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Toyota gets philosophical and exploring Japanese roots at Tokyo Motor Show

Toyota is getting philosophical and exploring its Japanese roots at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opens later this month.

A single-seat vehicle packed with sensors and a car designed to blend harmoniously with nature are among the futuristic-looking "concept," or experimental, models Toyota Motor Corp. is readying for the biannual exhibition opening to the public Oct. 27. Reporters got a sneak peek of several models that will be on display.

The show, which draws automakers from around the world, tends to have more whimsical offerings than the more practical products on display at other auto shows.

Toyota General Manager Tetsuya Kaida said the Japanese automaker wanted to show how it was different from its American and European rivals and found inspiration from Japan's ancient arts that emphasize zenlike spirituality.

"This is about the Way of the Car, much like tea ceremony and flower arrangement," he said at a recent preview.

Kaida said cars are starting to be seen by some as a nuisance, causing pollution, traffic accidents, noise and global warming.

Instead, cars must become gentler and more friendly, offering value to people's minds and sensibilities, he said. To tackle such challenges, Toyota should fall back on its Japanese culture, which emphasizes a subdued aesthetic including harmony with nature, Kaida said.

A toylike green-and-beige model called Rin has a transparent floor, huge windows and doors that slide open like Japanese "shoji" screens so its interior appears to blend with its surroundings for what Toyota called a soothing ride.

The I-Real, another model, is Japanese in a different way, boasting the nation's robotics technology.

It looks like a roofless plush armchair that scoots about on wheels, with buttons and controls on the arms. It changes positions, straightening up to move slowly among pedestrians or laying back to travel faster at up to 30 kph (18.6 mph).

Toyota also showed a stripped-down version of its Prius gas-electric hybrid called 1/X that was meant to suggest how bare and simple a car could be so it's gentle to the environment.

Made with a light but durable composite called carbon fiber reinforced plastic, it doesn't even have a steering wheel. It isn't meant to be driven but is more a representation of an ideal, rather than a real car, Toyota said.

Another offbeat model expected to be on display was a plug-in hybrid sport-utility vehicle, "Hi-CT," which stands for "hi ride city truck," that resembled a bulky cube, and Toyota said it was inspired by the form of a gorilla.

Chiharu Tamura, a Toyota manager, said that was an effort at redefining "Japanese cool," exemplified by "manga" animation and street fashion, to appeal to youngsters.

Ironically, Europeans did some of the SUV's design.

Tamura said preconceptions about cars being slinky and symmetrical were obsolete.

"This is a rugged kind of cool," he said. "It's different from other cars."