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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.