kuru Kuru Land' which consists of two smaller paved areas ideal for beginner drivers to start out on. It's worth noting that Drift Land isn't always available to drift on, depending on whether the elephants are there or not. Don't worry, I'll get to that part soon...
2. IT'S IN FUKUSHIMA, IN THE 'TŌHOKU' REGION OF JAPAN.
Some people assume that Ebisu Circuit is close to Tokyo, but this isn't entirely true. In reality it's about a three and a half hour drive north; sometimes it can take up to 4 hours if you experience traffic or stop for a break. Although you can get up to Fukushima quicker by taking the bullet train, you can't exactly walk to Ebisu Circuit from the train station, so unless you've got someone to pick you up and drive you around, you're going to need your own car to get there. The park itself has many steep roads and isn't exactly easy to get around on foot either.
3. OH, AND IT'S ALSO A ZOO.
Yes, you read that correctly, the Ebisu Circuit facilities are actually 'combined' with the Tōhoku Safari Park, so it's literally a theme park for racing and exotic animals. Scattered around the premises are old, falling-to-bits safari cars and buses painted in wild zebra striped and giraffe spotted colour schemes, enclosures with lions, elephants, cows (not kidding), sea lions and monkeys.
If so desired, in between sessions of ripping round your circuits of choice and performing maintenance on your car, you can pop in to pet the monkeys or bunny rabbits. Personally I'm very against seeing these animals in captivity especially considering the conditions they're kept in; as much as I love Ebisu I just don't agree with it. If you're sensitive to this stuff then please let this serve as a genuine warning before you go there.
4. YOU CAN BUY A CAR AND KEEP IT THERE, THANKS TO POWER VEHICLES.
If you’ve always dreamt of doing some track driving in Japan, there’s a company that is actually based at Ebisu Circuit that can help you with this. Power Vehicles can source you a drift-capable car and have this ready and waiting for you up at the circuit. The idea is that the car is stored at Ebisu for you - it won't be street-registered - and most people visit there once or twice a year to drive in the triannual Drift Matsuri events. You can read more about their services at www.powervehicles.com
5. IT'S ALWAYS OPEN (WELL, KIND OF).
Ebisu isn't like a normal track where you can only drive when a specific event or track day is being held. In fact, it's more like the opposite! Unless a special event is being held that day, you can roll up to the main gates whenever you want, purchase your all-day pass (there are different passes depending on which tracks you want to drive) and drift to your heart's content. The only rules? Wear a helmet and gloves, and don't be an idiot. The safety card you get given literally says "Please report to reception if you have an accident".
6. MANY CARS ARRIVE AND NEVER LEAVE AGAIN...
With the amount of freedom you get given on track - or more importantly, the amount of time you get - cars do fall victim to Ebisu's many potholes, banks and walls - and sometimes to each other. Some people don't help this reputation by not giving a shit about beating up their cars, but the reality is that you get so much seat time there that accidents do eventually happen. With drifting it's a given. Of course, careful driving and looking after your car is encouraged! After all, drifting is about having fun honing your skills, not creating carnage on purpose.
7. IT SNOWS IN WINTER!
This is worth mentioning just in case you were thinking of planning an Ebisu trip in December through to February: Don't! We thought we could get away with doing some driving in mid to late November, and look what happened to our Toyota Soarer in the above image! There were actually two full days where we couldn't access Ebisu at all due to the snow - even the roads between the tracks can't be driven as they're too steep in places. Remember, it's up north and in the mountains. There's actually a ski field not too far from the park.
8. THERE'S A RESTAURANT.
Whether you're a visitor or you're there to drive, it's good to know that Ebisu's got you covered when your stomach starts to grumble for lunch. At the centre of the park (near the elephant, lion and tiger enclosures) is a large restaurant serving a variety of Japanese dishes, and although it's obviously not top quality cuisine it's not that bad either. Especially when it's a bit colder, a hot ramen or pork katsu bowl with a steaming cup of green tea will go down a real treat. They have cold drinks and ice cream too! If you're not keen on Japanese food for some crazy reason, they even have fried chicken, hot dogs and hot chips, (which is more along the lines of what I'm used to being served at race tracks in New Zealand!).
9. YOUR ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS ARE FAIRLY LIMITED.
I mean, you won't have to pitch a tent or anything, but you aren't exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation near Ebisu. Don't expect to find a 5-star luxury hotel nearby. This especially applies when a big event is on, so make sure to book in advance if that is the case. During the Drift Matsuri and Drift Heaven weeks Power Vehicles open up their lodge and take bookings, however they only have limited rooms, and as you can imagine they fill up quick. Your best bet is to stay in the town of Nihonmatsu, which is a 15-minute drive away. Alternatively, if you're okay with something more traditional, there's Dake Onsen, a sleepy, small hot-spring resort town which is only ten minutes from the circuit. Lastly there's the actual city of Fukushima, which is about a half hour drive away.
10. IT HOSTS SOME PRETTY EXCITING - AND INTENSE - EVENTS.
You could come up to Ebisu Circuit on any day - obviously apart from in winter - to drive yourself or to just to check out the circuits and watch some local drivers having fun. But if you want the full experience, you really need to go there to watch or drive in an event! As a driver, you really can't beat the triannual Drift Matsuri events, the dates for which are always announced and displayed on Power Vehicles' website. As a spectator, D1GP at Minami was one of the craziest events I've ever experienced and I'd really recommend that!
For further information on events, race tracks and driving in Japan, head over to JapanCarCulture.com or feel free to get in touch with me via email.
Taryn Kelly | www.JapanCarCulture.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
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