Only in Japan…..

Petrolicious has published a cool story about Nissan’s creative advertising style in the early days around its flagship sport coupe the Nissan Skyline.  It all began in the 1970s with a young and “in love” caucasian couple exploring Japan in their new coupe. Honestly, you watch this ad now and it’s hard to believe this was ever popular anywhere but having lived in Japan at one time I understand their affinity to anything Western.

Nissan built on this 70s love theme and in the 80s embraced Paul Newman as he became the new face of the Skyline brand as a result of his racing exploits with Nissan US.

I had no idea Paul Newman hustled Skylines and I bet not many people in North America know either.  I always thought Paul Walker was the first Hollywood actor to love the Skyline. Well, you really do learn something new everyday.

Paul Walker Skyline

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Vice Chronicles Okinawa’s Illegal Street Racing Scene

Here in Canada we have very strict street racing laws and they are a good thing don’t get us wrong. However, that does not mean the allure of racing on public roads among enthusiasts is fully extinguished. Autoblog Canada has posted a very cool video from Vice Japan that profiles illegal racer Eikichi Nagayoshi of Japan’s southern island Okinawa. Having spent a year in the “Land of the Rising Sun” and travelling to Okinawa I can honestly say it is one of the most unique places in the world so it’s no surprise its car culture is 100% authentic.

The video focuses around Nagayoshi’s admiration of his customized 1,000 horsepower Toyota Aristo (better known to us as a first-generation Lexus GS) that he claims can hit 330 km/h (205 miles per hour).  In typical Vice style the video is shot in a documentary view providing a close-up encounter with Japan’s enigmatic underground racing scene. Scroll down to check out the video, but make sure you have the “CC” button clicked, because several portions are subtitled.

Documentary about Japan’s Yakuza underworld

Having lived in Japan back in 2000/2001, I experienced their car culture first hand.  It truly is totally unique and like no other place in the world. Specifically, their attention to detail with modifications to out of the ordinary rides is just not something that you see anywhere else in the world.  Beginning with high-end luxury cars, domestic step wagons, bad-ass turbo charged drift machines, to American muscle cars you see it all in Japan. But one group that stands out as the most “out there” is the Yakuza organized crime gangs that control the Japan’s underworld.

Yakuza car

Yakuza car

Recently, a new documentary titled Underground Hero chronicles this group and the admiration for their cars.  Take it for what’s it worth, as it is an incredible raw look at a dark, sinister world which is rarely seen by the masses.

Japan’s car culture

Until 2004 in Japan, all domestic autos were required to have less than 280 HP.  This legislation was set up by the Japan Automotive Manufactures Association as an environmental and safety measure. However, the reality was there were some ways around this restrictive policy. In fact, the main way was the Japanese aftermarket tuner scene since enthusiasts would often purchase a domestic model and then have it modified at a local speed shop right at purchase time if they wanted more horsepower. One of the models which was commonly used was Nissan’s Skyline model, now considered one of the best Japanese sport coupes ever built. It’s legacy and technology can be seen in today’s supercar the Nissan GT-R.

2002 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R

2002 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R

In addition, imported cars were not subject to the legislation so many enthusiasts purchased European or North American cars as an open loophole. The interesting thing that resulted from the legislation was Japan became a car focused culture where horsepower was truly appreciated.

Many of these imported foreign models were purchased by the tattooed class of Yakuza gangsters or Japanese mafia who could be seen driving around Japan’s cities in their Italian suits and imported cars like this one below.

Typically modified imported Yakuza style car

Typical modified imported Yakuza style car

As Japan is considered the birthplace of the auto racing sport “drifting” it is a good time as any to profile a story we wrote last year on the history of drifting.  Many of the famous drifting cars are now iconic Japanese models which are sought after by enthusiasts all over the world.

Nissan Silva

Nissan Silva

Today in North America, you can easily purchase an older right hand drive model from Japan as a result of all the drifting hype of the last 15 years.

1993 Toyota Supra RWD

1993 Toyota Supra RWD

Group C Porsche 962 on the streets of Japan

Take a look at this very well produced short movie of a Porsche 962 driving around the streets of Japan. Although a little bit dated it’s obvious that more than a few heads are turned as the 962 is driven around the urban environment.

The following is a description from the film maker:

“The Group C Porsche 962 is an iconic race car to say the least. In the 80’s it won countless Le Mans races and to this day holds a very special place in car enthusiasts hearts. One particular Japanese car enthusiast loves this car so much that he can’t keep this race car restricted to circuit duties only. He feels the overwhelming need to spend much more time with it, on the streets!”

The roots of Japanese Touge Drifting

Tōge or Touge (峠) is a Japanese word literally meaning “pass.” It refers to a mountain pass or any narrow, winding road that can be found throughout the mountainous regions of Japan.  Historically, road engineers in Japan created a series of S bends in steep roads that provided access to and from high mountain elevations in order to decrease the incline, thereby making them easier for commercial trucks to pass on the two lane roads. Around twenty five years ago, these same roads became the hallowed grounds to which the sport of “Drifting” was born. Japanese, motorcycling legend turned driver, Kunimitsu Takahashi, was the foremost creator of drifting techniques in the 1970s. He is noted for hitting the apex (the point where the car is closest to the inside of a turn) at high speed and then drifting through the corner, preserving a high exit speed. As professional racers in Japan drove this way, so did local street racers “hashiriya”  and over the years, these passes have become mythical locations for auto enthusiasts as they provide a challenging and thrilling course to test the limits of cars. Although the J-Pop soundtrack is a bit dated, the video provides a flavour of the Japanese drifting culture in Osaka region.

Keiichi Tsuchiya (known as the Dorikin/Drift King) became particularly interested by Takahashi’s early drift techniques and began honing his drifting skills on these same mountain roads and quickly gained a reputation amongst the racing crowd as he took them to the next level. In 1987, several popular car magazines and tuning garages agreed to produce a video of Tsuchiya’s drifting skills in his Toyota AE86 (Corolla).The grainy low budget video, known as Pluspy, became an international hit and inspired many of the professional drifting drivers on the circuits today. The video certainly mirrors the “Land of the Rising Sun” with its contradictions as the mood transforms from intense to melodic around 4 minutes 30 seconds while as a viewer you are wondering why someone left the slow motion button on.

The combination of Japan’s immense affluence in the late 1980s and early 1990s along with the rise in the aftermarket modifications available for their domestic car models resulted in a dramatic rise of the sport across Japan.  Drifting has since exploded into a massively popular form of motorsport in North America, Australia, Asia and Europe. Most recently, with the box office success of films such as Fast and Furious – Tokyo Drift the whole World is now familiar with the Japanese car scene. This is the iconic heavily tuned Mazda RX-7 from the film.

Here are some other famous Japanese modified models widely used for “Drifting” – Toyota A86 Corolla, Honda NSX, Nissan Skyline R32, Nissan Skyline R34, Nissan Silva and Toyota Supra.