The term JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) refers to the local market for domestic goods in Japan. The term was first used by corporations to differentiate between domestic and international production markets.
Within car culture, the meaning of JDM has over the past two decades evolved and morphed away from its original intended use, and now stands as a term loosely used to describe the specific Japanese-esc automotive style. JDM is nowadays a term used to describe anything from ‘stickerbombing’ cars (covering entire parts and panels of vehicles in sticker collages), to lowered vehicles, and front mounted intercoolers. While these attributes may have been derived from original Japanese styles, the term JDM presently remains in a convoluted state. In an age where the Internet has played a fundamental role in colliding popular automotive culture, and the traditional boundaries of car culture have become convoluted, does JDM still stand for JDM? What is JDM? And what defines it?
JDM was first applied in Japanese automotive to describe cars and parts manufactured by companies to a Japanese standard of quality. Products that fall under the JDM bracket are those that comply with the regulations of Japanese law, and thus are legal for use in Japanese automobiles. Applying this notion of products tailored to specific markets, parts created for American vehicles fall under the USDM banner, parts for Australia, ADM and so on.
Up until the mid-1980’s, the Japanese automotive climate was dominated by popular cars at the forefront of automotive engineering and design. These vehicles in most cases were unique to Japan, never exported to lands outside of Asia. Towards the end of the 1980, shaken laws increasingly encouraged Japanese drivers to regularly update their vehicles, and ‘grey-imports’ (cars previously registered in Japan and built to Japanese standards, but later compiled for foreign markets) became an affordable alternative to local vehicles in international markets; particularly amongst enthusiasts, who were taken by the performance of Japanese vehicles. For enthusiasts, ‘the light weight and increasing availability of low cost tuning equipment, (meant that) Japanese cars exhibit(ed) high performance at low costs in comparison to dedicated sports cars’ (Justin Fox, 2010) As the potential for these vehicles was increasingly recognised, grey-imports like the Subaru WRX STI became more commonplace on Australian roads.
Two very different Toyota AE86’s. (The owner of the ADM model has spent considerable time and money to convert his vehicle where possible to mirror the JDM version on the right)
Grey-import, JDM cars often featured parts specifically manufactured for the Japanese market. Cars of a JDM standard offered more advanced technologies and performance then the very same cars offered in international markets. For enthusiasts, installing JDM parts to locally sold cars quickly emerged as an affordable way of improving automotive performance through making use of factory parts. (To make use of factory parts is to make use of parts designed, developed and manufactured to the highest quality by the companies in which manufacture cars. JDM factory parts are highly valuable to the JDM enthusiast as they offer levels of quality assurance that most aftermarket part companies cannot offer). An example of this process is no better demonstrated than comparing factory parts from an Australian delivered Toyota Sprinter AE86 and its Japanese counterpart (above). Whilst the chassis remained the same, the Australian version of the sports back Toyota featured a lethargic 1.6lt single overhead cam, carburetted motor. Comparatively, the Japanese version of the AE86, which is now considered a cult classic amongst car enthusiasts, featured Toyota’s free revving, electronically fuel injected, Twin Cam motor, the 4AGE. The value of an Australian delivered AE86 in today’s used car market is between $3000-5000 Australia dollars. A JDM AE86 import? Upwards of $15000.
Whilst there is little in the way of documentation of the cultural shifts within Japanese automotive culture, the nature of the current use of the JDM term is indicative of a higher, progressive evolution in Japanese car culture. The use of the term JDM raises questions about what qualifies as being described as JDM- Are performance parts for Japanese, manufactured outside of Japan considered JDM? What about cars owners who painstaking assemble domestic cars with JDM parts – are they now JDM? Are the Australian built racecars, originally manufactured by Japanese brands, that competed at the recent World Time Attack Challenge in Sydney considered JDM – or ADM?
Personally, I believe what defines JDM is that flutter of the heart you experience when driving an old Japanese car. Having driven the original AE86, there is something inquisitively special about being behind the wheel of something so Japanese – the feel, the touch. But, contrastingly, having built my own version of an AE86, based on the same chassis Toyota Corolla of the era, and a huge amount of parts taken from JDM AE86’s, I must admit there was something special about that car as well. It may not have been strictly JDM, but the accumulation of parts, made it a special car to drive.
Perhaps the best approach to JDM is summarised by Ben Schaffer of Bespoke Ventures:
“…there is no right or wrong answer for what is JDM. It will mean different things to different people. In a sense, it means the same thing as “cool” except with a cultural twist to it. Nobody can define cool, as it relates to Japanese car tuning culture, it is simply always up for debate.”
Fox, J 2010, ‘What is JDM’, JDMST, forum discussion, 8/11/2010, viewed 13/10/2014, http://forum.jdmstyletuning.com/showthread.php?29606-What-is-JDM-Define-and-discuss
Schaffer, B 2013, ‘What does JDM mean in the import car scene,’ Boost Freak, 18/04/2013, viewed 13/10/2014, http://boostfreak.com/what-does-jdm-mean-in-the-import-car-scene