Unique JDM

16 Facts About the Japanese Car Culture!

The Japanese car culture is just like any other culture, unique in its own way. So, here are a few things that set them apart from other cultures.

Japanese car culture is extremely adverse and perhaps one of the most interesting in the world. Their culture and communication are like nothing else, it may sound corny but most people within the JDM community often see each other as friends and acquaintances even before they’ve met, that’s just how strong the Japanese car culture is.

But Japan is not only home to some of the world’s largest car manufacturers, they have also created some of the greatest sports cars in the world like the Skyline GT-R, Toyota Supra, and Mazda RX-7.

And within and between all of their creation there is a wide range of different subcultures which makes up what we today call the Japanese car culture.

Here are 16 facts about the Japanese car culture which make it unique.

The Drift King

Keiichi Tsychiya is a professional Japanese race car driver who is a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner and 2001 All Japan GT Championship. He got famous for using the traditional art of drifting in non-drifting racing events. Throughout the years he perfected his art and technique and has been an important character in the development of drifting and drifting events. Thanks to his high skill level and unorthodox technique have been named the “Drift King”.  

Home to some of the most famous drift tracks

In Western society, it is very uncommon to find ‘pure’ drift tracks, most of the time you’d find regular tracks which occasionally is used for drifting. But in the Japanese car culture drifting is of such importance that there are many tracks that are exclusively used for drifting.

Most famously is perhaps the Ebisu Circuit which is made up of four different tracks (West, North, South, and East). These tracks are very different with high elevation changes, high-speed corners, and even jumps (Ebisu North)!

Unfortunately, the track suffered significant damage during a landslide in February, 2021. But thanks to a lot of fan donations the Ebisu circuit is slowly getting repaired and rebuilt (what a bunch of beautiful people, God bless the Japanese car culture!).

Kei Cars

Very unique to the Japanese domestic market is the ‘Kei car’ which was exclusively sold in Japan. These are tiny cars with very small displacement engines (usually smaller than 0.5L). Since most of Japan’s population is living in urban areas, the Kei car or truck was a great option for the family or business which required the use of a car.

Due to the legislation in Japan, cars are taxed differently depending on the displacement of the engine (often why you rarely see engines over 2.0L). Since the Kei cars utilized tiny engines, they had a very low tax rate which made them desirable for families with limited funds. And since they were also smaller in size, finding or leasing a parking lot was also significantly cheaper.

Bippu – VIP Style

The Japanese car culture is not just made up of one, but several subcultures. One of them being known as ‘Bippu’ or ‘VIP’.

This type of styling often involves some sort of older large luxury sedan such as the Nissan President, Toyota Celsior, or Toyota Century. More often than not these cars have been lowered significantly and upgraded with large (often chrome) aftermarket wheels in order to achieve the style of ‘Bippu’ or ‘VIP’.

The Style started appearing during the 1990s when Japanese police started targeting lowered sports and compact cars. These large family sedans were picked in order to ‘bypass’ the police.


The Bosozokas were a motorcycle gang founded in the late 1950s. These bikers were mostly under the age of 20, and they traveled in huge groups, often hundreds, breaching laws and insulting or threatening bystanders who complained about the gangs’ behavior. By the early 1980s, there were approximately 40,000 confirmed members.

To say the least, the Bosozokus method of vehicle modification was unique. Their primary goal was to make their automobiles and motorcycles as loud and obnoxious as possible.

This entailed employing various colored chassis panels, having 6-foot-long straight-up exhaust, and taking Tsurikawas from the subway and fitting them to their cars. You get the idea; whatever you think would be a stupid modification to make, probably sounded like a brilliant idea to the Bosozokus.


Now, the Japanese tend to be a little…different at times. And the culture of ‘Dekotora’ is no exception. In fact, it may even seem unorthodox by Japanese standards.

Dekotora basically means “Decorated truck”, with the word ‘decorated’ being a little bit of an understatement. The style is thought to have been inspired by the fiction media franchise Gundam which has been around since the 1970s.

Dekotora started very similarly to how any other truck driver would decorate their own truck. However, at some point, it turned more into a competition on who had the most decorative truck, and that’s basically how Dekotora came to be.

Dodge Ram Drifting (Dajiban)

Driving a van tends to just be for work, or to get from A to B – very rarely is it associated with excitement or thrill. That is unless, of course, you’re speaking about a Dajiban van.

The Dodge van, particularly the Dodge RAM, has developed a cult following in Japan over the years. They were popular vehicles for transporting tools, motorcycles, wheels, and other items to the track. Because Japanese automakers did not produce any large vans at the time, the Dodge RAM became the best option.

However, as time passed, some folks had the bright thinking of customizing these vans. Instead of using them to move things, they began racing them and even drifting them. It may appear absurd, yet there is plenty of evidence.

Here you can read more about Dajiban vans!

Kyusha – Old Car

The translation of the word Kyusha means ‘old car’. If you were to enter a Kyusha meeting you would expect to see older Japanese cars from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

But Kyusha doesn’t necessarily only refer to old cars, it also is a type of style where most ‘Kyusha-cars’ have widened arches, lowered suspension, and aftermarket wheels. And while the extremeness of the modification can vary quite widely, most Kyusha-styled cars are thought to be more ‘cleanly’ done.


Perhaps you’ve seen these old Porsches’ wide extremely wide wheel arches and large wings. If so, then you’ve likely seen an RWB Porsche which is a Japanese style by the legendary creator, Akira Nakai.

There are many reasons why these modified Porsche’s are so awesome. All of these cars are handbuilt by Akira himself, and he is a busy man – so having an RWB Porsche is a rare thing in itself.

And who would’ve ever thought to make an already wide car, even wider would work out, but somehow it did. And RWB’s Porsche is now well known all over the world, and highly regarded for the extreme craftsmanship which goes into each built car.

Street Racing

Street racing has been a part of the Japanese car culture for almost as long as cars has been around. Throughout the times there have been many different street-racing clubs, most noteworthy the Mid Night Club and Kanjozoku which battled in the mountains of Japan as well as the Wangan highway just outside of Tokyo.

Some characters in popular shows like Initial D and Wangan Midnight all have been inspired by real-life street racers.


Drifting is thought to have been born out of Japan. Ironically, it is thought to have started due to a lack of grip during circuit racing. And despite not being always the fastest way to take a corner a lot of people were inspired by this new technique.

While people over in the West saw drifting as a ‘waste’ of tires, the Japanese found appreciation in the skill required to handle the car to its limit, without spinning out. Drifting soon evolved into a sport, where people competed with each other on who had the greatest car control.

This eventually led to competition with judges which inevitably found its way to the West as well.

Time Attack

If you’ve ever played a racing game, you’ve probably heard the term “Time Attack.” However, you may not be aware that this word originated in the streets of Japan in the 1960s. However, it has subsequently grown into a big international phenomenon that has received worldwide acclaim.

You don’t race against other people in Time Attack; it’s just you, your car, and the circuit.

As a result, these cars are not designed to perform multiple laps at once, but rather to perform one exceptionally fast lap before allowing the car to cool down.

Time attack has grown in popularity outside of Japan since the 2000s, particularly in Australia, the United States, and Germany.

Japanese Car Auctions

Car auctions in Japan have always been a large part of their culture. And today there are hundreds of different physical and online auctions throughout Japan with thousands of cars being displayed and sold every day.

These auctions have also become a great way for Westerners to pick and import whichever car they’d like, and there is an abundance of great import businesses which are willing to help you, and make your importing experience as enjoyable as possible.

Here is a list of some of the greatest Japanese car auctions: READ MORE.

The Japanese Love Turbocharging

A large part of the taxation in Japan is based upon the displacement of the engine. Whereas engines above 2.0L will usually get some tax penalty, that is also why you very rarely see larger engines such as V8s or V6s from JDM cars.

In order to make some good horsepower while avoiding the penalty taxation turbocharging became a great supplement for most of Japan’s manufacturers, engines such as the RB20 and SR20DET became very popular as these engines had high horsepower while still being below the threshold of the penalty taxation.


If you translate the word Tsurikawa you get two meanings, Tsuri – meaning hang, and Kawa – meaning leather. Tsurikawas were objects that usually were suspended that could help standing passengers on trains, subways, and buses keep their balance while the vehicle was in motion. Tsurikawas are also commonly known as “tsuriwa” meaning “hangring”.

The way Tsurikawa’s became related to the Japanese car culture was that these Tsurikawa’s originally were stolen from buses, trains, and trams by crew members of the Bosozoku’s. They were later used on the Bosozoku’s vehicles as a sign of disrespect towards the Japanese authorities.

Tsurikawa’s are still used for decoration today, but as there are multiple online stores selling them stealing is no longer necessary.

Leading car tuners (HKS)

Some of the world’s highly regarded engine tuners some from Japan. Most noteworthy is perhaps HKS which has been around for about five decades by now.

HKS was the first Japanese brand to surpass the magical 300 km/h barrier in 1983 with one of their heavily modified Toyota Celica, known as the M300. Ever since they’ve developed several incredible tuner cars such as the Nissan HKS Zero-R which was based on an R32 GT-R. This car was heavily tuned, and the original 2.6L I6 was stroked to 2.8L and now put out around 600 hp.

Today HKS is an internationally known company with strong ties in several countries. They offer anything from exhaust systems, suspension work, engine upgrades, and various ECU-tuning.

E. Lindgren

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