Japanese Car Culture

The underground Japanese Car culture

Growing up my family was obsessed with cars, whether it’s working on cars with Dad after school and on the weekends or going to car meetups, conventions and races. This exposure of car culture made me want to own a car and be able to drive alone, so I did what almost every other teenager would do – annoy their parents to take them driving after school and all weekend. I wanted to drive all the time, but little did I know, petrol is expensive and I a High schooler, working a low paying part time job on the weekend wasn’t going to cut it.

It wasn’t until I got my learners license when it all started to feel real. I started to look at car prices, insurance costs, rego, and it wasn’t until I stumbled onto an image of a Nissan Skyline R32 GTR that was heavily modified for drift and was titled “JDM GTR R32”. Young me was clueless and wanted to know what was JDM and more about the R32 and how to acquire one (fun note – I searched for an R34 on the same day and it showed the “other kind” of R****34. Big mistake). JDM means Japanese Domestic Market.

I cant wait for season 3.

One day, my brother took me to a local car meetup at Liverpool, and boy, how my view of Car Culture changed forever. I saw all kinds of import cars, all the different sounds, lights, colors and not only was I introduced to a whole new scene of cars but introduced to the culture surrounding the love of cars. People would stand around talking to one another, about cars, their day, how they are going, future builds and if they wanted to work on a project car together. A car culture that brings people together who share the same passion.

A beautiful R34 at the one of Liverpool meetups

Autoethnography is the practice of giving your own personal cultural experience and to reflect on yourself as a researcher to engage with other individuals who may experience similar epiphanies (Ellis et al., 2011).

Japan. The birthplace of affordable, reliable manufactures of cars such as Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Suzuki. These manufactures create affordable family cars, supercars, racing cars and iconic enthusiast cars such as the Nissan Skyline series, Toyota Supra, Honda Civic, Mazda RX-7 and so on. These enthusiast cars can range from tens of thousands of dollars here in Australia, yet much cheaper in Japan.

The Japanese car culture was revolved around other scenes such as the D1 Grand Prix (Drifting event), otaku culture (Itasha cars) as well as a social event.

The Japanese car culture scene in Japan was not always about illegal street racing (even though its well documented on YouTube), it’s about style. Taking a simple everyday car and customize the car to create an image that expresses who you are and what you love.

It wasn’t until then, I learnt that that having your own car, being able to customize it how you want is a way to express who you are and what you love. You are an artist, just… it costs a lot.

A great introduction video to illegal racing in Tokyo

There are different styles of cars that would show in these Japanese car scenes which include

  • Kyusha – old classic cars
  • Kaido racers – heavily modified bodies that stands-out from the crowd.
  • Supercars – Don’t think this needs an introduction
  • Lowriders – An American culture and style vehicles
  • VIP style/Bippu – born in Osaka in the 80s and was thought that the Yakuza Gang would ride and not be targeted by police, hence VIP. Riders would modify a vehicle that would have a similar structure and style to be “sleepers” and not be targeted by the police. Sleepers refer to modified engines but normal bodies.
  • And lastly, Kei cars – small little cars that are affordable and compact.   

But what makes them so popular? And why do you like it

There is multiple reason why the Japanese car culture is so popular. Fast and Furious was one of the many movies that brought over the Japanese car culture to countries such as America and Australia. It made every car enthusiasts want a car just like the movies (including myself).

Fast and Furious (2001)

Drift. DK. No, not Donkey Kong. Drift King. The D1 Grand Prix is a Drifting event that is watched all around the world that contains heavily modified (mostly) Japanese cars such as the Nissan 240sx. Drifting is the concept of controlled and sustained oversteer first credited by Kunimitsu Takahashi in the 70s, who would drift late at night on touge mountain passes (Kelly, 2019) Which would be later made popular by Keiichi Tsuchiya (drift king) in 1987 with his Toyota AE86 (Kelly, 2019).

Keiichi Tsuchiya drifting in an AE86

Otaku culture. This can be translated as “nerd” or “geek”, but it really means someone who is extremely enthusiastic about a hobby they enjoy. If you ever seen images of Vehicles bombed with Anime, video game characters and idol groups this vehicle can be referred to an Itasha. To keep it short, Itasha means looking at a vehicle that makes you cringe in pain because its horrible to look at from a person who is not involved in these scenes. As mentioned previously, the Japanese car culture is a way to express yourself and show what you love, and what better way for a rich otaku to express who they are with vehicles. Itasha Vehicles are making their way over to Australia so be sure to keep an eye out!

I think this is love live? Never seen. 🙂

And for you guys that loves bikes, there is also a way to get involved! Itachari is the same process but bombing your bike with what you love.

Unfortunately, in the recent years there has been a large police crackdown on modified vehicle in Japan which has lead to less turn-ups to car meets and an overall decline in interest (Top Gear, 2019).

I hope this give you insight of a culture that you may not have been familiar with or had the same epiphany as i did and fell in love with a culture. Thanks for reading.

I would like to leave you with this video that also provides more insight to the Japanese car culture made by fellow Australian Noriyaro.

Reference:

Kelly, P. (2019). An Introduction To Japanese Car Culture — Japan Car Culture. [online] Japan Car Culture. Available at: https://www.japancarculture.net/an-introduction-to-japanese-car-culture.

Top Gear. (2019). What’s happened to Japan’s car culture?. [online] Available at: https://www.topgear.com/car-news/big-reads/heres-whats-happened-to-japanese-car-modifying-culture.

One comment

  1. Hey! Your narrative reminiscing of the topic at hand made for an engaging blog post, despite me knowing little to nothing about cars in general. You’ve successfully used your epiphany to analyse your personal experiences.

    Ellis et. al (2011) mentions ‘thick description’ of a culture that’s meant to “facilitate understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders”. Since I’m an outsider to Japanese car culture, you sharing your knowledge and interest enlightened me. So you’re definitely on the right track here!

    I probably would’ve never linked drifting and otaku culture as major contributions to the overall Japanese car culture scene. Are there any aspects of ‘underground Japanese car culture’ that makes you understand Japanese culture a bit more as well?

    Like

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