Photo/IllutrationRemodeled mini-vehicles known as Baby Cobras, or Babycobs for short, leave the entrance to Miyako Hotel Gifu Nagaragawa in Gifu on July 5. (Hiroki Matsuzawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

GIFU--On a recent day, small open-top cars in various colors were seen stopping in front of the lobby of Miyako Hotel Gifu Nagaragawa here.

The automobiles, known as Baby Cobra, or Babycob for short, congregated there for demonstration rides.

Car buffs will recognize them as mini-vehicles remodeled to resemble the famed Shelby Cobra convertibles.

The Babycobs are drawing people to this western city that might otherwise be skipped by sightseers.

DRIVING UP LOCAL TOURISM

Babycobs are based on Suzuki Motor Corp.’s mini-open vehicle Cappuccino, whose round body and sporty head resemble those of the actual Cobra model, which are admired by car enthusiasts all over the world.

The Cappuccino is equipped with a small-displacement engine and thus easy to drive, allowing Babycob motorists to putter around in an open-top car with ease.

Miyako Hotel Gifu Nagaragawa, which aims to make the accommodation package featuring Babycob rides its core tourist draw, succeeded in luring 50 officials from travel agencies and media firms on the demonstration day in July, exceeding its target figure.

The appeal of open cars is that motorists can feel the wind whipping through their hair as they drive. The refreshing feeling turns ordinary streets on which they usually traverse into a special landscape.

In addition, all Babycobs offered boast different designs, such as warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who ruled Gifu, and cherry blossoms, enabling drivers to visit tourist spots in the city while attracting attention from passers-by along the roads.

Through the new accommodation package, the hotel intends to wow its guests with not only local sightseeing destinations but also the special driving experience.

BABYCOB RIDE ORGANIZER

The use of Babycobs for tourism promotion was suggested by Babycob Japan Co. in Gifu, which was established in 2018, and provides a street driving package using the vehicles under the theme of “Japan’s first mini-vehicle attraction on public roads.”

Its president, Jun Katayama, 39, initially sold and maintained automobiles.

In hopes of making people “go through extraordinary experiences to forget unpleasant things and smile,” Katayama proposed promoting local tourism through vehicles he is knowledgeable about.

“Although it is home to Mount Kinkazan, cormorant fishing on the Nagaragawa river and other attractive sightseeing resources, Gifu is only a transit point,” said Katayama.

Acting on this thought, Katayama decided to use the Babycob to encourage travelers to visit Gifu as a travel destination.

He hit upon the plan after learning of the popularity of go-karts available on public roads in urban regions. Although the service provides an extraordinary experience, urban go-karts were not accepted positively by the public because of safety problems and the bad manners of kart drivers.

“Babycobs can entertain people without causing trouble to others,” said Katayama.

Babycobs passing through town attract so much attention that passers-by sometimes wave, making drivers feel special.

“I would like people to feel as if they were TV celebrities (through driving a Babycob),” Katayama said.

BABYCOBS ON THE MOVE

While Babycob Japan’s core business is currently the accommodation package developed jointly by Miyako Hotel Gifu Nagaragawa, Katayama plans to start a new project on Miyakojima island in Okinawa in September.

As Babycob Japan will increase the number of its Babycobs from around 10 to 100 in five years, Katayama said he wants to introduce similar services in Tokyo, Osaka and overseas as well.

“People living in a stressful society want to undergo extraordinary experiences,” Katayama said. “(What is important) is the refreshing feeling that can blow away all unpleasant matters.”

Katayama said he realized how nice it is to do something for others while working with his colleagues as volunteers for a month in a devastated region following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

He moved automobiles engulfed by the tsunami, transferred fuel and did other tasks requiring knowledge nurtured through his work. Victims thanked him for his efforts.

“I want to contribute to local communities to the delight of residents,” he said.