Japanese car culture is one of absolute diversity. The petrol heads of Japan seem to adore anything blessed with an internal combustion engine. This is perhaps why then Japan has gifted the world with so may incredible performance cars. Japans portfolio has more impressive content than the British library and they now have a serious reputation in the automotive scene. Although stanced S-chasis, Supras and Skylines are the main attraction for the common petrol head, Japans car culture consists of so much more than this.
I don't want this article to be a history lesson worthy of a Cambridge lecture theatre, nor do I want it to be the incoherent ramblings of an acne ridden teenager who owns a sticker bombed Nissan Micra. What this article will be then, is a mere glimpse into the inner workings of perhaps the most interesting and varied car culture on the planet.
Kei cars are easily the most unique thing about Japanese car culture. These are basically mini vans with a maximum of 660cc engines. They were first introduced to meet tax and insurance regulations in Japan post war. They are still a far cheaper option of motoring in Japan but they are now popular with petrol heads in the land of the rising sun due to a MASSIVE range of aftermarket parts! The Japanese take huge pride in their Kei cars and you see a staggering variety of modifications done to them.
Unfortunately many people will argue that the stereotypical idea of Japanese car culture is dead, that it is plagued with Kei cars and overweight wealthy businessmen in Lamborghinis. To a certain extent this is true, but alas, it is still part of the Japanese car culture. Japan is one of the technology capitals of the world, meaning there are some men and women with incredibly deep pockets, and what do these (normally men) go and do with their honest earnings? Obviously go and throw it all at an Italian supercar and then put so many lights on it that it looks like something out of the Fast and Furious franchise. But why has this happened? Well, much like London and other European cities, Tokyo is so full and crowded that now the only way to make an impression in a car is to be as vulgar and as brash as possible, because you simply can't drive fast enough to impress any women.
This is probably the part a lot of people were hoping for. Drifting. A type of motorsport that is insanely pointless, but amazing to watch and even better to take part in. How we all love to watch pixilated footage of a Silvia sliding around a corner with terrible audio quality on Youtube, there is something so authentic about it. Japan sparked the rage for drifting as it started on the twisting mountain roads of rural Japan in pokey RWD, front engined cars, such as the Toyota AE86. Then came TV shows and Comics such as initial D, the story of a Japanese tofu delivery driver who has a hidden talent for drifting. Now days the weapons of choice for this bullish driving technique range from little MX-5s to 1000hp Skylines.
As previously mentioned, street racing on the roads of Tokyo is now out of the question, there simply isn't the space, the police presence is too much and it isn't safe. However, it does still exist in the rural regions of the land of the rising sun. Togue racing as its known, is the preferred option. Its very simple, two cars set off, one behind the othe,r and by the end of the course, if the car that started in the lead has not increased his or her lead significantly, then the race will be re-run and the cars swapped around. To win? Simply extend your lead considerably. No overtaking is required. This is because the mountain roads are just too narrow to do so. Togue racing could not be further from drifting. It has precision and grip at its core. There is no lust for tire smoke and corner entry angle. Racing in its rawest form.
In many respects the Japanese car scene is very similar to that of Europe and America in terms of modifying ones car. There is both form and fitment and people will do anything to their car just because they can. One main difference I have found though is the love for domestics. In the UK very few people take pride in British cars, which in a way is understandable because nobody wants to drive a slammed Morgan, but in Japan they are in love with their own domestic brands, like Nissan and Toyota, where as in many other countries we yearn to have something just for the sake of it being an import and different. The benefit of this is that the car meets we see in films like Tokyo drift do actually exist...just without the racing through a multi-story carpark.
I think you can agree that the Japanese car scene is something so special, to have such a diversified range of interests on such a tiny island, heaven on earth. To be honest, this article barely breaks the surface when it comes to the details of car culture in Japan, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what goes on in the land of the rising sun.