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Car Cultures of the World: Japan

Car Cultures of the World: Japan

With companies such as Honda, Isuzu, Daihatsu, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and dozens more all based there, its no wonder that the Japanese car industry is one of the strongest in the world, holding the title of ‘largest car producing country in the world’ until China wrestled the title from them in recent years.

If the crown for highest car production goes to China, and the gong for excellence in automotive engineering goes to Germany, surely the laurel wreath for innovation has to be lowered onto Japan’s collective head. The land of the rising sun is in love with all things car-related, and their willingness to experiment has led to some of motorings most important revolutions. It’s not only the victories of innovation that are worth celebrating, however. Japan’s manufacturers have had more than their fair share of explosively bad ideas and terrible inventions, which only serves to make us love them more. Japanese engineers definitely don’t shy away from experimentation.

There are entire subcultures based around the modification and souping-up of cars, transforming them from humble commuting vehicles and city coupes into neon soaked, skidding disco balls. One such subculture is the Bosozoku, or ‘running wild gang‘. This group consists of people mostly from 16 to 20 years old, who drive highly customised motorcycles and cars. Car tuners add wide bodykits and enormous, oversized features such as wings, as well as daubing their cars in blindingly bright paint. Think window rattling speakers, spinning rims, and hair so big it makes Jedward look like the Mitchell brothers. The Bosozoku meet in car parks and underground locations, showing off their motors, racing, and generally causing the hassle for the Tokyo police force.

Through the 2000’s, however, Japan’s car tuning culture was in decline, due in equal parts to the sky high cost of parking, and the expense of learning to drive in the country; around £1,800 for a pink license. With Bosozoku membership around 40,000 in the 80’s, today their numbers are estimated at 5,300 in the Tokyo area due to police crackdowns. Infamous illegal street racing gang, the Midnight Club, used to tear around Toyko’s Wangan highways in the 80’s, with a minimum requirement for entry into the club being that your car could achieve 160mph. Today, these races are virtually non-existent in the capital.

While racing might be off the cards, tuning and modding certainly isn’t. With the arrival of the internet, the current generation has access to unlimited sources of inspiration. Whereas previous generations of tuners would religiously read comics such as ‘Wangan Midnight‘ or ‘Initial D‘, today’s youth have the means to access culture from all over the world, which has meant a mesh of styles like never before have taken over the tuning game, giving birth to a huge range of alternative, quirky, occasionally bizarre stylings.

Initially, it may look as though Japan’s tuning scene is dying out due to the reduction in on-street activity and the lack of a Tokyo Drift sequel. However, scratch beneath the surface, and Tokyo still buzzes with the passion and innovation for motoring that has helped it grow to such a dominating force in the world of cars. From the new generation of drivers strapping twenty feet of neon lights to the interior of their rides, to the streets crammed with miniature ‘Kei‘ commuter cars, after a recession-induced hiatus, it looks like Japanese car culture is alive and kicking.