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Japan: Tokyo Drift and Other Wonders of the Tuning Mecca
When the CARiD Staff first contacted me about writing and article to explain about Life in Japan, I honestly thought, ‘Where do I begin?!’ A quick introduction about myself would be a good start. I grew up in Ireland surrounded by cars. With the huge Rally culture and Retro Cars both Japanese and European, it wasn’t long before I was hooked at a young age. Even before I was old enough to get my Driver’s License, I was building at cars and photographing them for local magazines and websites. As time went on, the car scene was changing a lot. The huge boom of Japanese Imports to Europe was introducing many new models of cars and a Tuning culture that went along with them. I can remember talking about Nissan Skylines, Silvias, etc and very few people around me knowing what I was talking about! A few years later SuperGT (JGTC) and Drifting became much more popular in Europe. This culture that had started in the mountains of Japan as Illegal Street Drifting was becoming a hit worldwide and changing the whole scene forever. Having followed it for years before it was really recognised in Europe/America, I felt out of place that not many people understood this culture and car tuning I was talking about everyday. There was only one option, get myself on a plane to Japan, and experience it all by myself!
Heaven for car enthusiasts
I remember arriving in Tokyo for the very first time. Having made plenty of plans and contacts I was confident that my trip would go well, but nothing could prepare me for the huge impact Tokyo would have on me. Firstly, coming from the green fields and winding roads of Ireland, all I can say is Tokyo is just HUGE! Everything moves so fast, is futuristic, super clean and efficient. So let’s take a closer look at this place.
Once you have battled through all the usual cultural differences, it won’t be long until you bump into that crazy Car Tuning scene that you have heard so much about before. As a country that produces so many car brands, you soon realise you are surrounded. For many visiting Japan for their fix of Tuning Cars, the first stop must be ‘Tokyo Auto Salon’, held in Makuhari Messe, just outside of Tokyo City.
Tokyo Auto Salon is one of the biggest Tuning shows in the world. All of the best Tuners in Japan come out, display their cars, launch their new products, and promote more and more business. It really is heaven for all Car enthusiasts.
There is something for everyone, from Classics, European, American, to Full on Super GT Race cars, such as this Nissan GTR…
Not to mention the Drift scene, with Street cars and Competition level D1GP cars.
The more time you spend in Japan, the more you realise just how much there is to see. Even after 6 years, I am constantly surprised. Not just by Cars, but everything from Culture, technology, to the people I meet and stories along the way. It truly is a wonderful place for an adventure and I am yet to have a day where I say ‘I’m bored’.
Two Sides of a Coin
Jump on board a Bullet Train (Shinkansen) and blast along to the other side of the country. Just as fascinating, but some places can be completely different, especially to Tokyo. Let’s take a closer look at some of Japan’s history and culture, and see how it fits into the Tuning Car scene that we are so familiar with today.
Kyoto is the old Capital of Japan, and even today it still retains its wonderful classic culture. It’s this beauty and attention to detail that I feel goes into every day life in Japan. Some of the cars that we see being built, Tuning parts, the quality, and attention to detail during research and development has all came from history.
However, from my time in Japan, I have noticed two ‘main’ types. The simple, beautiful, respectful type and the full on crazy, loud, in your face type. It goes for many things, but let’s focus on the cars for now. Two main things you will notice in Japanese Tuning is the ‘Street Legal’ and the ‘Extreme’.
Without a doubt, some of the best Tuned cars are built in Japan. It seems every year they are pushing boundaries and breaking records. In a country with such a history of Street racing, as well as Motorsport, it’s no wonder they strive to be the best. This shows in some of the more ‘extreme demo cars I have seen from Tuning shops. There is also the ‘Street Legal’ side of things though. This has been increasing in recent years, mainly due to restrictions on Road Tests, a clamp down by Police, and an overall respect from others. You can still have a highly tuned car, but without the over extreme body, or noise from the muffler. This is more my style, especially for a road car, something fast, reliable and well tuned, that be driven comfortably everyday.
This theory seems to carry over to all areas, not just high end cars such as the Nissan GTR. Even with older cars such as Nissan Silvias, Hondas Civics, and Toyota AE86’s. As a member of the AE86 community myself, I have experience of this.
This is what I love about Japan, and the Car scene. There’s something for everyone…
There’s even Classic cars from all generations, including Vintage, and Race Cars…
As well as the Europeans, such as the BMW M3, of course all Tuned in Japan.
We mentioned before that there are plenty of Race tracks in Japan. Having travelled extensively across the country, I have been to quite a few of those tracks along the way. From smaller grassroots events at Nikko, Mobara, etc, to full on Circuit days at Fuji, Suzuka. One of the smaller, but most enjoyable to visit is Tsukuba Circuit.
Used for both Grip and Drift, it is the main centre point for Time Attack. With a long history for testing some cars to the limits, it’s well worth visiting for a drive, or even as a spectator. Let’s take a closer look at the ‘Grip / Drift’ scene here in Japan.
The most enjoyable thing about events at these circuits is the variety of cars that show up. Weekends are usually for arranged events, and bigger races. However during weekdays it is local shops, car clubs, and private drivers that show up for some racing. It’s this kind of variety and closeness between top tuners and locals that makes it fun.
Of course Drifting is a huge part of Japan. Starting in the mountains over 20 years ago, it slowly developed into a Legal Motorsport event, and can now be found at pretty much every circuit in Japan. Almost every day of the week there is a drift event on at local circuits, followed by the bigger competitions monthly, such as D1GP, MSC, Drift Muscle, etc. The Drift scene in Japan has many different styles. From ‘grass root events’ to full on professional competitions, there’s something to keep all fans and drivers entertained.
This is your typical scene at a full session at a local Drift Track (this time Nikko). A paddock full of cars, part, tyres, bumpers, and plenty of friendly faces enjoying a great day together. The closeness of the Drift scene in Japan is what makes it so enjoyable. Professionals mix with Locals and customers, as well as giving advice and helping eachother. There are always plenty of opportunities for spectators to go for some passenger runs in cars too. Experiencing all this, you will soon be hooked!
Every event I go to seems to be something different. People, cars, style of driving, atmosphere, but one thing that’s guaranteed is a fun, enjoyable day of drifting. I love the surprises, such as a Pro driver enjoying practice, to Girl Drifters tearing it up too.
Of course when it’s not happening here on the track, it still happens out on the streets… Admittedly not as much as in the past, but still plenty of street action if you have the contacts and know where to go.
The back bone of the whole Tuning Scene in Japan is of course the Shops. This is where the magic happens. Without Tuners, mechanics, workshops, you wouldn’t be seeing any of the best cars you’ve ever seen, browsing through magazines, or on websites. Over the years I’ve been to my fair share of Tuning shops, for various events, photoshoots, having personal Tuning done, or just meeting as friends. Here are some photos to show and inside look at the real Tuners of Japan.
From big names such as TOP SECRET, Trial Tuning, Signal Auto, Carland86, etc to smaller shops in the backstreets, and suburbs. You will be very surprised what you can find and come across on adventures in Japan.
The level of professionalism is a different level. Before coming to Japan, I had plenty of experience with Tuning, but the way you are treated in Japan is of such a high quality. Friends, and customers, family and respect seem to be the main words. The level of professionalism and workmanship are what keeps me going back.
There is a shop for everyone, from full on hardcore tuning, to local, simple builds, or specialists. You are encouraged to shop around in this Tuning heaven called Japan.
When you are bored with that and just want to browse some random parts, go to some of the used cars/parts dealers, you can get plenty of bargains here, or just kill some time. As well as this, there is the endless option of online shopping in Japan.
This is really just a quick insight, and more of a photo blog, to let you guys see the real scene of Japan. There is so much more, that really would take me years to show you, but I am open to posting more specific articles in the future, if there are any requests from the readers of CARiD. In the future I will also post a feature of my own car (AE86) and other random events that I come across while in Japan. I hope you have enjoyed the pictures, and if there are any questions or requests, please let me know! ___________________________________________ About the author: This post is written exclusively for CARiD Blog by Chris Gray, a Tuner, Driver, JDM importer, Photographer, Writer, Tour Guide and simply an Awesome Guy. Chris runs his own blog Moshi Moshi?! , on which you will see what he gets up to in his busy Tuning Life. If you have an interesting story or build thread to share with the enthusiast community, drop us a message at community (at) carid (dot) com!