What’s happened to Japan’s car culture?
Evidently, Japanese car culture is dead. TG goes to Tokyo to seek the truth
The noise hits us before we see them. Which, considering they’re peppered in a gazillion frenetic LEDs, is an achievement. At the bottom of a slip road off Tokyo’s Bayshore route is a mad Lambo clan we’ve been admiring online. They’ve been waiting for us.
The deputation is officially dubbed ‘Car Guy’: a new-wave movement that strays away from traditional Japanese Bosozoku tuning aesthetics of old. In a very 21st-century kind of counterculture, they choose to modify their super-high-end cars for maximum Instagram appeal.
This feature was originally published in the April two thousand sixteen issue of Top Gear magazine.
With neon lights turned up to ‘acid rave’, leopard print rims gleaming and scissor doors smooching the sky, we sidle up to a big, brash Aventador SV. Perched on its carbon sill is Car Guy’s amazingly wealthy and venerable leader, Takeshi Kimura.
“Big organised meets don’t happen regularly anymore,” he says. “This place used to whirr with noise, lights and cars. But now, police shut things down quickly.” It’s why TG is here. We want to know the current state of Japanese car culture. In its pomp – when the Spice Damsels were topping the charts – the car world was enamoured, but things have gone a bit quiet over the last few years. The car park we’re sat in – Yokohama’s Daikoku parking area (PA) – has always been the hammering heart of the Japanese tuning scene. Technically, it’s a service station. But for Japanese car nuts, it’s more than a place to open up your gams, have a leak and grab some processed and sweaty yakisoba. For decades, it’s been an open-air amphitheatre for the tuning scene.
For us gaijin – westerners – Japan’s cultural fabric is total of sinuous fibres of intrigue. Cuddle cafes, ganguro chicks and a rather suspect childhood game called kancho all grab our attention. But it’s the nation’s obsessive and expressive relationship with cars that’s always intrigued.
Back in the day, hundreds of cars would flood this place. It’d reverberate with the bassline from vans total of speakers. Squeal from the sound of renegade drifters. All while weary lorry drivers attempted, and failed, to get some beauty sleep.
In Daikoku terms, our selection of peacocking Lamborghinis, McLaren six hundred seventy five LT and race-inspired Ferrari three hundred sixty makes for a low-key affair. Even so, it still has kids rushing out of the service station for a gander. For Kimura, that’s a win.
The reason the very successful property developer set up Car Boy was to promote his love of supercars. Using his social media following, he flaunts his F40, F50, Enzo, McLaren P1, nine hundred ninety one GT3 RS, four hundred fifty eight Speciale and Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo by doing unconventional things. Things like sticking an Enzo on studs, then drifting it on ice for Facebook. It may look like a d**k-swinging contest, but the enigmatic Kimura claims his deeds are only to get Japanese millennials salivating over cars again.
He has a point. Police clampdowns and more stringent and limitary shaken vehicle inspections (think super-strict bi-annual über MOTs), have robbed from Japan a generation of car fans. Look deeper, and you find that Japanese in their twenties only accounted for thirteen per cent of all licence-holders last year – a massive decline compared with twenty six per cent three decades earlier. And with astronomical parking costs, plus the expense of getting a licence (around £1,800), you can see why disenfranchised youthfull ’uns are home alone on their computers.
While street racing around Tokyo has died down, it doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent in other parts of Japan.
With some kids converted, Kimura wants to get back on the campaign trail. He fires up his high-horsepower PR machine before telling his legion of seizure-inducing Lambos to activate Disco Ball mode. Exiting Daikoku in a wave of Sant’Agata V12 and light pollution, we emerge onto Greater Tokyo’s Wangan – once home to the infamous Midnight Club.
Formed in 1987, Midnight Club was an illegal Vmax street racing society where you could only join if your car hit 160mph. To be competitive, you had to have a 200mph car. While street racing around Tokyo has died down, it doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent in other parts of Japan.
In Osaka, three hundred miles away, there’s a localised band of brothers known as the Kanjozoku, a tribe of Honda goes that bow at the altar of VTEC through a very secretive and also illegal street racing circle. Access to the club is only granted if you have a race-bred Honda Civic. They rock up on Osaka’s orbital expressways at night looking as if they’ve taken a wrong turning out of Suzuka’s pit lane. Stripped-out, bloody noisy and fitted with slicks, these Civics pound the high-rise roads in the early hours – weaving inbetween lanes, causing mischief and legging it from police.