Greg’s Travel Diary – 2023 Japanese Grand Prix

Greg from FanAmp attended the Japanese Grand Prix this year. He shares his experience and tips for getting the most out of a trip to Suzuka.

Back in September, I had the opportunity to travel to the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Here is a recount of my adventure and the things to take into consideration if you are planning to attend the race at Suzuka in the future!

Arrival

Japan was the second stop on my tour-de-Formula 1 in Asia (Read More: Greg’s Travel Diary – 2023 Singapore Grand Prix). Having come directly from the Singapore Grand Prix, it was a very easy travel day. I arrived in Tokyo well before the race to give myself time to explore. 

One great thing about Japan is that traveling by train and subway is the most efficient and easiest way to get around the country. I was staying with my brother and our childhood friend in Shibuya, so it was very easy to hop on a train from Narita Airport to our hotel. I spent a couple of days in the area, working from Shibuya while also venturing into Shinjuku and Harajuku (both easily accessible by subway).

Getting Around in Japan

As I mentioned already, trains and subways are the best and most convenient/ efficient way to get around Japan. Unlike America (the NYC Subway specifically), Google maps gives excellent directions and the timings are nearly perfect. You can buy tickets on both credit and debit cards, although the machines are a bit finicky. Just note that there is no tap to pay at the turnstiles, which has become the norm in the United States, so you have to use the machines in each station.

There is one exception: local transit cards. I personally used the Suica transit card because it accepted American Express, but there are other options that work with Visa Debit and Credit cards. Once you have the transit card of choice on your phone (Apple or Google Wallet), you load a balance before tapping at the turnstiles before AND after each trip to calculate the charge. This avoids the ticket machines altogether. The only time that this did not work for us was with the Shinkansen (bullet train) – those tickets are purchased separately.

Wednesday: Tokyo Fan Festival

While you wouldn’t notice that the Japanese Grand Prix was actually happening from walking around most of Tokyo (it’s not as big of a spectacle as in other countries off-track), we went to the Fan Festival in Shinjuku on Wednesday afternoon and IT WAS PACKED.

The Tokyo Fan Festival is essentially a giant activation and pop-up experience for the race with appearances by members of the F1 community including team principals and current drivers. Fans filled the courtyard of the Tokyu Kabukicho Tower and Kabukicho Cinecity Plaza eagerly awaiting each appearance throughout the afternoon.

This year the appearances included F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur, hometown hero Yuki Tsunoda, Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, Alpine driver Esteban Ocon, and former F1 driver Jean Alesi. Unfortunately it was SO packed, we had to watch the festivities from a Starbucks overlooking the action. Pro-tip for the Tokyo Fan Festival: Show up early!

Thursday: Travel to Nagoya

Thursday was a short travel day and a ‘day of rest’ transitioning from a casual trip to the Grand Prix Weekend. I wanted to leave my group a day or so early to get settled ahead of the race weekend. This time around I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo Shinagawa Station to Nagoya Station. This costs $75 USD and takes about an hour and a half. By car this trip can take between 4 and a half hours to 5 hours of travel, so I truly appreciated the convenience of the bullet train.

I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Nagoya which was a 15-20 minute walk from the Nagoya Station. As expected, the staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming and the hotel itself, as well as my room, was immaculately clean. While I didn’t stay at the Marriott property above the Nagoya Station (Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel), it was highly recommended from someone in the FanAmp community who often travels to this region for work. He said this hotel is where many F1 personnel stay during the race weekend.

Friday: Suzuka Circuit

Getting to and from the track from Nagoya was pretty easy. You can ride the Limited Express Train from Nagoya Station (Kintetsu-Nagoya) to Shiroko Station for ¥1,920 JPY ($13 USD) and it takes exactly 39 minutes.. Most other race fans then opted for the shuttle bus service running between Shiroko Station and Suzuka Circuit for ¥450 ($3) each way. That’s paid when exiting at the track, and again when boarding upon your return to Shiroko. The fare can be paid on your transit card!

One of the first (and most important) things that I did on track was check out the food and drink. The options were incredibly varied, delicious, and VERY affordable. Waters and alcohol were at MOST a few dollars and the food was very similarly priced. This dining experience was a far cry from the $15 handful of fries that I’m used to at typical large American sporting events.

Ambiance-wise, I’d say this is one of the few circuits that is a perfect destination for families and those traveling with children. Aside from the expansive dining options, the track was full of rides and mini race tracks as well as other family-friendly activities when there isn’t action on the actual track. Additionally, Japanese fans are simply the best and so dedicated to the Grand Prix environment. They love to make costumes for their favorite teams. They wear merch for EVERY team, EVERY driver, EVERY generation of Formula 1. They just enjoy the sport and every team and driver is represented, not just the most popular ones.

Once the practice sessions started, you have a ton of seating options across the entire track. On Friday, you can basically sit anywhere except for the main grandstand. Personally, I purchased the cheapest tickets to the West Open Area (sections L, M, N, P) but spent most of my time pre-practice wandering to different vantage points around the track.

Once Free Practice 1 began, I watched the session from the A Grandstands, which had a great view of the cars heading into Turn 1. A really important note if you’re planning on traveling to Suzuka; there is almost no cover, so I’m glad I brought sunscreen. If it had rained instead of the warm and sunny weather we had (which has definitely happened in past years), everyone would have been very miserable.

After a long day at the track I rushed back to the shuttle to beat the crowds. I managed to get on a bus without waiting, but heard that people who reached the shuttles after Free Practice 2 ended up waiting several hours.

Friday Night: Meetup in Nagoya

As usual with the races that the FanAmp team attends, I hosted a meetup in Nagoya on Friday evening. We had a table full of travelers from all over the world, including a number of first time race-goers who had just wrapped up their first ever day at an F1 track. We shared beers, classic (mostly American) bar food with some Japanese twists (salmon fish and chips instead of the classic cod), and traded stories from the day. I HIGHLY encourage anyone traveling solo to venture out in Nagoya. Not only is it quite safe, there are many travelers from all over the world who will gladly ‘adopt’ you into their groups.

Saturday: Nagoya

At the same time as Qualifying on Saturday, I was running the production for FanAmp’s F1 Fantasy Show, so I unfortunately could not go to the track on this day. However, after qualifying and the show, I was reunited with my brother and our friend as they had made the trip down to Nagoya for race day. With their bags safely stowed in the hotel, we went out for food at a local Yakitori restaurant. It was divey and delicious (the vibe of most of Nagoya), with chicken skewers and cold beers to wash it down. We walked around Nagoya with our stomachs full, ready for adventure.

As luck may have it, we stumbled upon a special event for locals: a sake tasting on the river. We quickly purchased sake cups and tickets and walked from stall to stall, sampling every type of sake imaginable. The sake was amazing and cheap. We even made friends with a Japanese father and son who lived in the area, but had spent many years in Detroit. We bonded over a cup of sake before splitting up so the three of us could eat (again) at a nearby restaurant before some well-deserved rest. As I said above…. traveling alone here is an amazing experience because everyone is so friendly and willing to share their time with you.

Sunday: Race Day at Suzuka

We woke up early to get to the track before the rush came. Like other days, we pre-bought our return trip at Shiroko station for the evening Limited Express train to avoid long lines and any issues getting back to our hotel before an evening train. On race day, we were able to arrange trackside hospitality in the Champions Club by F1 Experiences.

The Champions Club at Suzuka is located on the inside of the track, one level above the Paddock Club and two levels above the pit garages. The space felt very open which was wonderful on such a nice September day, and the views from both sides of the club were unmatched. On the left, you had a view of the pitlane and on the right, you had a view of the team hospitality areas in the F1 Paddock. While it was definitely very busy (expected in any viewing section on race day), it didn’t ever feel crowded. Another unique feature of the Champions Club in Japan is that there were two sections; one for English speakers and the other for Japanese speakers based on which commentary you wanted to hear. You could move freely between them and decide between the two options… too bad I only know how to say ‘thank you’ in Japanese.

On top of the atmosphere, F1 World Champion Damon Hill was interviewed by his son and the Virtual Statman, Sean Kelly, gave a live preview of the race. The food was also great and varied with fish, meat, vegetable and dessert options for everyone’s tastes – including vegan and gluten free options.

Best of all, though, was the racing, of course! We had views of the pit straight which meant seeing all of the pre-race events including the drivers’ parade and the teams setting up on the grid. During the race, Alfa Romeo struggled with their pit stops, and we saw them all first hand from above. The rest of the teams came roaring by, and people would move between watching on the track and watching on the many TVs situated around the seating area.

Having attended many other races and experienced the Champions Club at COTA (USGP), this was the best experience I’ve had at an F1 race to-date. The team on the ground was attentive and friendly, the space was well laid out and comfortable, and the food and amenities were unmatched. If you’re looking at premium hospitality, this one should be at the top of your list.

Secure access to the Champions Club at the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix

That evening we hopped on another Shinkansen, this time from Nagoya to Kyoto. After a couple days in Kyoto, we spent a night in Osaka and boarded our plane to start the journey home to New York City,

Summary & Tips

  1. Don’t skip Friday! You can explore nearly all the seating areas at the circuit and get your bearings. Sample the views, capture amazing photos, and test out the transportation before the inevitable crowds on Saturday and Sunday
  2. Learn the process, everything in Japan is done intentionally. Invest extra time on your first day (before Friday practice) to learn how transportation works before getting to the circuit
  3. Ask questions! All of the staff we spoke with were wonderful and worked very hard to make sure we had answers to our questions 
  4. Eat everything, inside and outside the circuit! Japan is brimming with incredible food. Sushi, katsu, and even 7-Eleven. Yes, I said it… 7-Eleven. Pick up a few salmon onigiri and pancake sandwiches to start or end your day
  5. Shop for merch. Japan was the first race since Mexico City 2022 where I stopped to explore every piece of merchandise available. There were some very cool designs, especially for Yuki Tsunoda, at much more affordable prices than other circuits
  6. Soak up Japan. The beauty of Japan is that it’s so easy to get around, which makes it easy to build an itinerary around attending the race. Budget extra time into your trip to soak up Tokyo and other must-do cities like Kyoto. There are so many options just a short train ride away

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