There are a ton of different Japanese car styles and subcultures in Japan. Some were created through Japan’s Mafia Gang while others came to be through Anime or Manga series. Either way, there is a large variety and most people will be able to find something they can relate to.
Here are Japan’s most common Japanese car styles and subcultures!
P.S. If you rather learn some JDM slangs words, you can do so right here.
The Bosozukas were a motorcycle gang that first emerged in the late 1950s. These motorcyclists were mainly under the age of 20, and they traveled in large numbers, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, breaking laws and abusing or threatening bystanders who objected to the gangs’ actions. There were around 40,000 confirmed members by the early 1980s.
The Bosozukus way of modifying vehicles was quite unique, to say the least. Their sole purpose was to make their cars and motorcycles as obnoxious as possible. That meant using different colored chassis panels, having 6-feet long exhaust sticking straight up, stealing Tsurikawas from the subway, and fitting it to their cars. You get the point, whatever you think would be a ridiculous modification to make probably sounded like an excellent idea in the ears of the Bosozukus.
Today, many of the Bosozukus has put their life of crime behind them. But the Bosozuku style still remains in the JDM culture.
The Japanese translation of Kyusha means “old car”. And as you would have guessed usually refers to older, classic JDM cars such as the first Skyline GT-R, the Hayabusa, or Toyota 2000GT.
In comparison to the Bosozuku style which is quite…out there, the Kyusha style is more laid back. It can be best described as a “tastefully modified”.
Kyusha-styled cars tend to have widened wheel arches, some clean aftermarket wheels, and lowered suspension – but not to the point of being completely slammed.
The spectrum of Kyusha-styled cars can vary quite substantially. And it can be hard to determine whether a car is Kyusha or something else. In our opinion, a Kyusha-styled car should generally be quite tame. If the modification is too extreme, we’d not consider it Kyusha – below is an example.
For being Japanese, this is actually quite a crazy sub-culture. The abbreviation of Dekotora is basically “Decorated truck” – and that is an understatement. Just try and picture in your mind what a “decorated” truck/lorry would look like. And then, 10X what you just thought of, then you might be somewhat close to what the Dekotora style is about.
The style started out with truck drivers modifying their work trucks, the same way American truck-driver do, they add some neon here and there, maybe install a louder horn. But the Japanese have taken it way further than that. It is almost as if it has become a challenge on who can fit the most decoration on the limited space of their truck, and still decorate them tastefully.
The style itself started in the 70s and has grown ever since. The style is thought to have been inspired by the fiction media franchise Gundam.
Kei Trucks were specifically developed for the Japanese Domestic Markets (JDM) and were mostly sold in urban areas such as large cities as affordable work trucks.
Kei Trucks came with RWD or 4X4 layouts with an engine usually ranging between 550cc to 660cc. Since the displacements were so small, many Kei trucks were either turbo- or supercharged in order to achieve an acceptable power output.
In Japan cars get taxed partly by engine size, and due to the fact that these Kei trucks used really, small engines meant that you had to pay less tax, as well as less insurance. This made these Kei trucks really popular in dense urban areas as they were cheaper to maintain.
Kei trucks became extremely popular with the average working Joe. Many small businesses utilized these Kei trucks, fishermen, restaurants, mechanics, and so on.
Word spread overseas, and as the Kei trucks started to become legal to import into the States the demand for older Kei trucks rose drastically, and so did the prices. Today, Kei trucks have become well-known in the U.S., but are mostly being used for collections, car meets, and road trips than for work.
This is an odd one. Itasha basically means ‘cringeworthy’ or ‘painful’ car. This style is found on any sort of JDM car and even seen on other car brands outside of Japan. These cars are decorated with characters from manga, anime, or video games.
The cars are usually, wrapped, custom painted or stickered down.
The way Itasha came to be was basically a way for the owner to display their gratitude, or love for a certain character or anime. So most of the time, the Itasha style has nothing to do with cars, the car just happens to be the canvas used to display their beloved character.
Since anime shows really weren’t a thing before the 00s the Itasha culture didn’t develop until sometime mid-noughties.
While not nearly as popular overseas, there have been several racing cars in motorsports displaying various anime characters on their cars.
This group of people quickly became known as Osaka’s underground street racers, exclusively driving Honda Civics and Integras.
Osaka is neighboring many different elevated highway systems and during the days is being used by the citizens of Osaka to commute. But during the night, these highway systems are taken over by the Kanjozuku’s – the Children of the Night.
Once day turns to night, the Konjozuku meets up at a secret location and heads out onto the roads. Once driving they truly put each other’s skills to the test in an all-out race between each other on the highways of Osaka. Once the race has begun, nothing stops the Kanjozuku. Citizens on the roads, obstacles, construction, police – it doesn’t matter, the Kanjozuku continue racing.
Because of this highly dangerous and illegal activity, many of the original Kanjozuku are now retired or moved onto a more controlled environment such as circuit racing.
When talking about JDM cars, the meaning of VIP has nothing to do with the Western traditional meaning of “Very Important Person” rather, it means something completely else, although there might be some connection.
There are many theories on how the VIP style came to be. One theory is that sometime during the 80s, the Japanese Mafia thought that driving big European luxury sedans drew too much attention, and therefore easily attracted police. Thus, they swapped their European cars for executive JDM cars such as Toyota Chasers or Lexus LS400s.
Once you’ve got the right car there are some additional modifications you have to do in order for the car to be considered VIP.
A JDM VIP car is often defined as having:
The VIP style is an expression. The style itself has nothing to do with performance. In fact, most VIP cars likely drive worse than their standard counterparts. But as we said, it is not about the performance or handling – it is simply about sending a statement.
If you’ve played a racing game or two, you’re probably familiar with the term “Time Attack”. But perhaps what you didn’t know was that this term arose first in the streets of Japan in the 1960s. But has since then grown into a large international phenomenon, praised all over the world.
In comparison to circuit racing where you race with other drivers and try to finish 1st, Time attack simply focuses on getting the fastest lap time.
During Time attack you don’t race with other people, you, your car, and the track is all that stand before you.
Thus, these cars are not set up to do several laps at once, but rather, set up to do one lap extremely fast before letting the car cool down.
Ever since the 2000s, Time attack has become increasingly popular outside Japan, most specifically in Australia, USA, and Germany.
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